What is Exploratory Research? A Guide to Understanding

November 30, 2021
7 min

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Exploratory research investigates problems with limited solutions and discovers general information about particular ideas. While its primary purpose is to gain insight and knowledge about existing issues, this type of research does not offer conclusive answers.

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It often prompts the question: why is exploratory research necessary, and what are its pros? To help you, we’ve created an in-depth guide to understanding exploratory research:

What is Exploratory Research?

Exploratory research is the process of studying a problem that has insufficient research or is under-investigated. Thus, this type of research helps marketers better understand an existing problem. But exploratory research doesn’t help in finding a conclusive result.

Typically, researchers use explanatory research to learn more about an existing idea or gain unique perspectives and insights into a particular problem. Exploratory research starts based on a general idea of the problem, and the results of the research help you find related issues.

Remember that the research process varies depending on your topic, the finding data, and selected objectives.

A Quick Overview of the Exploratory Approach Process

Here’s a quick rundown of the characteristics of an exploratory approach:

  • It is unstructured
  • This kind of research is interactive, open-ended, and easy on your budget
  • It helps you answer complex questions like what problems do I need to study and why?
  • Exploratory research can be time-consuming and, thus, requires patience and dedication
  • It is broad, flexible, and adaptive
  • Typically, exploratory research produces qualitative data. But it may be quantitative if the study sample is large and the researcher collects data through surveys and polls.

Why Do We Need an Exploratory Approach?

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Here are a few reasons you should employ an exploratory approach:

It’s Flexible

The majority of market research methods are well-structured but can feel rigid. It is especially true if you want to test new concepts, ads, or ideas. But with exploratory research, you can employ flexible and creative approaches to gain in-depth and valuable insights.

For instance, you can use various questions, surveys, and projective techniques to gather respondent feedback. In this way, you can better understand consumers’ behavior, attitudes, emotions, and likes and dislikes.

It Acts as a Signal

Depending on your study’s objectives and long-term goals, exploratory research can act as a signal. It can help you identify unmet consumer needs, what you should avoid, and areas that require your attention.

More importantly, exploratory research can help you find inspiration for excellent concepts and unmatched consumer insights. As a result, brands can determine which projects they should continue, which ones need tweaking, and which ones they should reject.

It’ll Help You Focus Your Objectives

Most brands start seeking secondary research about a subject or an audience to move forward with a particular idea. But some shortcomings make it tricky for researchers to find real-time data. For instance, secondary data can lack relevance, timeliness, or appropriate, well-defined questions.

However, with an exploratory approach, you can identify your target audience, decide which questions you need to ask, the answers options to include, and even better, focus your objectives.

Types and Methodologies of Exploratory Research in Marketing

You may conduct exploratory research through primary and secondary research methods:

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Primary Research Methods

Researchers collect data directly from the subject in primary research methods, i.e., a group of people or individuals. During primary research, marketers employ the following ways:

Surveys and Polls

Surveys and polls are the most vital quantitative method of collecting data from a group of predetermined subjects. With the help of surveys or polls, marketers can explore third-party or expert opinions, trends, ideas, etc.


In some cases, interviews can help you get detailed and invaluable data. Researchers may conduct interviews on the telephone, in person, or via email.

Typically, interviews include open-ended questions to get a new perspective and meaningful information about a particular topic.

Focus Groups

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Focus groups include chosen people who express their opinions, thoughts, and emotions towards a particular topic.

While conducting a focus group interview, you need to ensure that all members share similar experiences, backgrounds, and behaviors.


Observation research varies between qualitative and quantitative, depending on your topic. In this type of research, marketers analyze a person and then compare the findings to specific parameters.

Observation research does not include any direct communication between the researcher and the individual.

Secondary Research Methods

After collecting information from primary research methods, you can take help from secondary research. In secondary research methods, marketers use data available in magazines, books, newspapers, and more:

Online Research

The internet is a gold mine of statistical and qualitative data that researchers can download whenever needed. However, remember to always confirm the originality and authenticity of a website before collecting information.

Literature Research

Literature research is easily the most economical way of creating a hypothesis. You can easily log onto online sources, commercial databases, and more to access real-time data.

Here, you can find newspapers, books, magazines, and documents from government agencies, annual reports, and research journals.

Case Study Research

Researchers may inspect existing cases facing particular problems by reading case study research. You’ll have to ensure an in-depth analysis of all the variables that match previous issues.

Typically, the health sector, businesses, and social sciences disciplines employ this method of research.

Exploratory vs. Descriptive vs. Causal Research

Research may be of the following three main types:

  • Exploratory
  • Descriptive
  • Casual

Each serves a different purpose and has various uses. Here, we discuss all three types of research, how they differ from each other, and how they fit in your research plan:

Exploratory Research

Exploratory research is essential for any marketing, advertising, or business strategy. It focuses on discovering new ideas, trends, and insights rather than statistical data.

For this reason, exploratory research is often the first step of your overall research plan. You may employ this type of research to define company issues, identify potential improvement areas, and highlight areas that require statistical research.

Typically, exploratory research occurs in the form of online surveys and open-ended questions. These questions help expand your understanding of the surveyed individuals. Although you can rarely statistically measure these responses, they will provide you with richer quality information.

Descriptive Research

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Descriptive research includes online surveying and is conclusive owing to its quantitative nature. Contrary to exploratory research, descriptive study is structured and well-thought-out in design. Thus, you get to collect statistically measurable information.

Its primary function is to understand an opinion or behavior on a specific subject that is prevalent among the masses. The descriptive study includes surveys with simple multiple-choice questions.

Since the survey contains predefined categories, it is considered descriptive research. The results won’t provide you with unique insights; instead, you’ll gain statistically inferable info. This way, you can measure the significance of your results, and the changes in your respondent’s opinions and behaviors with time.

Causal Research

Causal research is also quantitative in nature and structured. Thus, it is also considered conclusive. It also differs in terms of how it explains the cause and effect relationship between variables. It contrasts the observational style of descriptive research as it attempts to figure out the nature of the relationship via experimentation.

Causal research has two main objectives:

  • To pinpoint the nature of the relationship between causal variables and the effects
  • To understand which variables are the ‘cause’ and which ones are the ‘effect’

What are the Steps to Conducting Exploratory Research in the Marketing Research Process?

Although exploratory research is much more open-ended, it does not mean you should dive in without a well-thought-out plan.

To simplify the process of conducting exploratory research, we’ve created a step-by-step guide below:

Define the Problem

All research typically starts from the same place, i.e., identifying the problem. Generally, a researcher identifies the research subject and then pinpoints what questions you want to address during your research. Remember that this may require a few brainstorming sessions.

For instance, if you want to find new, effective marketing methods, determining your end goals, like implementation strategies, helps ensure that you have an efficient research method.

Create a Hypothesis

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Try creating a hypothesis if you cannot find prior studies or learn that the problem isn’t entirely under control.

Your hypothesis depends on the questions you obtain while identifying the problem at hand.

Choose a Method

Exploratory research involves frequently talking with other people for more information about what you want to learn.

In addition, exploratory research allows you to evaluate new ideas with an unbiased market to identify neutral third-party outlooks. For this purpose, you may use surveys and questionnaires.

By actively seeking the opinions of novices and experts, marketers can acquire a range of information necessary to answer the original question.

Create Research Procedures

The exploratory research process can vary depending on your timeline, budget, selected objectives, and the topic at hand. Remember, there is no single way to conduct research: there are multiple options. Given that you have an educated and well-reasoned plan, you can choose any method to conduct thorough studies that validate your point.

You may employ more than one approach, such as:

  • Focus Groups
  • Expert Surveys
  • Open-Ended Questions
  • Secondary Research Based on Previous Studies

Collect Data

After selecting a suitable research procedure, you need to start collecting data. Typically, this depends on the methods you choose. Here’s a quick rundown of how different marketers may collect necessary data:

  • Focus Group – You may contact unrelated third-party individuals from other local companies, a community organization who can volunteer time, etc.
  • Expert Surveys – You may send surveys to educational and professional organizations to gain real-time insights
  • Open-Ended Questions- You may ask open-ended questions both online and in person from novices and experts who fit your study’s criteria
  • Secondary Research- It varies depending on your topic but typically includes academic papers, industry newsletters, case studies, and journal publications

Determine Results

Exploratory research won’t garner a formal conclusion, but it doesn’t mean that the results are invaluable. Plus, you may review answers to surveys and ticked questionnaires for viability, accuracy, and relevant information that you can incorporate into existing articles or research.

Remember that the way results from exploratory research are perceived depends on your topic. But if used and evaluated appropriately, these results can lead to tangible developments within your department. They can even help you identify new ways to approach industry principles and concepts.

The Pros and Cons of Exploratory Research

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Let’s discuss the advantages and disadvantages of exploratory research:

The Advantages

These are:

  • Exploratory research offers flexibility and can adapt to changes necessary during research
  • It is comparatively more economical
  • Exploratory analysis sets the basis for further research
  • It helps marketers determine whether a topic is worth studying and investing time and resources

The Disadvantages

The downsides of exploratory research include:

  • It only provides the direction of the study and is not conclusive
  • It generally offers qualitative data, which can be partial
  • Most of the collected data is secondary research which can be old and inapplicable

How to Use Socialays to Simplify Exploratory Research?

Socialays is a state-of-the-art AI-based social media assistant that simplifies the exploratory research process. Employ this revolutionary tool to enjoy the following benefits:

  • It’s innovative ‘Sentiment Analyzes,’ and ‘Emotion Analyzes’ features categorize comments and messages into emotion categories that make it easy for you to understand consumers’ emotions and behaviors
  • With this cutting-edge technology, you can get instant notifications to track mentions and comments from followers. Therefore, it helps you monitor and improve social engagement.
  • The tool allows you to add custom filters like auto-blocking, auto-restricting and hiding hate speech to ensure a positive customer experience

The Bottom Line

Exploratory research follows a less structured and flexible format to understand new topics or ideas better. It also provides direction to conduct a more formal study.

Find the perfect balance between exploratory, descriptive, and causal research to hit your business goals.

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