We all know that conducting market research is crucial to a strong, well thought-out business and marketing plan, but with the plethora of information out there it’s tough to establish where to start and what to look for. Luckily, the marketing research process can be broken down into five simple and manageable steps:
Define the Problem and Establish your Research Objectives
Before embarking on your marketing research, you must define the problem and your research objectives. This step is the most important and you should set aside a decent amount of time to think about it. Start off by asking yourself the following questions: what’s the issue to be addressed/ problem to be solved? What do I need to learn – and more importantly, why? How will I use that information? Answering these important questions will help you focus your research and save you time.
Develop the Research Plan and Design the Project
When it comes to this step, you need to think about questions such as: who can answer my questions? Who can answer them best? What must I ask each group – specifically? You should also start thinking about what type of research you will be conducting and what sources you will look at. Although online data are plentiful and free, don’t limit yourself to only this type of research. Other great research methods include: observational, focus-group, survey, behavioural, ethnography, and experimental. Secondary data sources include: internal sources (customer databases, sales stats, service teams, etc.), government publications, periodicals and books, commercial data, on-line associations, on-line business information, and etc. Always do qualitative research first. Qualitative research is much more in-depth and will help you make better sense of your findings.
Collect the Information
Good marketing research is scientific and creative. What I mean by scientific is research that it is process based, conducted in a controlled environment with variables that can be clearly identified and controlled, and has results which can be replicated. Creative marketing research comes in handy because some people may be reluctant to answer questions. People don’t always tell you exactly what they really think and some may have difficulty articulating ideas or feelings well. Make sure that your questions are neutral enough for people to want to answer (for instance, if you are asking whether a person is a leader versus a follower, make both options sound good.) Strong marketing research is also non-biased, examines data in the correct context, uses multiple methods, realizes the interdependence of models and data, and maintains a “healthy” skepticism.
Analyze the Information
Study the information you gathered carefully. What trends can you see? Where does the information point you? You may discover that some of your initial assumptions were completely off. This is not a bad thing! Don’t try to make your research fit your assumptions, and instead let it guide you to making new decisions regarding your business. I also recommend getting the input of other people in your company at this step. They will be able to look at your research with a fresh perspective and point out anything you may have overlooked.
Present the Findings
Now that your marketing research is complete, it’s time to apply it to your business and marketing plan. When done correctly, your research will prove very useful in developing your business strategy (pricing, markets, etc.), developing and improving your product or service, determining a market segment, improving operations (internal, supply chain and distribution channels), as well as with employee motivation.
Conducting marketing research is not as difficult and tedious as it may seem – in fact it can even be fun. Remember to take it one step at a time, determine exactly what you need to find out and why, get the input of others, and analyze your findings carefully. Happy researching!