Ethical Marketing Research: How to Perfom Market Research Ethically

Ethical Marketing Research: How to Perfom Market Research Ethically

Businesses these days have access to just about all the data they could want. With tools and systems for developing consumer insights, your potential to elevate your business through market research is boundless. However, your success will depend on your ability to collect and apply this information ethically.In this post, I'll introduce you to effective strategies for ethical marketing research.

Ethics is a framework through which you should view all business decisions. In market research, it can make the difference between effective long-term branding decisions and ultimately destructive marketing.

94% of consumers say they are likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency. Unethical practices like hiding how you use consumer data will impact your ability to retain customers and scale as a business. Instead, explore how market research can be collected and applied ethically for a better approach.

(Un)ethical data practices impact business

The role of ethics in market research goes beyond simply doing the right thing, although that is of vital concern when generating market data. Your customers, your audience, or your participants all engage with your website under the assumption that they won’t be exploited in some way. Maintaining ethical business practices is your way to ensure this doesn’t happen and cause a rift between you and your audience that you may never recover from.

In an infamous case, Facebook was found to have breached data protection laws when it allowed Cambridge Analytica to harvest the data of 87 million users. The fallout resulted in a £500,000 fine from the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office and a global besmirchment of the brand name. After the scandal broke, likes, shares, and posts on the social media platform dropped by 20%.

This is ground that Facebook is undoubtedly still trying to recover. The scandal demonstrates how a lack of clear ethical principles can affect perception and engagement among an online audience, impacting revenues and customer loyalty. 

In the course of conducting market research, it also helps to understand what practices consumers view as unethical. Here are a few examples:

Ethical Marketing Research: How to Perfom Market Research Ethically
What best describes unethical marketing. (Image source: Marketing Charts)

Unethical marketing is considered to include ...

  • Marketing that exaggerates or distorts the truth
  • Marketing that targets and exploits vulnerable groups
  • Marketing that conceals important information
  • Marketing that includes shaming
  • Marketing that uses unrealistic or altered images

Avoiding these circumstances is best done through centring ethics in the research process. But what are the ethical principles that can guide you through market research?

Ethical principles in market research

Ethical Marketing Research: How to Perfom Market Research Ethically
Ethical marekting research: which ethical principles are important? (Image source:

Any business model that relies on online data (meaning just about every business in the modern age) has to consider its audience’s perspective. Otherwise, you run the risk of alienating (and angering) your audience. Ethical market research principles help you avoid these damaging circumstances. 

In market research, these are the principles of ethics you want to keep in mind:


This is the first principle of research collection, one mandated under certain legal protections like the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Transparency consists of detailing explicitly to users what data you’ll collect and how you’ll use it. It’s essential in setting expectations and making mutual trust contracts with your audience. From here, your users can feel secure in having policies to hold you to, evoking greater loyalty through trust.

Data protection

Ethical market research also must ensure that collected data remains private. When Equifax failed to update its systems, the company exposed 148 million customers worldwide to a data breach. Theft and identity fraud resulted from this confiscated information, shaking user trust in its platform. Privacy is what we all expect when we engage with a business online. This includes the market research used to inform business practices.


Data collection must also be purposeful to be ethical. This means that collected information corresponds to actual business goals. Businesses might be tempted to assemble as much data as possible in the course of their research, but all this data exposes users to breaches. For an ethical approach, research metrics should be defined beforehand, with their applications explicitly determined. 


Then, ethical market research depends on a company’s adherence to the policies and data applications they have communicated both internally and externally. There may be a temptation in the course of gathering user data to then sell that information to other businesses, but this may violate both user trust and data regulations depending on your jurisdiction. Stick to your policies to maintain ethical research.


Similar to purpose, this principle of ethical market research ensures that you limit collected data. This includes destroying information in a reasonable amount of time and reducing identifying info wherever possible. 

Doing so helps businesses not only protect user data but also helps keep big data analysis paralysis to a minimum. This assists businesses both in the ethical handling of data and in making efficient marketing decisions.

These principles all inform the ethical collection of market research in all its forms. No matter how you collect data (through social media insights, A/B testing, focus groups, and more), your approach should start with these considerations. From here, learn how to collect data using ethical processes.

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How to collect market research ethically

Every business model’s budget and operational needs dictate its approach to market research. However, ethical considerations can be made for any approach to data collection. The first step is to prioritize ethics as you from your marketing research strategy and tactics. Strategy represents an overall goal. Tactics are the means you employ to achieve that goal.

Collecting market research data ethically requires you to centre your strategy around those ethics. Then, employ tactics like the following:

Establish clear terms of use agreements and privacy policies.

Ethical research and data collection begin with the terms you present to your audience. These are your Terms of Service agreements, privacy policies, and cookie acknowledgement notifications that users see when they first interact and begin submitting data to your platform. 

Social selling of any kind depends on trust cultivated through this transparency. No matter how you collect information for marketing purposes, detailing what information you collect and how it will be used is essential to an ethical approach.

Ethical Marketing Research: How to Perfom Market Research Ethically
Cookie banners are the first step towards more transparency and trust.(Image source:

Gather data that represents your diverse audience.

Ethics requires you to represent your users. This means ensuring that the market research you conduct gets to all the people you serve. To achieve this, diversify your data collection across platforms. Use social media insights as well as search engine data and more traditional forms of outreach. Meanwhile, diverse teams have been found to add as much as 7% to some companies’ bottom line, so don’t miss this inclusionary aspect of market research. 

Give participants the right to withdraw at any time.

Ethical market research means respecting the rights of your audience. One of these rights is the right to withdraw at any given time. Allow participants to opt out of data collection, delete their account, and download what you have stored on their profile. This helps to establish trust in your platform.

Check against bias in your research.

Unconscious bias is a real problem when conducting market research. Fortunately, you can work against it by understanding what to look for. Check your data against anything that might perpetuate stereotypes and invite diverse team members to interrogate your research process. 

If you use a channel targeting AI, make sure it has been tested against biases that find their way into programming.

Prioritize data protections.

As you gather research data through social media monitoring and other digital processes, you need a system for securing that data. In both the Facebook and Equifax example, unethical practices ensued from failing to protect data. Both these cases resulted in substantial damages to the involved companies. Keep your data systems updated and protected behind firewalls and cybersecurity best practices.

Ethical Marketing Research

Cybersecurity and the protection of data has top priority. (Image source: Open.AC.UK)

With these tactics, maintaining an ethical market research approach becomes a simple process. Resultantly, you can generate a trustworthy digital presence capable of avoiding the pitfalls of inconsiderate data collection.

Better business through ethical market research

The digital marketplace is becoming more competitive all the time, making it more important than ever to build an ethical business model. Market research is your tool to achieve this, but it requires a focus on ethical principles to achieve success.

Begin the market research process with a commitment to transparency, privacy, minimization, and the other principles explored here. Then use these tactics to avoid unethical practices and ground better marketing in an ethical, user-focused approach. Better business awaits in the form of greater customer loyalty, trust, and marketing relevance. 

Your questions about ethical marketing research

What questions do you have for Beau about ethical market research? Feel free to use the comment function. You want to be informed about new posts on the topic of WordPress and online marketing? Then follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or via our newsletter.

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