As science increases its hold on the practice of medicine we become more aware of the limitations of the clinical method. Unfortunately, we also become more aware of the limitations of various diagnostic tests. Nevertheless, at any given time there may well be a consensus that a given test in a given situation is the best available test. It therefore serves as the gold standard against which newer tests can be compared.
— Eboo Versie, MD
Similarly, in market research a method is supposed to get you closer to the truth. The reason is obvious: a better understanding of the world provides researchers and firms the insight to develop solutions and products that match with real wants and needs. However, it is a major methodological challenge to determine what consumers really want.
Broadly, two types of methods can be distinguished: verbal and behavioral. The most popular methods are verbal methods, such as the ubiquitous use of surveys. These methods consist of simply asking consumers about their wants and needs, without requiring consumers to act on their statements. Verbal methods assume that 1) people are able to formulate their preferences verbally and 2) that the stated preferences correspond to future actions.
Less popular but objectively more reliable are behavioral methods. These methods require consumers to act to figure out what they like. The reason why behavioral methods are objectively better than verbal methods is because at the end of the day actions are decisive. Actions determine whether a product will succeed or not, not what people have to say about the product. Thus, the method that gets closest to consumer behavior should be considered the gold standard in market research.