Making the most from market research in your business

19th September, 2012

Having started to be more of an active networker, I get asked often what market research is all about and who should or shouldn’t undertake research. Those questions and having to brief a group of community project volunteers recently made me have a think about what we do every day and the things that we sometimes take as given.

Market research is not just for business start-ups. Research thinking should be embraced into every business and perceptions and assumptions should be challenged. Can you answer the “how do I know that I know” question for your business? How does a business know that it is improving when no base line was established in the first place? Asking family and friends for their opinion or whether they agree with the next big idea is not necessarily market research. Intended or not they will be influenced or want to ‘support you’. Using an independent approach is going to be more robust and enlightening.

One of the perceptions of market research is that it is so expensive. Firstly, there is a lot of good market research practice a business can put in place internally right now for little or no cost. And help from professional market researchers may not cost as much as you think. Speaking to a professional will show what can be tailored to individual needs and budgets.  Not doing your market research at all or not doing it properly is going to be far more expensive.

In order to for market research to work within budget clear objectives should be established. Understand who holds the answers to what your business needs to know and plan the approach with that in mind. Time and money is precious for everyone, ask only the questions which need answering and leave out the ‘it would be nice to know’ stuff.

Setting clear objectives and understanding who can provide the answers you need will help you decide which methodology (or methodologies) to use. Online surveys appear cost effective but are often not effective for some topics or age groups. Postal surveys and paper questionnaires on the other hand may appear cumbersome and eco-unfriendly but are often the most inclusive. Sometimes a survey is not right at all and focus group or one-on-one depth interviews would be better to meet the set objectives.

Sometimes it is also advisable to undertake some desk research before committing to a research project. There are a lot of good secondary research resources out there, many of them free to access. However, if external research or statistics from the web are used they should be qualified for scope of the research, how it was conducted and what it represents. Businesses should check that it fits with their product/service market or the type of people they want to reach. The same applies for data collected in-house. Be mindful of copyright and intellectual property rights which may affect how you use secondary research resources.

Once focused on the what, who and how – keep focused. Market research is not a tool to generate sales leads. A business may lose all credibility if a participant in market research gets re-contacted with a sales pitch (or worse, being sold to at the end of an interview). Valuable research insights should be used to inform marketing plans instead.

Collecting data via market research also has legal implications. If the research is undertaken internally, the business must ensure that it stays on the right side of the law and knows how to handle data, keep it secure and respect people’s privacy – how you collect and store data is bound by the Data Protection Act 1998.

So can market research replace the ‘gut feeling’ and experience? No, both are important and immensely valuable. But likewise market research cannot be replaced by ‘gut feeling’ and experience. Too many businesses ignore the outcome of market research and that is when market research can be most expensive. If the data tells a different story than ‘gut feeling’ and experience – find out why!

Market research is at its best when businesses learn from it, when it raises new questions, when you have a return on investment (R.O.I.) – which is not necessarily a financial return – and when it challenges you to think about what to do different next time.

Codes of conduct from the Market Research Society and ESOMAR dictate the standards by which professional market researchers operate – check them out to understand what you can and cannot do in the name of market research.

If you would like more information or would like to talk to someone about a specific project, come and talk to us. No budget too small, no project too big.