As someone who has worked in market research for the past 20 years, it’s disheartening to see entrepreneurs and brand managers struggle with marketing campaigns due to knowledge gaps that could have been avoided with a simple market research study. Properly conducted custom market research is the common denominator in successful marketing campaigns. But, to some, conducting research is intimidating. To others, it’s too expensive, too complicated, or takes too long.
Truth be told, market research today is none of those things. Coding and data tabulations done by hand are a thing of the past. Improvements in cost, timing, and ease-of-use have made primary research accessible to everyone. But accessibility doesn’t necessarily increase the probability that more marketers will turn to custom market research to fill their knowledge gaps.
As a guide, I’ve developed this helpful five-step roadmap to assist you in creating a “pain-free” custom market research experience:
Before moving forward with a market research study, defining the study's purpose and scope is essential. Unfortunately, unconscious biases of those commissioning the research often creep into what’s asked of the study participants at this stage, potentially skewing results. Having more than one person, preferably with differing viewpoints or backgrounds, review the stated goals of the study can help avoid a costly mistake at the onset.
This is also a good time to define the target audience of the research. For example, if you’re testing to see if something appeals to U.S. Hispanics, it’s necessary to be specific about which U.S. Hispanics to pull into the study. Defining variables like gender, geography, country of origin, acculturation, language use, media usage, age, income, education, marital status, etc. will ensure that individuals participating in your study reflect your target customers.
There are hundreds of ways to conduct consumer research. The type of research chosen depends on what information gaps exist. For example, if a product is new and you’re unsure how consumers will view or use it, a qualitative study might be a good place to start. Qualitative research aims to have consumers reveal information about your product or service you may not be aware of. “Qual” is often done before quantitative research (surveys), so the information learned in the qual sessions can be tested quantitatively. Both types of research can be done in-person, online, or via telephone.
Some studies also try to uncover consumers’ unconscious decision-making by studying brain waves, eye-tracking, or other biometric responses. These often require specialized facilities and equipment but advances in technology make it possible to have consumers participate from home.
After carefully choosing a methodology, your study must reach the right respondents while in-field. If you’ve ever taken a survey on social media and thought the instant results were suspect, you were probably right. Making sure that survey respondents resemble your intended consumers takes a bit of planning, but investing time and energy into this phase ensures your data's reliability. If you’re fielding a qualitative study, you may want to hire a professional recruiter to ensure the people who participate in your focus groups not only match your screening criteria but are also articulate and not over-bearing.
The vast majority of quantitative surveys are now done online, but phone and in-person intercepts are also appropriate for hard-to-reach respondents. No one method, phone/online/in-person, will ensure a representative sample so expect to have to do some back-end weighting of the results to better match the survey respondents' demographics to those of your target consumers.
Having survey results or focus group transcripts doesn’t mean you have answers to your research question yet. It’s possible to get lost in the weeds of the data and produce a report that says, “on this hand, they said … but on the other hand…”. This happens because human beings are, well, human – complicated and often contradict themselves. That said, there are signs to look for.
Properly designed quantitative tables will include stats testing to determine if the results are statistically significant. Statistical significance is easier to achieve with larger base sizes. Results that don’t meet statistical significance should be disregarded or have a caveat attached to them to alert readers that the results may not be stable. When reviewing qualitative results, it’s important not to cherry-pick statements that conform to pre-conceived ideas. Having someone who doesn’t have a stake in the results, like an outside moderator, interpret the findings is often best.
Conducting a custom market research study that produces results is impressive, but acting on the insights uncovered is the goal. Analysis paralysis is a real thing. Research aids in the decision-making process but can’t make decisions for us. Being clear on what will happen based on the results limits scope creep and helps keep the study focused on the original research objectives.
The business environment is evolving quickly. The onset of the pandemic, for example, has accelerated changes in consumer behavior, and it's playing out in their purchasing patterns. Relying on past behavior for future campaigns is likely not the best strategy during a quickly evolving consumer market. Responding quickly to these changes with supporting research will help you manage change, stay ahead of the competition, and succeed.