“Marketing Research – the function that links the consumer, customer and public to the marketer through the information that is used to identify and define marketing opportunities and problems, to generate, refine and evaluate marketing actions, to monitor marketing performance and to improve understanding of the marketing process.”

This is a formal definition from the Principles of Marketing by Kotler. In reality, any research on the web or in-person that include competitor, market or consumer is marketing research. Many people associate marketing research with a long and tedious process undertaken by large organisations published in specialist journals. Everyone needs to do their research, especially if you think you know better. What you think will sell might not be what people do want to buy, even if you think you invented the new sliced bread. Doing your initial research is crucial, so here you go.

The marketing research process consists of four steps: defining the problem and research objectives, developing the research plan, implementing a research plan and interpreting and reporting the results.

Defining the problem and research objectives

This stage is the most important and the most difficult one. To identify a problem might be a challenge to many. You might think the problem lays in a feature of the product or your advertising but in fact, it is your supply chain that is failing. If you are not sure where the problem lays or how to identify it, you might think of hiring a consultant that would go with you through the process. As soon as you identify the problem, you’re halfway there and the research will help you find ways to deal with it.

This is also applicable to the brand new products when the question would be “Will this product be attractive to the potential customers and are they willing to pay the price through the specific channels?”

Defining the issue correctly will help you with your research later. If you know what, it is easier to ask why.

Setting up the objectives would be the next step. There could be three types of research and therefore objectives: exploratory (to gather information to define and find a solution to a problem), descriptive (to find out more about the market, product or demographics and/or attitudes of customers to an issue) and casual (test a hypothesis that you already have in your mind).

Developing a research plan

Now you have an idea what you want to find out, think about how you are going to get it. You can use both secondary and primary data.

Secondary data is all information that has been already gathered for another purpose. In other words, every piece of information that you can find that was not specifically obtained for your research is your secondary data. That would include the Internet, any commercial data sources (free or paid research that already has been done by industry standards, e.g. Nielsen), any information previously gathered by your company, online databases, libraries and business publication.

Primary data is the data you will obtain by doing your own qualitative or quantitative research. Qualitative research will measure a small number of customers, primarily by conducting focus groups or by having a casual conversation to understand attitudes and motivations. It also can be conducted as a survey or interview with open-ended questions to gather opinions. It is commonly accepted to do between 10-30 interviews to have enough information to proceed. Quantitative research, on the other hand, would be mean gathering information from a larger number of consumers and would require at least 100 responses to allow statistical analysis. You could also use observational research to gather information by observing relevant people, actions or situations. The best example would be a “secret shopper”, where a person working for a company pretends to be a real customer to find out more about customer services.

Implementing a research plan

Now there is a time to do everything you’ve planned. Mainly, finding respondents. The most cost-effective way will be an online survey (check out Survey Monkey or Typeform, both are free for a basic account). In recent years telephone interviews got a bad reputation so we would advise against it. Finding people to answer your questions will not be easy. If you are a small company with a limited budget, start with friends of friends. Prepare a survey and ask your friends to send it to 5 of their friends and them to recommend others. Use social media – Facebook and Twitter is a great place to start (don’t forget hashtags on Twitter to reach your target audience). Ask your friends to share your post to reach a higher number of people. If you need a specific kind of respondents, you might need to hire a research company with big databases to conduct your research.

Conducting focus groups will not be cheap either. You will need to pay your respondents for their time, travel and snacks. But if it means saving you thousands of pounds in the future, then it is worth it. Think of the research as cost-benefit. If you do it right from the start it will save you time and money in the future.

Interpreting and presenting results

When you gather all the information, you will need to analyse the data (and sometimes present if you are meeting investors). You will need to think of all the responses and how they affect your business. If it is quantitative research you will need to gather all data in an Excel sheet and find trends, calculate medians or benchmark against industry averages.

Remember to respect your respondents and implement the findings, even if you don’t like the results. If that is unacceptable, go back to your drawing board and change your business model.

If you need help identifying the problem or creating the right questions for your survey, give us a call. We’re here to help you on your journey.

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