Marketing research encompasses every aspect of obtaining data about product and consumer preferences. This includes market, new product and consumer research, and should incorporate both quantitative and qualitative data.

Smart brands rely on accurate, up-to-date market research methods and analysis to guide their activity, helping them to reach the right target audience, with the right message, at the right time. As the consumer journey grows more complex, this data has become more important than ever to marketers, but knowing where to start is a key challenge. Small businesses are especially well positioned to make use of this type of cost effective research to support their marketing and new business efforts to reach new potential customers. Here we outline some of the first steps to take.

Getting started with marketing research

1. Identify the problem.

Start by formulating your problem.

A typical marketing challenge might be generating new leads. This needs to be translated from a business problem into a research problem; examining the expectations and experiences of your target markets to determine why this need exists. Does it come back to a lack of brand awareness, for example, or poor customer satisfaction or experience?

Research challenges focus on obtaining the data needed to solve these business problems.

Working out what specific questions you need to ask will lay the foundations for the rest of your research, helping you identify which techniques are necessary and what information you need to collect.

2. Set your objectives.

Once the problem has been identified, be clear about defining your key objective or objectives. This might be expressed as a question, a statement or a hypothesis.

A statement might be: “To identify which marketing campaigns are driving the most sales from new customers.” Expressed as a hypothesis, this could read: “To test the proposition that ongoing marketing activity is directly increasing sales from new customers.”

Having these objectives clearly defined will help you focus on the right data that will give you the answers you need.

3. Start your research planning.

After defining the research problem and identifying concise objectives, you can start to develop your research strategy.

This details how the information will be collected and analyzed, providing you with a clear plan of action.

This plan should outline which data is needed, how it will be gathered (for example, either using qualitative or quantitative research, or combining the two for a more harmonized approach), the sampling, the methodology, the timing and the costs.

With this in place, you can ensure you choose the data and sources that will meet your needs.

4. Determine your sample size.

A sample involves selecting a small group of people who are representative of a wider group or population.

To identify the size and nature of this sample, certain questions must be posed, such as which base population to select the group from, what the best method for sample selection is, and what the optimum size of the sample should be.

The size of the sample group will depend on accuracy and budget – larger sample groups may improve accuracy, but can also increase costs.

5. Start collecting your data.

There are a number of different types of market research and research techniques that can be used to collect data, including both qualitative research methods such as interviews and focus groups, and quantitative methods that can include both analytics and survey data (including online survey questions, telephone surveys or face to face).

Conducting market research using a mixture of these two key approaches combines analytical and scientific data to give breadth and depth to your findings. Data can also be primary – directly from the source or brand – or secondary – from reports, researchers or analysts.

Data collection can be time and resource intensive, and budget will dictate the best ways to obtain the information needed.

6. Analyze the data.

Once you have the data you need, this must be converted into a format that can be used by marketers. Data is first edited to ensure that the data collection forms are legible and consistent. Responses are then classified into meaningful categories before the data can be analyzed to find answers to the core business problem.

Data analysis involves bringing together the qualitative or quantitative data – or mixture of both – for scrutiny. This enables you to draw conclusions from your research results and identify trends and your customer needs by summarizing large quantities of data.

7. Start applying your insights.

Interpreting the information and understanding how this can be translated into business actions is the final stage of marketing research.

The concluding report must be easily understood and useful, including an accurate description of the research methodology, results, conclusions and recommended actions.

To ensure clarity, findings can also be prepared in different ways to complement the written report – for example, using PowerPoint or face-to-face presentations. These findings and insights can now form the foundations for future marketing campaigns.

The New Market Research

The marketing research process can be a painstaking journey, but the resulting insights are pivotal for any marketing activity today – whether to guide advertising campaigns or to position a brand in the right way.

Audience profiling data has come on the scene to make these insights accessible to all, and to ensure that reliable data plays a key role across all marketing activity. With the ability to analyze your audience in granular detail with readily available survey data, the market research process is being transformed to create the harmony you need, whenever you need it.

With consumer trends continually changing, marketers need ready access to these insights to keep their finger on the pulse. Why? Brands that act on tried and tested facts based on real-life data rather than instinct are reaping the rewards.

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