Market research process

If you are new to market research, you should be clear on why market research is important to grow your business. This guide covers key steps in the market research process and three market research techniques you can use today to raise your game. 

Market research process

How this guide raises your game

  1. Why market research makes you more competitive
  2. The three steps of the market research process
  3. Three research techniques you can start today 

Market research / marketing research is the process of gathering objective information about your market and your target audience. The market research process means you make more informed and better quality decisions about your marketing activity. 

The better you understand your target audience, the more likely your marketing activity will be relevant to the needs of consumers.

And when consumers find something relevant, they are more likely to listen, more likely to research and more likely to buy your products than those of your competitors.

Finding what is relevant to consumers through the market research process ultimately increases your sales and profits. 

Simple desk lamp to illustrate how to find market research and marketing strategy

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Market research makes you more competitive by making better choices

Good market research helps the choices you need to make through brand activation. It is used to improve the chances of standing out from your competitors.

Creating new products, running communication campaigns, building online services, you name it, effective use of the market research process increases the chances of success.

Of course, there are no absolute guarantees when it comes to success in the market. Sometimes the market research process can be there to prevent you making a major error as much as finding a new opportunity.

There are many published books and technical guides to conducting market research. Most companies will have their own specific ways of carrying out market research.

The aim of this guide is not to make you a market researcher but to understand how it works and how it can be used to make you more competitive.

So, at the most basic level, the market research process can be broken down into 3 steps.

The basic market research process

Step 1 – Define the business problem

The market research process starts with identifying a need for a specific piece of information or answer to a specific question. This ‘question’ becomes the research question that leads the market research brief. 

If you imagine filling in the gaps, if only I knew (your research question) then I could decide on (marketing activity), this is how you start to generate your research needs.

 

Market research process - Define problem, research problem, analyse and put answer into action

For example, if only I knew …

… why consumers are buying Product X rather than my product, then I could decide what to change in the product or marketing to increase the sales.

… if consumers prefer red or blue widgets, then I could decide which colour to feature in my widgets advertising.

… if consumers would like my product with added sprinkles, then I could decide whether to add these to my product.

Step 2 – Research the business problem

The next step is usually to write a research brief based on the research question. This article won’t go through a full research brief, but you can download an example template of a brief here which also includes commentary on how to complete the brief. 

This brief is normally given to a market research company and we cover more on how to find and choose a market research company in another of our guides.

Most research questions will usually start with an “why” or an “if” which can be helpful when deciding which research methodology works best.

“Why” questions usually require a deeper understanding of underlying motivations and psychological behaviour and are usually best researched though qualitative methods.

“If” questions which come down to a more direct preference / choice for the consumer are usually best met with quantitative research methods.

Step 3 – Analyse the results and put into action

Market research will normally result in a set of recommendations and answers to the research question which started the process.

However, it does not stop there. The answers feed in to the start of many other marketing processes. Brand strategy, communications and digital marketing for example all become more efficient and effective when the results of market research are fed in at the start of those processes.

Within each of these major steps, there can be many smaller steps. Particularly in carrying out the research itself. But we cover most of those steps in other market research guides in this section.

It can take time to build deep understanding of your consumers, and time to build strong expertise in this area. But for those short of time and budget, we recommend below three market research techniques you can start today. 

Define the problem – The market research brief​

To define the business problem, you should aim to write a brief that can be used with a market research company to carry out the actual research. The contents of that brief  are usually as follows :-

Background

Give any context that helps the researchers understand the challenge better. Try to be concise and relevant. For example, what caused the need for research to take place? Which markets are included? What do you already know about the market?

Market research brief template

Research purpose

What is the #1 priority question that you need the market research to answer? You will likely have MANY questions, but identifying the key single question helps the research team prioritise. Consider whether this question is closed (should we launch Product x – Yes or No?) or more open (what’s the best advertising message to drive sales of Product X?)

Objectives

Business objective : What is your end goal and how will it be achieved? e.g. how to grow sales by attracting new consumers.

Market research objective : Summarise the research aims, information needs and list questions you need the research to answer. What decisions will you make with the research? This can go into more specific detail than the overall research purpose.

Research methods

Is your market research objective to understand an opportunity or challenge (which leans to qualitative) research methods or to measure and validate a hypothesis (which leans to quantitative research methods)? Or both? If you have any expectations on the sample size, survey length and have any stimulus material already prepared, you should refer to these in this section. If you don’t have these things, make clear your expectations of the researchers to respond.  

Constraints

Are there any mandatory considerations or things to avoid? e.g. If there are any legal or regulatory requirements in the industry, if a particular group should or should not be included. Are there any geographic considerations the researchers should include?

Deliverables

What specifically must the project deliver and how will you define it as a success? Is there a specific reporting format you want? 

Action Standards 

For any decisions that will be made on the basis of the research, list out the measures that will be used to evaluate the decision e.g. we will only launch Product X if (80%) of respondents say they will purchase.

Budgets and timelines

Budgets will need to cover the market researchers time, any costs incurred with conducting interviews (e.g. hiring a venue) and production of any stimulus materials. It is not unreasonable to ask for details of costs. Also, be reasonable on timelines, it takes time to organise questionnaires, set up interviews and compile reports so build this in to your timeline.

Stakeholders 

Who will see the report and who will make decisions on it? 

The market research company would normally respond to this sort of proposal with a research plan. This plan should cover the research methodology – qualitative, quantitative or secondary research – which we cover in other guides in this section. 

You can download a pdf version of the above blank market research with all the above guidance notes, and a completed example by clicking here or visiting our resource section. 

Three market research techniques you can start today. 

Google Trends can be a great place to start secondary research. Your aim in marketing is to answer people’s needs, and Google is often the place people  go to research their needs. 

Observation and listening skills. Try to build the habit of paying more attention to the the world around you, that can also be a great source of insights 

Competitor activity analysis. Your competitor website and their marketing activities can give you great insight into how they see the world, and start your thinking about how you can make your products more relevant than theirs to your target audience. 

Google Trends

A great place to start any sort of market research is to use Google Trends.

Google Trends is a free service that lets you compare search topics and terms from all over the world going back to 2004. You can compare up to five terms at a time. These can be filtered by date and by geography.

 

It gives you an index of how different searches compare to each other over a period of time, which helps you understand how many people are comparatively searching on a topic or subject.

While you can’t get the absolute number of searches from Google Trends, it is still a helpful tool for helping you understand the terms that consumers use and which terms are more popular than others.

Find popular terms

When your business operates in multiple areas, it can help you identify which terms are is more commonly searched for. So, you would typically use the more popular term in your communications.

Is ‘coffee shop’ or ‘cafe’ a more commonly searched term for example? What about ‘agency’ or ‘consultancy’?

Asking these basic questions through Google Trends helps you start to build a view of the language consumers use and the scale of their need. 

You can read a mini case study for business opportunity identification on using Google Trends in our article on secondary research

You should also consider though that the most popular terms are also the most competitive. This should be part of your digital marketing planning. 

Use Google Trends for your industry

We love Google Trends. It’s free. It’s easy to use. We encourage you to go have a play and check out some comparisons for your industry.

See what is trending in what people search for. See if you can capture learning on what keywords to use on your website, in your advertising and in how you articulate the benefit you can offer consumers.

In the example above, you can see how we compared Market Research and Consumer Insight. Though these terms are quite similar in meaning, market research is a much more commonly used search term. Why is why we have used it more often in writing this article.

Build your observation and listening skills

Your target audience is all around you if you start to build the habit of looking and listening more. 

As you go about your day, how many potential consumers are around you?

In the street. In the supermarket. On the train. In a cafe. Even if you are keeping socially distant.

Look at what people do and listen to what they say to get a feel for what they think of your brand. 

 

People in coffee shop from above - a great way to keep in touch with your target audience

We don’t mean in a creepy way. Obviously. Just keep your eyes and ears open.

Market research is about having real understanding of what people want. How they think and how they feel. Watching and listening to consumers is a great way to build up this understanding. 

If your product or idea is something that you can see people using (food and drink is a great example) then hang out in places where people use those products. Watch and listen to how they interact with the product.

If your product is a service, go to places where people use that service. Watch how the service is used. If people are using your service already, ask them how it is going. Ask them how you could do it better. 

Online is also another great place to observe consumers in your industry. Check out online forums and social media comments to get a feel for what matters most to consumers in your industry.

Competitor analysis

Every time one of your competitors carries out an activity for their audience, that’s an opportunity for you to understand the market more. 

You should develop a habit of checking out your competitors on a regular basis. 

If they have premises open to the public (a retail store or cafe for example), go for a visit and put yourself in the shoes of a potential customer. What do they do well? What inspiration can you take? Is there anything that doesn’t work so well for them?

 

Woman peeking out behind a bush

Go online. Google competitors and see what comes up. Do they have high search rankings or are they difficult to find?

Check out their website and social media platforms. What are their key messages? Who is their audience? Do they have reviews online and what are people saying about them.

Look at forums or review sites like Trust Pilot or Product Review. See what consumers are saying about other brands in your category. Is there something they complain about that might be an opportunity for you?

Three-brains and market research

We coach and consult on market research and often include market research skill development and market research project delivery as part of our services. We help businesses commission, manage and apply market research.

If you’d like to talk about raising your game in market research as part of our coaching and consulting services, click on the button to fill out the contact form.

Use this market research brief template when working with your market research agency to brief them on market research related tasks.

3 pages including a blank template, a guide to completing each section and an example brief from the vegan ice cream case study in our secondary research skill guide.

Download it here or from our resources section. 

Powerpoint and Keynote versions of this document available on request. 

Market research brief template
Click to download the pdf

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