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A Beginner's Guide to Market Research

Many of our clients have worked with us for many years, and some are professional researchers themselves. However, we also greatly enjoy working with clients who are new to research and helping them to understand the processes involved in delivering the insight their business needs.

So, for those who know their business will benefit from hiring a research vendor but don’t know where to start, here is a beginner’s guide to marketing research. Consider it a primer to insight.

First, it is important to understand the purpose of market research. Marketing research is the process of gathering and analyzing information about customers, competitors, and in some cases, employees. It can be time and resource intensive reaching the correct audience for your goals, and so it is crucial to identify with precision what the purpose of your research is at the outset. For instance, are you looking to understand customer preferences, evaluate market opportunities, or assess the effectiveness of a marketing campaign? If you have a vague sense of what you need to learn, we can help you go deep and get clear on what the highest leverage information is to pursue with research.

Once the research objectives are clearly defined, we’ll figure out who and what to ask, what and how to measure, where and when to observe. For instance, if there is a great deal of complexity or subtlety involved in what we want to learn, it is likely we will want to speak directly with members of the target audience, either in the form of an in-depth interview (a long form one-on-one discussion) or in a focus group. Is the target audience spread far and wide, geographically? If so, it will be far more cost effective to conduct these conversations online via video call. If, on the other hand, the information to be gleaned is discrete or relatively straightforward, an online survey is a practical way to gather a large volume of responses, allowing for reliable statistical testing during analysis.

Other examples of effective research methods include online bulletin boards (akin to an online forum, but consisting of discussion among research respondents), shop-alongs (in which a trained moderator accompanies the respondent to a store and observes and interviews throughout the process of shopping), as well as good old fashioned mail and telephone surveys (which, perhaps ironically, have only gained in effectiveness with the saturation of attention-grabbing media online).

Once we know the method for reaching your target audience, it’s time to develop questions. If the research method is more observational in nature, for instance in the case of a shop-along, this is where we define what to look for, along what dimensions to precisely observe. In the case of more direct questioning, like a survey or interview, we’ll compose questions that are clear, unbiased, and relevant to the target audience. In the case of most online research methods, relevance is crucial, as there is a tradeoff between how thoroughly we can explore the topic and how engaged the respondent remains. Too many highly-detailed questions of only peripheral importance, and we’re likely to lose them.

When the questionnaire, interview discussion guide, or metrics for observation are written and ready, it’s time to collect the data. This means seeking out and recruiting or surveying the right participants, and this process can look very different depending on the target audience and research methodology. For any method that entails interpersonal interaction with the research respondent, such as an interview, a trained moderator with years of experience knows how to get the respondent to open up without biasing their responses with subtle social cues. There is indeed an art to such conversations.

Once the data has been gathered, the interviews completed, or bulletin board closed, we will employ the appropriate statistical or qualitative analysis techniques to derive meaningful insights. This could include processing and interpreting large swaths of survey data in search of meaningful patterns, reviewing interview transcripts to verify the interviewer’s intuitions, coding qualitative responses, and more. Years of experience, professional software tools, and maybe a little caffeine all contribute to the process of efficiently distilling a large amount of information into the answers to your questions.

Based on our interpretation of the research findings, we will make informed recommendations for your marketing, product or service development strategies. These recommendations will be actionable and aligned with your business goals.

Finally, depending upon the objectives, research may be an ongoing process of iteration on all or some of the above steps in order to monitor the effectiveness of your marketing strategies. Continuously gathering feedback will allow you to adapt your strategies as needed.

Marketing research is a valuable tool for making informed business decisions, and although it may look complicated, we at Advantage Research are here to make it easy and help you get the most out of the results for your business.


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