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Usage and attitude research: what is it and why do you need it?

Published 28 Apr 2022 4 minute read

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Most people would agree that it is important to understand your market if you want to provide consumers with products and services that meet their needs (and make your business successful in the process).

Usage and attitude studies can help you do just that, not only by enabling you to discover what products and services people use but by also finding out about their attitudes and opinions and linking these to their buyer behaviour.

What is a usage and attitude study?

Usage and attitude studies have been a staple of the market research industry for some time and, as such, are useful tools to gain insights into consumer behavior, attitudes, and usage patterns.

Usage and attitude research typically covers factors such as the following:

  • What products do consumers use?

  • Which brands are they aware of (prompted and unprompted recall) and which do they prefer?

  • How do they use the products? On what occasions, and for what benefit?

  • What are their favourite and least favourite things about the products or the product category?

  • What are their frustrations, complaints and pain points?

  • How do they feel about particular products or services?

Attitude and usage studies can be wide-ranging and seek to gain a broad understanding of the target consumer or they can be more focused on individual product categories or products. This scope depends on business goals and on the marketing decisions you want to support.

Why do you need a usage and attitude study?

One of the reasons that usage and attitude research is so widely used is that it is versatile, gives you a lot of relevant information and can support a variety of business objectives and marketing strategies.

Understanding the market

One use of usage and attitude research is to understand more about the market. A quantitative usage and attitude survey will enable you to size the market for your category and gather data on quantity and frequency of purchases. For example, if you make breakfast cereal, you can investigate consumer usage and consumption patterns: what proportion of people buy breakfast cereal, how often and in what quantities?

This will help you make strategic decisions about your product portfolio. Your sales data can tell you how much is selling but the usage and attitude study gives you more insight into where the threats and opportunities lie.

Understanding your category

Usage and attitude studies also enable you to dig deeper and gain insights into your product categories. So you can find out not only how many people buy breakfast cereal but also who buys which types of cereal, on what occasions, using which channels and for what purposes.

This will help you make decisions about what products or services to offer and what promotions to run.

Understanding competitors

In a usage and attitude survey you can ask about product preference and brand perceptions to give you a view not only of how you stack up against competing brands. You can also use qualitative usage and attitude research to gain a deeper understanding of how your brand is positioned against competitor brands.

This will help you develop a competitive strategy and fine-tune your brand positioning.

Understanding your brand

As well as comparing your company with competitors, you can also take a deep dive into your own brand. For example, you can look at brand penetration, investigate brand choice drivers or use qualitative projective techniques to gain insights into what your brand means to customers.

For example, you could ask participants in an online research community to create a collage of images that sum up how they feel when they have your cereal for breakfast. The insights you get from this will help you understand your brand equity and make decisions about brand strategy, communications and messaging.

Understanding your customers

As well as asking about your cereal, you can also ask detailed questions about the consumer attitudes of the people who buy it - or those who buy competitors cereals. This is the crucial 'why' data that will enable you to understand customer needs, the purchase process and to differentiate between customer segments.

For example, you may find that some cereal customers will only buy certain products that they perceive as healthy, whereas others will buy anything from your brand to try it out - they are brand-loyal advocates. Some may only eat cereal at breakfast but others will have it as a night-time snack. Some like lots of family-focused giveaways on the packet and will switch brands to get these offers. Others will only consider specific brands.

Understanding your channels

It is likely that you will know from sales data exactly where and how people are purchasing your products and services. But what a usage and attitude study can do is to help you understand why particular channels are performing the way they are. You can interview online shoppers about why they choose to buy online and the purchase journey they go through. You can also identify those who prefer to shop in a bricks-and-mortar store and understand their decisions.

This insight will feed into channel strategy.

How to conduct a usage and attitude study

Traditionally, this type of market research has involved interviewing respondents using a large-scale quantitative survey. There can, however, be some issues with this approach.

Because of the investment required to conduct such a survey, stakeholders can be tempted to cram in too much into one project which makes for unwieldy and unfocused studies and long boring questionnaires for participants.

These days, market research professionals often want to take a more agile and focused approach, getting results faster and ensuring that they can be used more effectively throughout the company.

Five steps to a great usage and attitude study

  1. Be clear about the objectives for your study or survey. Do you want a broad-based general exploration or do you want to focus more on a specific area?

  2. Consult stakeholders throughout the company and ensure that you have a firm foundation for your research objectives. Don't be afraid to challenge assumptions.

  3. Look at your existing data from other sources and think about how the usage and attitude study will complement this research and add to what you already know

  4. Think about whether you need qualitative or quantitative research, or both? What do you need to quantify? and what do you need to explore? If you are in an exploration phase it is likely you will need to take a more open-ended and qualitative approach.

  5. Consider your target audience. Do you want to interview only existing customer or users of the category as a whole? Lapsed customers? Customers who buy other brands? Or a genuinely representative sample of all consumers?

(And a sneaky sixth step: we advise you to work with a market research partner with great experience in this area who can help you achieve your objectives.)


What is most important about usage and attitude research is that it enables you to bring together customer behaviour and customer attitudes, beliefs, motivations and opinions in order to identify growth opportunities. Combining your usage and attitude research with other data such as CRM or sales data gives you the most valuable insights and a foundational understanding of why the market is the way it is. As such, usage and attitude research can support business decision-making across your company.

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