Businesses need to have accurate and current information to build the best plans and strategies. One important way that businesses get this information is through market research. Market research allows companies to remain competitive and direct their resources to the best tactics and techniques.
In this article, we explain what market research is, the different types of market research you can use and how to perform it.
What is market research?
Market research is the process of gathering and analyzing information about a company's target audiences. Market researchers use a variety of tools and analyses to learn how groups of people make buying decisions, how trends are changing and what people expect from products and services. You can use the results of your market research to guide your business strategy and gauge the success of your current strategy.
Market research is performed using a combination of qualitative analysis, like surveys, focus groups and statistics. It helps you understand how people interact with different brands and industries. You can also learn what types of products people are looking for and get opinions on existing products or services. Market research can also tell you if people have expendable income, how they are spending their money and how to best reach your customers.
Related: Inductive vs. Deductive Reasoning
Types of market research
Marketing research uses techniques and analysis from applied social science. You or a firm you hire can conduct the research yourself or your research can be based on studies that are already done. Here are some of the most common types of market research:
- Primary research
- Secondary research
- Exploratory research
- Specific research
- Direct-mail questionnaires
- Phone interviews
- In-depth interview
- Focus groups
This type of research involves gathering and analyzing data directly. The market research would be designed, conducted and analyzed as one project. You would base your research methods and study details on the question you are looking to answer or a problem you would like to solve.
Secondary research is when you or a research firm analyzes and applies data from studies that have already been completed. These studies can come from many sources, including industry organizations, government agencies and universities. Secondary research is often used to understand market trends, predict buyer behavior and analyze your competition.
These are market research studies that focus on a topic that is not yet well understood. Exploratory research is not as strictly structured as other kinds of research because you do not have a lot of prior knowledge to build your study on. Instead, this type of research helps you determine a problem or topic so you can develop a plan to study it more closely or consider ways to solve it. Exploratory research often involves asking a small group of people for long, detailed answers to open-ended questions. This approach can help researchers gain a better understanding of the market's current outlook and needs.
Specific research is focused on answering a particular question or studying a well-defined issue. The process involves getting a lot of respondents from a particular segment of your market based on demographics, income level, location or some other identifying feature. Specific research is often designed based on information gained from exploratory research.
Direct-mail questionnaires are a primary research method in which you mail a series of questions to your target group. If you choose to use this method, be sure to address specific people, keep the questions short and direct, and limit the questionnaire to less than two pages. You should include a cover letter explaining why you are doing the questionnaire, an incentive (such as a coupon or gift card) and a self-addressed, postage-paid envelope for them to return the questionnaire.
Phone interviews are very cost-effective and can be completed quickly. If you choose to use a phone interview to gather your data, you should confirm the name of your respondent at the beginning of the interview and close the interview by asking if they are willing to take a follow-up call if you need more information. You should have a memorized script and avoid pausing to help keep your respondents' attention as long as possible.
In-depth interviews are conducted one-on-one between the respondent and researcher. They can be either focused interviews, in which the researcher asks specific questions that are decided ahead of time, or nondirective, in which the respondent talks about certain topics with very little questioning from the researcher.
Focus groups are often used as brainstorming sessions to understand buying decisions in certain populations, and they can provide insight into what kinds of products or services the demographic being interviewed would be interested in buying. Focus groups are often very conversational, with participants responding to and building on other respondents' answers.
How to conduct market research
If you're interested in performing market research for your organization, follow these steps:
- Define the topic: Start by clearly explaining what question you are trying to answer. At this stage, you need to list your research objectives and develop questions that will define the problem you are researching. This will help you decide how to design your market research.
- Define your buyer persona: Buyer personas are what you believe your ideal customers would look like using characteristics like age, income, gender, occupations, family size, location and their major challenges. You will use this profile of your ideal customer when you are trying to determine what research format to use, how to ask the questions and how to organize your audience. If you have more than one buyer persona that fits your business, you might find you can conduct market research for each one.
- Develop the research plan: You should design a specific system for conducting your research. At this point, you will decide how you will reach your respondents, what kinds of questions you will ask and what format they will be using to answer the questions. You should choose your research methods based on your budget and time constraints, how your target population is most likely to participate in market research and the problem or topic you're researching.
- Collect research data: Your questions should be clear and unbiased. Your participants won't give you reliable answers if you ask leading questions or if they believe you are suggesting they answer a particular way. You can learn a great deal from their personal stories and their experiences if you keep your questions accessible for all recipients.
- Analyze the data: Market research is about finding trends and using them to guide your business decisions. You should work with the data as it is presented. You will get the most from your research by being impartial, objective and precise in your analysis.
- Report the findings: You might be submitting the report to an industry organization, decision-makers in your company or clients. Your report should reflect what you found in the data, and your findings should be able to be reproduced if someone else were to use your data and methods.