The huge number of start-ups and new tech product launches around at the moment has made me consider just how much market research is being done, how well it’s being done – and how much is being used to help steer strategy.
From a marketing perspective, we’re used to doing this work and using it to frame how we move brands forward. Many smaller firms though see research as a luxury or have leaders who believe they know and understand the market just fine thanks.
I believe every firm, no matter what size, should be embarking upon a rolling campaign of market and customer research – and here are some notes for those unsure about how to go about it.
Knowledge is power. Understanding is so much more.
The two types of research data or information you can collect will inform your conclusions – and really, you need both to reach any meaningful result.
Quantitative research is possibly the easiest: hard facts, stats, numbers around market size, web visits, keywords and customer spend etc. These days there is no end of data available… to the point of overload. It’s so important to frame your quant-research requirements before you start so you don’t overdo it.
Secondly, qualitative research is where many firms come unstuck. This is the fuzzy bit – assessing attitudes, feelings and motivations and involves, for the most part, talking to actual, real people. I know, scary right? But, it’s this part of the research that will give you understanding, rather than simply knowledge.
On web design for example, the term UX (User Experience), is often taken to mean measuring clicks, bounces, conversions and sales on each page and tweaking things until those numbers improve. But in actuality, the key word here is “Experience”. What you need to understand is WHY and HOW not just WHAT. How do your customers feel as they navigate your site – frustration, delight, anger, joy…? And why are they motivated to complete whatever goal you see as success for each visit? Understand those things (alongside the stats) and increasing success can be yours.
You can’t afford not to
Many small businesses would argue they simply can’t afford qualitative research. But most businesses talk to customers every day. How easy would it be to throw in a simple question or two as part of a sales or customer service conversation? The MD of a company I worked with recently on a new web project, was in that boat. But I got him to draw up a list of their top 100 clients and suggested he (and his senior team) simply started calling them for a chat.
This approach worked on so many levels. How would you feel if you got a call from the MD of a company you use, simply to find out what you think about them? I’m guessing you’d feel that this company cares. Secondly, the senior team in question discovered all sorts of interesting snippets about their business that challenged their assumptions and enabled them to improve across the board – not just online. Thirdly, the sales and admin staff got a buzz from the fact their managers were getting their hands dirty and could see some of the issues from a customer’s point of view. Win, win, win.
In broad terms some of the areas you will need answers for when doing your research:
- Who and where is your market – actual and potential
- How, where and when do they purchase – and why
- What influences their purchasing behaviour
- What are your competitors offering
- What state is the macro-market in and how and when might it change
But you also need to have an understanding of people – basic psychology if you will. Google, I feel, dropped the ball on this point with Google Glass. They had amazing tech, that worked well, but forgot that essentially, people don’t like to stand out, and simply didn’t want to wear something on their face which lit them up like a beacon.
Research sources and resources
A lot of the leg-work can be done by yourself, at your desk. Use trade associations, Google (make sure you trust the source), government research and statistics (Office for National Statistics), university research or buy reports from research companies such as Datamonitor, GlobalData, the Economist Intelligence Unit, Euromonitor or Mintel. This information will give you a great base from which to expand your research.
Field research and surveys.
This is where professional help is advised. Although using an external agency is a more expensive way of getting the results you need, the cost is generally in proportion to the effectiveness of the research. If you have budgets of more than £3k, then I’d recommend going down this route. Find the best agency for your requirements at the Research Buyers Guide. You can also use freelance researchers, which will be cheaper – search for “freelance market research” on LinkedIn.
You can do a fair bit of field research yourself as long as you are disciplined and focused on a predetermined goal. As mentioned above, picking up the phone is easy – although not everyone is comfortable with their phone technique. Face to face conversations are better – perhaps at consumer shows, or invite your best customers to your offices for individual or small group sessions. The online options are many and varied – but using services such as Survey Monkey are an excellent starting point. I’d recommend using a paid-for monthly plan rather than the free option – both for the quality and quantity of questions you can ask, but also because research of this kind really should be ongoing and not a one-off task.
Offline research is also relatively simple to set up and can be tagged onto existing marketing or operational communications such as direct mail or product delivery and invoices etc.
Pitfalls of market research
By far the biggest mistake many companies make is simply not to do any research at all.
But, a close second on the list of things not to do, is to do this once and assume you now know everything, forever. Wrong. Research should be ongoing in one form or another.
Following up. Great that you’ve done the work, got the results, drawn conclusions and made changes – but don’t forget to measure how things have changed as a result of your amended plans.
Keeping costs low by keeping sample sizes small. In order to get really robust research, you should obtain results from a minimum of around 1,000 people – more if at all possible. Anything less and cost savings are illusory.
As mentioned a couple of times above, approach research as you would any business project. Set out your goals at the start, be clear about them throughout the process and don’t lose sight of what you need to achieve.
Beware intransigent or extremist opinions which distort the bigger picture. Get into the detail, but understand the wide view.
Using data to back-up preconceptions and simply being overly optimistic when analysing results. It’s nearly always best to have an independent third-party to help you understand what you have discovered, what it means for your business and the strategic implications of your research.
Please do give me a call if you’d like to discuss your own market research requirements – I’d love to help 07854 654 842 – firstname.lastname@example.org