Every major business decision should start with market research. The customer’s needs and pain points and the outside factors influencing them are constantly shifting. This is why their current state should be the first thing you reference whenever making a change.
Relying on old data, or no data at all is risky and can cost you a lot of money. However, by studying the market and its environment, you are better able to make informed decisions and smart investments.
There are a variety of market research methods you can leverage to obtain information from and about your customers. These include analyzing third-party data from paid and free sources, meeting customers in person, observing potential target audiences’ habits, testing, and experimenting.
Research methods can deliver quantitative and qualitative results.
Quantitative research is important because it measures the statistical value of the results and puts ideas into numbers. They are easier to visualize and utilize in the decision-making process.
Qualitative research, on the other hand, gives you the means to explain the numbers. By analyzing the results, you can figure out the reasons and motivations behind your customers’ behavior.
While quantitative research methods may seem more practical, qualitative ones can be the key to truly understanding your clients. They can give you the knowledge of what your target customers want and need their psychological profiles, and the emotions that drive them.
The information that market research provides can be beneficial to many endeavors, including, but not limited to:
- Launching a new product.
- Improving existing products.
- Choosing a pricing strategy for your business.
- Penetrating a new market.
- Designing a marketing campaign.
- Working to boost your sales.
Companies that have the time and resources for it, can implement research procedures personally, or choose an agency to do it for them. While professionals have the experience, no one knows your products and your customers better than you do.
In this article, we will be discussing 6 market research methods and the pros and cons of each one. Depending on your goals and the scope of the information you want to acquire, you can choose to conduct only one of them or mix and match for optimal results.
1. Consumer Surveys
Consumer surveys are the most popular and most affordable method of market research. Their versatile nature allows researchers to quickly gather a substantial amount of organized data that can be easily analyzed to deliver quantitative results.
The process is simple, the company makes a list of questions and distributes it amongst a large sample of its target audience asking for their answers. After the announced timeframe (if any) is up, the results are summarized and analyzed.
Survey questions should be on-point, clearly defined, and easy to understand. They can be open-ended or closed-ended, and depending on the complexity of the topic, they may have different answering input types:
- Multiple-choice (choose one of many options).
- Two-choice (yes or no).
- Checkbox (choose some or all of many options).
- Likert scale (5-point “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” options).
- Rating scale (choose comparative assessment level).
- Matrix (a grid of options).
- Open-end (text field).
The key benefit of surveys is that with modern tools and automation, they can be an inexpensive way to reach out to thousands of people. You can make the questionnaires accessible on websites and blogs, distribute them on social media and via email, and use any communication channels at your disposal to make them available to your audience.
The cons are that too many of those who see your request will just ignore it, and to have statistically relevant results you need to survey a fairly large group of people. If your sample of customers, who responded to the survey, is less than 100, you can’t really be sure that your data is not biased. Also, if you don’t have any preliminary information on the market, you risk asking the wrong questions and wasting time and resources and ending up with relatively useless information.
2. Focus Group Meetings
Focus group meetings are a commonly used research method where a number of people fitting certain demographics and criteria are gathered into a room together with a moderator who guides them through a scripted discussion. The process is monitored through one-way glass or a live streaming video, and the researchers take notes without interfering.
The participants can be customers fitting the same buyer persona profile of the business or can be in other ways identified as a representative sample of the target market for a product.
The goal of the meeting is that the questions asked by the moderator should elicit a natural conversation where the people will share their points of view, thoughts, experiences, and expectations. Based on these, the researcher can reach unique insights on the subject that would have otherwise not occurred to them in a sterile environment.
For statistically relevant results, companies should consider:
- Holding at least a few different groups of participants with similar profiles and under the same circumstances.
- Hiring a professional or experienced moderator who knows what they are doing and will not compromise the session with personal bias.
- Expanding the scale of the research by conducting surveys to test the analyzed information from the meetings.
Focus groups can be a great way for companies to look at things from a different point of view, and gather unexpected information about their products and customers. Discussions may uncover common user issues or behavior patterns that can’t be otherwise predicted by the researcher or discovered through a questionnaire.
However, the cons here are more than a few. Only a limited number of people can take part in the meetings, which raises the risk of the results being too random or biased. The small sample also means that one of the participants or even the moderator themselves can dominate the conversation with their opinions and influence the results. The price can be a major factor as well since focus groups require time, skills, organization, and in most cases, financial compensation for the participants.
3. Individual Interviews
Individual interviews are a qualitative type of research where the researcher has individual meetings with a sample that is representative of the customer’s profile. They ask them scripted questions to learn more about their personal and work life, consumer habits, and their interactions with the product. The host can ask the customer additional unscripted questions based on their previous answers, take notes and record the interviews for future references.
This research method combines the best sides of surveys and focus groups. It has the structured questioning form of focus groups and the personal contact and freedom of communication of interviews.
The greatest power of the interview is that the researcher forms an empathic connection with the respondent. They can better understand the way the customer feels and identify the emotions behind their answers and their actions. Leveraging this, you can go beyond the superficialness of close-ended questions and dive deeper into the customer’s personality, understanding their pain points, and figuring out new ways to solve their problems.
The main cons with interviews are that they can be really time-consuming and the data you gather can be hard to go through and organize because it may involve a lot of individual psychological peculiarities.
4. Covert and Overt Observation
Observation is one of the best methods to learn about how customers behave and how they interact with your product in their natural environment. To do so, the researcher watches the customer and takes detailed notes on what they do, how they feel, how they act, and anything else they find relative or pertinent to the situation.
There are two ways to approach the method. You can use covert observation where the customer is not aware that they are being watched, and overt observation where you ask for their permission to monitor them and their processes.
The advantage of the first one over the second is that you can be sure that the customer is not “acting for the camera” and altering their behavior intentionally. And the benefit of the second one is that when you have their consent, you can record the research session and analyze it further later.
What makes this approach so great is that it minimizes bias. People often think of themselves and what they do in one way but act completely differently in reality. By observing them, you can acquire true and raw data about their process, including:
- What problems does the product help them solve?
- Where do they encounter issues?
- What emotions using the product provokes?
- How focused are they?
- Which features do they use the most?
- Which features do they find confusing or difficult to use?
- Do they use the product alone or in a group?
The greatest benefit of this method is that it shows you things the way they really are. This information can be invaluable to improving your product’s functionality and efficiency. It can also be used to compare user-reported behavior from surveys with real-life behavior and improve your customer’s profiles. Ultimately, you can leverage the data collected to compose a truly personalized marketing message that the customers will identify with, and up your sales game at the same time.
The cons are that it is really time-consuming, requires complicated organization, and, for best results, should be done by someone with a keen eye for detail and good enough knowledge of human nature.
5. Social Listening
Nowadays social media platforms have become an integral part of our lives. People share everything online. They join interest groups to discuss what they care about, follow pages relevant to their interests, and feel the need to publicly speak their mind.
Everything you need to know about your customers is on social media platforms.
Social listening software enables you to track topics that you want to research, monitor keywords, and stay tuned to what your clients are talking about. Tapping into this source is a form of covert observation you can successfully use in your research.
The benefits of this method are that you get raw information without much effort and can regularly update your results with new data on the same or different queries.
The cons are that social listening solutions are expensive. Also, some people might consider spying on their personal life an invasion of privacy and even stalking.
When relying on such tactics, you should always tread carefully and make sure that you are not crossing any ethical or legal lines.
6. Secondary Research
All the methods we’ve listed so far are primary research, or field research methods, where you conduct different procedures in order to gather first-party data from a sample of your target audience.
However, there is another category of research, called secondary research, or desk research. Here, you rely on third-party information derived from free or paid public sources such as educational institutions and research companies that operate with statistical data from different industries.
The benefits of this type of research are that it involves minimal resources and gives you access to substantial amounts of data that you, otherwise, would not be able to acquire. By leveraging this, you can conduct initial market research and obtain preliminary conclusions that will allow you to better focus your future efforts.
The cons, though, are that the data and its relevance to your company will be limited.
Secondary research is useful as complementary information that provides background and context to your primary research results.
Every type of market research provides a different angle to your customers. Therefore choosing the one that best fits your objectives or techniques, will enable you to make informed business decisions and minimize the risk of failure when starting a new endeavor.