Know Your Audience: Understanding Five Common Research Methods

Know Your Audience: Understanding Five Common Research Methods

Research plays a critical role in almost every single creative engagement. 

Typically, research efforts are heaviest at the onset of a project, but they also recur throughout each of the various program work streams, all the way through to the project’s completion.

Research begins with questions. And asking questions inevitably leads to more questions, which inevitably leads to more research.

Each discovery phase feeds into the next discovery phase, ultimately yielding inquiries that are more and more focused the further along in the project we journey.

As you can see from the graphic below, each discovery phase not only serves to feed the corresponding program, but also seeds the starting point for the discovery phase of the next program work stream.  

The research we perform here at Thrive is designed to uncover different data at different points in time, but the overall goal remains the same, regardless of program: to banish assumptions and give us a solid foundation to build upon. 

And while research methodologies are many and varied, these are five research methods we commonly deploy.


Qualitative interviews

Interviewing is often one of the first techniques we employ and one of the fastest ways to uncover actionable information. 

Whether they’re user interviews, stakeholder interviews, or customer interviews, when performed correctly, they provide in-depth insight into all sorts of business problems. 

They also often reveal challenges we didn’t know existed, allowing us to present solutions that circumvent obstacles and solve problems that result in meaningful, measurable change.

Desk Research 

Often referred to as secondary research, desk research is just what it sounds like: researching while at one’s desk.

It essentially involves collecting pre-existing research findings and other pertinent information as it relates to a new project. Maybe we’re analyzing a Forrester report or a Gartner study. 

Or maybe we’re researching a specific market to uncover trends, consumer behaviors, and competitor strategies. Sometimes we’re focused on understanding a particular audience or buyer type. 

Regardless, desk research is a fundamental component to a well-rounded discovery approach. 



Audits can take many forms, but the idea is to make an assessment of materials that already exist, evaluating everything from design aesthetics and brand messaging to user experience and visual storytelling.

Perhaps it’s a website content audit that looks for gaps that new content can fill, a marketing-collateral audit that looks to determine the efficacy of past approaches, or a competitor website audit that looks at what competitors are doing. 

Regardless, audits serve as a powerful diagnostic tool, allowing us to pinpoint areas of improvement and opportunities for growth, while minimizing risks and making informed decisions. 

Observational Studies

Observational studies—meaning, directly observing someone doing something—provide us with a firsthand, unfiltered glimpse into the world we aim to influence.

Whether it’s observing consumer behaviors in a retail environment, studying user interactions on a digital platform, or immersing ourselves in a client’s culture, observational research enables us to uncover nuanced insights that often escape traditional research methods.

Also, in keenly observing real-life contexts, we can ensure that campaigns and designs are not just aesthetically pleasing, but deeply resonant and impactful.


Discovery Workshops

Discovery workshops are a dynamic and collaborative (and often fun) process designed to uncover critical information that will guide the creative work ahead, while aligning our team with our clients’ team.

The purpose and activities of each workshop vary from one project to another, but the ultimate goal is to provide a solid foundation for the work we’re about to do together and gain alignment around objectives, methodologies, and expectations.

Keep the research going

While these five research methods are common, they are not the only ones available. Depending on the type of information we’re looking to uncover, it’s possible we might deploy another methodology, like a focus group or survey, or even partner with an outside research firm to field a larger study.

The key to every successful project is to keep the questions coming.

And as long as the questions are coming, the research should be too.

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