Editor’s note: Brooke Patton is research and content specialist at market research firm GutCheck, Denver. 

Researchers are incredibly inquisitive and resourceful. We like to ask questions and solve problems. In fact, many research objectives center on understanding problems and asking why they occur. Thus, researchers got their start from this child-like tendency to constantly ask “why.” Today, our unique ability to conduct various methods of research online helps answer this question better than ever before.

Exploratory research, one of the primary avenues for qualitative research, is instrumental to understanding the “why” and other factors that have yet to be clearly defined. It is meant to gather descriptive information and provide a better understanding of something. It is not necessarily meant to be used to validate or provide final conclusions. Organizations with less robust research strategies may not be as familiar with exploratory methods. Often it is done through the use of:

Organizations that don’t invest in an exploratory research phase put themselves at risk for developing weak concepts or missing out on identifying information that leads to course corrections. Subsequently, exploratory research insights gleaned from these methods provide the kind of information that sets a strong foundation for ideation, concept development and creative executions – in addition to other benefits.

1. It’s flexible. Some market research methods can feel rigid, especially when it comes to things like concept or ad testing. But one of the great things about exploratory research is that it’s meant to be flexible and approached creatively in order to get the greatest amount of depth and insight.

For example, a variety of questions and projective techniques can be used to gather respondent feedback in a way that helps you better understand what consumers are thinking and why.

2. It acts as ...