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An essential guide to market research

Posted on 09/02/2022 by Sara Galbiati

There is no doubt about it: customers call the shots. They want content that is relevant and they want exceptional experiences. They want to feel valued and they want personalisation. 

When thinking about market research, it’s no longer a matter of thinking ‘can we afford this?’. Instead, it’s important to consider ‘can we afford not to do this?’

This is where market research steps in. Here, we’ll explain why it has to be at the core of marketing strategy along with a few practical tips on how to get started. 

What is market research?

Market research is all about researching the marketplace and speaking to customers directly in order to gather information and better understand a company’s target market.

It’s a great way to find out more about your customers but also gain a deeper understanding of the problems that you solve as a brand, the value you deliver and what your brand stands for in their mind. It’s an essential component of marketing strategy.

One of the biggest misconceptions that I’ve come across time and time again is that market research is something that is only used to evaluate the feasibility of a new product or service in an offline marketing context – but this couldn’t be further less accurate. Market research makes ALL marketing tactics more efficient and ensures that everything we do is truly customer-centric.

Market research can inform and assist so much marketing activity:

Market research is no longer optional.

Why is market research important?

All brands claim to be customer-centric but are they really? When was the last time you spoke to your customers and assessed how they feel about your products or services?

Brands who neglect to acknowledge the importance of market research will be left behind. Here’s why.

You can’t understand your customers without research

Every company tends to have an idea of who their customers are, their core demographic and the buyer’s journey but you really have to dig deep if you want to build a long-lasting and successful relationship with them.

Customers are fickle and if they feel that your brand doesn’t understand or value them, they will quickly move onto a competitor. On the other hand, nurturing that relationship and staying relevant will give them a reason to stay loyal and tell their friends how amazing your business is.

While tools such as Google Analytics and HotJar might be able to provide some useful insights on how users interact with your website. it’s impossible to understand what’s going on in their minds by looking at a dashboard. Analytics gives us the ’what,’ but research gives us the ‘why.’

You can’t build a successful marketing strategy based on guesswork

This is very closely related to the previous point above. A successful marketing strategy revolves around what your customer needs, not what you, as a marketer, think they want. Guessing what your customer base wants can result in costly mistakes.

Remember when brewer brand, Brewdog, rebranded its Punk IPA as Pink IPA, a “beer for girls”, for International Women’s Day a few years back?

Or when Burger King UK decided it would be humorous to tweet “Women belong in the kitchen” to celebrate the launch of their cooking scholarship for female employees?

Common sense aside, don’t you think it would’ve been wiser to at least consult a pool of female customers before going live with the campaigns? Test your assumptions whenever possible.

It will help you stand out from the competition

Competition is fierce, particularly in fast-moving markets where customers often shop around. A business that understands its customers and the marketplace will always have a competitive advantage.

Market research will provide you with the data you need to identify the areas you can compete in and how to differentiate yourself.

Customers’ needs and behaviours are forever changing

It’s important to remember that customers’ expectations, buying habits and needs change over time.

Just think about how much the pandemic has affected consumer buying behaviour or how quickly TikTok has become the third largest social network.

Even if you do have market data available, this may no longer be relevant. Regular market research is the only way to check in with your current as well as potential customers to ensure that you’re still meeting their needs.

It facilitates decision making and planning

Finally, a quick word on how market research facilitates planning. 

If there was one key takeaway that I took from attending Mark Ritson’s Mini MBA in Marketing last year, this was about how, as marketers, we need to stop jumping into tactics before having solid research we can base our decisions on.

Once you have identified ‘what’ problems you need to solve, choosing the ‘how’ will become a lot easier. Particularly if you have a limited budget, knowing what you need to tackle will enable you to spot winning opportunities and give you the best returns possible.

Whether it’s lack of time, budget or fear of what customers will say, market research does come with challenges but the positive results far outweigh them.

Popular market research methods

There are many different ways on how to do market research and collect customer data.

Each method provides a different type of insight so, whenever possible, it’s best to mix and match these types of market research based on your particular goals and what you need to know.

In this guide, I want to focus on those methods that any marketer at any level can easily plan and execute, including desk-based research, interviews and surveys.

Desk-based research

Desk-based or secondary market research involves the collection of secondary data that already exists; this can be anything from researching on Google and social media to third-party reports and specialised journals.

The focus of this type of research will vary depending on your particular goals. It can take the form of a STEEP analysis, looking across external Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental and Political factors and how they affect your brand. Or it can result in a piece of competitor analysis to provide context to enable you to build your competitive advantage.

Desk-based research tends to be the starting point of all our research because although the data can often be slightly unreliable or outdated, it does provide some really good initial insights to help us understand the marketplace and guide the questions that we might want to cover when we talk to customers directly.

Interviews

Interviews allow us to access deeper, more emotional insights, especially through open-ended questions. People open up to people, so the quality of information you get out of a conversation (qualitative research) will always be superior to what you can learn from a survey (quantitative research), which focuses more on quantity. 

There are two groups of people you want to speak to as part of your research: customers and employees.

Customer interviews

In-depth interviews are a great way to gain foundational knowledge about the problems customers are facing, what solutions they are looking for and how your brand fares compared to its competitors.

We use them to become the people who understand the customer best – the people who know and feel the customer’s pain points.

Depending on the project, we can use them to solve a specific usability problem, get a better idea of who the customer base is, or gauge interest in a new product or service.

Employee interviews

Employees, particularly the ones who liaise with customers on a daily basis, often know the customers best and staff will tell us things that customers cannot.

They have a level of product knowledge that far exceeds the typical customer, so they’ll be able to assess customer brand and product awareness from an informed standpoint. This can help us identify actions that we need to take in marketing and promoting your offering.

While a customer will tell us what they think and feel about a brand and what their intentions are or were, a staff member will tell us which actions that same customer actually took, observed from an objective point of view.

Although interviews arguably take more time and effort, the results are worth it.

Surveys

Surveys are probably the easiest method to gain feedback from current and past customers.

Straightforward to setup with tools such as Google Forms or Survey Monkey, a single email can haul in huge amounts of customer data within a couple hours depending on the size of the database. 

Since we are only able to run a limited number of interviews, here at Hallam we often use surveys at the end of our market research projects, using the wider database to verify themes from the customer interviews.

However, surveys can also be used at the beginning of market research to inform the questions you’ll be asking during interviews – there’s no right or wrong way to go about it and it depends entirely on your goals.

How to conduct market research effectively

Conducting effective market research doesn’t have to be complicated, so let’s wrap up with some guidelines you’ll want to follow to up your chances of success.

Start with the end in mind

Developed by Professor Alan Andreasen, the “Backward Market Research” was first described in a 1985 Harvard Business Review yet it’s still extremely relevant. In a nutshell, it’s an approach that turns the whole process of gathering insights on its head.

You start off with working out the ultimate purpose of the research and the type of presentation and data you will need to convince others of the right course of action. You then decide on what type of research will help you get there and, finally, you run the research itself.

This approach ensures that your market research is successful and leads to actionable conclusions. 

Do your homework and stay neutral

While it may be tempting to use one of the many question templates available online, you will get the most insightful feedback if you carefully craft the questions based on what you are trying to achieve through your research. 

Whether it’s interviews or a survey, people are short on time so you’ll have to be ruthless when it comes to cutting unnecessary questions from your research and focusing on what really matters.

Equally, don’t stick to a script during interviews and don’t be afraid to occasionally ask probing questions to get more feedback on a particular topic or to gently steer the conversation where you need it to go.

No matter what market research method you’re using, neutrality is key. Structure your questions in a way that avoids any bias or pushes the interviewee towards a particular answer.

Even a little research is better than none at all

Don’t feel that you have to commit to tens of thousands of pounds to research. Next time you think about skipping market research because you think it’s too expensive or time consuming, consider making some trade-offs instead.

Start small and focus on a few, specific themes. A handful of insights from users are infinitely better than none at all.

Can we help you?

Market research is the catalyst for making smarter business decisions and can be used to inform a wide variety of projects and marketing strategies. Want to discuss market research further and hear how it can help your brand grow? Reach out to our strategy team. 


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An essential guide to market research

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