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Market Research for Total Beginners

The term “market research” often conjures up a very dry mental image of focus groups, suits analysing graphs and jargon like “benchmarks,” “pre-testing,” “weighting” and “strata.” To those in the field of market research, these terms are common knowledge, but to those of us businesspeople who don’t come from this kind of background, there is…

Market Research for Total BeginnersThe term “market research” often conjures up a very dry mental image of focus groups, suits analysing graphs and jargon like “benchmarks,” “pre-testing,” “weighting” and “strata.” To those in the field of market research, these terms are common knowledge, but to those of us businesspeople who don’t come from this kind of background, there is another word that springs to mind: “…Huh?”

However, market research doesn’t have to be technical and can easily be achieved in a totally jargon-free way. Collecting your own market research data (known as “primary research”) needn’t arduous or bothersome, and that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. With a bit of basic info and a spoonful of common sense, market research can be pretty neat.

1. Take a Step Back

The best market research starts way before the first person is asked if they’d be “happy to answer a few questions,” so put the clipboard down and let’s get some perspective. This can be hard, especially if you are a sole trader, but try to detach yourself from your company and take a long hard look at how things are being done. What processes go into serving your average customer? The process may seem totally clear to you, but does it feel so clear to them? Those in a service industry might find that a good look through your sent emails, texts and letters to customers may be a good place to start. If you were in their shoes, would you feel happy that everything was being explained and taken care of? Sidenote: That tip may not be overly helpful to those in a retail or wholesale environment, but your time to shine comes later, I promise!

Use this perspective of someone on the “outside looking in” to answer a few key questions:

  • What price or service level do you assign to? Whereabouts are you within your field on a scale of Harrods to Poundland?
  • How in-demand is your product or service, especially within this part of the market?
  • Do your customers/clients need to keep buying your product or service over and over (e.g., consumables, beauty products, wholesale supplying to retail, writing or designing for periodical magazines) or are they more one-shot purchases that don’t need regular “top-ups” (e.g., static website design or copywriting, retailing furniture and appliances, ad hoc repair services)?
  • Do you know who your closest competitors are, both geographically and in terms of products and service?
  • How do you compare on price and quality in comparison to these competitors?
  • What marketing efforts are these competitors making as far as you can tell?
  • Do you know the the demographics of your actual customer base, such as age and gender? If not, how can you find this out? If you do know this information, how does it compare to the market you initially thought you were appealing to?
  • Can you even drill down to buying habits, salary, location, routine? Would this information even be appropriate to your business/research?
  • What can you do to improve the customer relationship to keep them loyal?
  • How can you impress your competitors’ customers in such a way that would tear them away?

2. Narrow Down

Take a look at the answers you have given to the above questions. Some important questions to ask your customers may leap out immediately. These questions are very general, you may well have some set topics in mind, for example surrounding a new product range or service. If so, that’s fab – but can you slip in any of the above to maximise your research efforts? If you are going to be asking questions anyway, are there any other important data points that can be gathered at the same time? How can you ask each question so it’s tied to a specific action your company can take – if the question is not tied to a specific action or relevant data point, is it worth asking?

This is also the point where you need to ask yourself about what the best methods are for asking for responses. Online survey tools such as SurveyMonkey are great because they automatically collate the data into graphs so you can analyse the responses at a glance; but the downside is that surveys shared online (for example on social media) are easily ignored. However those who have a physical premises where customers visit freely may find better results if someone with a clipboard asks questions in person. This may get a better response, but comes with the downside of dealing with multiple paper responses and having to extrapolate the data manually.

3. Participants

Think where you’re going to source your participants from. If you have a physical premises that’s open to the public, that’s a great place to start – most likely with the person/clipboard combo described above. You can always bolster this with an identical online survey.

If you don’t have the luxury of this option, the online survey route sounds more down your street. I mentioned SurveyMonkey, where you can put together a 10-question survey for free as long as you source your own responses (they do offer a service whereby they source responses for you but this can get very pricey). You can however send a link to your survey to any of the following (and if you don’t have any of the following, consider this a nudge to start working on growing them):

  • Email newsletter lists
  • Social Media followers
  • Postal catalogue lists

If you do take the social media route, remember the different demographics on each platform; if you are targeting professionals, use LinkedIn, if you hope to target young people, Instagram and Snapchat are currently popular, if you are looking for a general response, Facebook and Twitter may be best.

Need to work on your above following but want results now? No problem, there are a number of steps you can take that should at least give you a little bit of data to go on:

  • Make sure the survey is shared in the automatic email signature of any customer-facing team members, and once the issue is wrapped up with the customer, ask the team member to politely mention the survey and ask for a response.
  • You can similarly ask your customer-facing staff to ask eligible phone callers or physical visitors if they would like to participate in a survey, and verbally ask each question, filling in the online survey as they go.
  • Share the link to the survey on your website, maybe as a pop-over window or within a blog post.
  • Share the survey on relevant forums and online discussion platforms.

4. Reap Your Data

This is one especially for those of you who have manual, paper responses to wade through. Once you’ve gone to the effort of putting a survey out there, if you don’t commit to proper collection, collation, analysis and action, then the whole endeavour would have been for nought. Be aware of the person-power involved in counting and entering all of this data – it won’t be done overnight.

Regardless of the method you have taken, you must look at the practicalities of implementing what your respondents want as soon as possible. It can seem tempting to say “let’s get X, Y and Z out of the way first…” Unless your business is going to truly sink or swim by those factors, you need to strike while the iron is hot. Act whilst your data is as fresh as it can be. Not doing so does all of the people who were kind enough to respond a disservice – it sounds harsh, but it’s true!

[bctt tweet=”Does the thought of doing market research overwhelm you? Follow our 4 steps to making it easy”]

So there’s my 4 steps to market research success. Do you have anything you’d like to add? Please share it down in the comments!

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