An Uncomplicated Approach to Conducting Solid Market Research

by Corey Eridon

Date

April 13, 2012 at 9:00 AM

identifying target audienceintermediate

Conducting market research is often the starting point for key components of businesses' marketing and sales strategies. It's what helps you draft personas, clarify your marketing messaging, set product marketing direction, and build your sales playbook.

But when you're tasked to sit down and actually ... do it ... many marketers draw a blank. Do we round up Don Draper and set up an expensive, time-intensive focus group behind two way mirrors? Isn't that what the big guns do when they conduct market research?

The big guns -- and even smaller companies -- certainly use the two-way mirror approach, but consider that we also have this amazing thing called the internet. That means we can all conduct market research for less money, across a larger sample size, and with less time investment. This post will explain both the methodology you should implement when conducting any market research, and highlight some of the tools and tactics available to you to easily glean more insight into your target audience.

First, How to Conduct Market Research

Before we get into the tools and tactics you can use to conduct your market research, let's talk about a solid methodology with which you should approach your research.

1) What do you want to know? The first key to conducting market research effectively is identifying something specific you're trying to figure out. Trying to answer everything in one round of market research usually means you won't get meaningful answers to anything. Here are some of the things many businesses are trying to figure out when conducting market research -- be sure to drill down into these categories to make it specific to your business.

  • Whether you're solving a problem people actually have
  • What competitors your target audience is using for their current solution
  • What people don't like about their current solution
  • How much someone is willing to pay for a solution
  • Whether a new product or add-on is enticing
  • Demographic and psychographic information
  • How your target audience likes to communicate and consume information

2) Draft your questions and hypotheses for how people will answer. This will help you think through logical flows and the potential follow-up questions you should ask to get a comprehensive set of data. There's nothing worse than conducting your market research, and upon analyzing the results, realizing there was an entire branch of logic you hadn't anticipated that requires you to conduct your research again. For example, if you're doing market research to determine whether an add-on service would be interesting to your current customers, you'd probably want to ask different follow-up questions to those who responded positive, negatively, and indifferently. Walk through hypothetical conversations with each of those groups, and document all of the questions you'd like to ask before beginning your research.

3) Find the right group of people for your market research. Is your research targeted toward customers (as opposed to leads or the general public)? If so, what qualities should those customers possess? For example, if HubSpot was gauging interest in an add-on service, we might only need feedback from customers that use the Professional package of our software, and eliminate those using the Basic or Enterprise levels of the software. Or if we wanted to gauge whether the inclusion of that add-on service would help convert more leads, we might consult leads in our database only within a certain business size that we know are interested in the Professional version of the software.

4) Determine the best method to ask your questions. We're going to get into tools and tactics in the next sections of this post, but selecting the right method for administering market research is key for getting the best results. For example, if you're like our very own Laura "@Pistachio" Fitton and you have a large Twitter following, it might make more sense to leverage that Twitter following to do market research rather than creating a survey. Or perhaps you have an extremely engaged segment of your email list that also happens to be the target audience for this research -- consider using email as a key tool in your market research instead!

5) Analyze your findings. After you conduct your research and collect your findings, it's time to get analyzing. Depending on what type of data you're pulling in -- quantitative or qualitative -- you may need to set a threshold that helps you determine your next steps. For example, if your research is quantitative and you were looking to gauge interest in that add-on service we keep talking about, what number of people need to respond positively, negative, and indifferently to pursue or nix the project? Or perhaps you're looking for more qualitative feedback -- like different ways someone would use one of your products. Look for new ways people are using the product you hadn't considered to drive the improvements you make and identify problems you didn't even realize people had that you could solve.

How to Craft Your Market Research Survey

Surveys are the most common method of administering online market research, so we're going to start by digging deep into the right and wrong way to administer them -- because there are tons of little things that make a big difference in the results you get!

Surveys are fantastic for quantitative research, especially since most survey tools like SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang (both tools I've used successfully in the past) come with reporting options that sort the data for you, and allow you to export and manipulate the data as needed. But you can also easily loop in qualitative analysis, or use survey tools for future in-depth qualitative analysis that becomes necessary as you learn more from the data you collect. (Tip: If you're just looking to get quick insights, Google has just launched a tool called Consumer Surveys that lets you ask a question and get aggregated responses and accompanying data for $0.10 per response.)

consumer insights

When drafting your survey, take pains to ensure every question you ask truly needs to be asked; if your survey is too long, you'll suffer a lower rate of completion. There are two things you can do to help respondents fill out the survey in its entirety. First, include a progress bar so respondents know there's an end in sight -- otherwise, they could be one question away from completion but think they're several minutes away, causing them to abandon the survey.

You should also set expectations up front for how much time the survey will take. If after editing out questions you don't truly need to ask, you are still left with a survey that will take 5 minutes to complete (which is pretty long for an online survey), that's okay! Tell respondents that the survey should take 5 minutes to complete, that their feedback is valuable, and why you need that feedback from them specifically. For a long survey, this up-front admission will result in less people starting the survey, but a higher proportion of those who begin the survey will complete it -- giving you higher quality results for your market research.

Online survey tools are also fantastic research mechanisms because of the built-in logic functionality in most tools. This allows you to better target your questions to survey respondents as they self-identify through their answers to your questions. For example, perhaps you're trying to beef up your buyer personas a bit. Your lead intelligence tells you the industry and company size of your leads, but you really need to get a handle on job titles, too, because your personas really revolve around the C-suite and middle management. The logic in survey tools will let you begin with a question about job titles, and based on the response, send respondents down two different logic trees with two different sets of questions. So while you may think your market research is limited to your lead intelligence, online surveys tools with logic functionality let you segment on the fly for higher quality information.

If you're conducting qualitative research in your online surveys, you'll need to be careful with the way you phrase your questions. There's a fine balance between being open-ended so as to encourage honesty, and being vague to the point of confusion. On the other end of the spectrum, survey questions can often be so specific that they're unintentionally leading -- infusing the answer the marketer expects to hear right into the question and answer choices. For example, a survey question might be structured:

Would you use product X for Y, Z, or other?

While you provided "other" as an option, you're already planting a couple ideas in the respondents' minds about the correct way to use your product that they may not have had without your direction. Instead, phrase a question of this nature more open-ended, like:

Explain some of the ways you might use product X when at the office.

This phrasing lets respondents answer your question without the preconceived notions that come with your product knowledge, but also limits the scope of the answer by adding a clause like "when at the office" at the end to help narrow their frame of mind enough to provide a detailed answer. (Tip: When asking open ended questions, you'll need to use a text box. Make the size of the text box commensurate with the length of answer you hope to receive. If respondents see a two-line text box, you'll probably receive a short sentence. If they see they have 8 lines of space, you'll likely receive a more in-depth response.)

Finally, once you analyze the results of your survey, you may find you'd like to follow up with your respondents verbally. Prepare for this instance by including a question at the end of the survey asking if the respondent would be willing to speak with someone from your company on the phone to hear more about their opinions. While not everyone's cup of tea, plenty of people are excited to share their thoughts on the phone -- it makes them feel special and engaged with your company! If you do administer phone interviews, it's recommended that you record those calls (disclosing the recording to your respondent, of course) so they can be transcribed by a third-party service. This frees you from the burden of note-taking during calls, lets you focus on asking the right follow-up questions, and lets a larger group analyze what was said objectively, not what you think you heard the respondent saying.

Market Research Doesn't End With Surveys!

While online surveys are the most common way marketers and business owners collect market research insights, there are other ways to get the intelligence you need. You'll probably find, however, that a mix of these tools with more calculated online surveys is a helpful approach to stay connected with the opinions of your leads, customers, and the general market.

Hop on Social Media

You've probably heard plenty of success stories about using social media for feedback (we've written an entire blog post on how to do it), so why not make use of it for your market research? Social media market research is ideal for getting qualitative feedback, and getting it quickly. And luckily, social media is getting better and better at targeting -- in fact, just yesterday LinkedIn announced more robust targeting functionality for users! Couple that with Twitter's list functionality, Google+ Circles, and Facebook lists, and you've got the ability to get your questions out to the exact audience you're targeting for information.

Dive In to Your Marketing Analytics

Market researchers can get more quantitative insights from their marketing analytics -- about everything from how people consume information, to what they think of your product, service, or brand, to what problems they're facing in your industry that you might be able to solve. For example, instead of setting up a survey to determine which offer is more enticing, you can simply set up an A/B test to see whether a BOGO or 30% off coupon gets better conversion rates. Or if you're trying to identify opportunities for expanded service offerings, you might take a look at your search analytics. Looking at the search terms people are typing can help you understand not only the problems people face, but whether they consider your product a solution for those problems.

Perhaps you notice that there's growing volume around the search term "how to treat a unicorn with a gluten allergy." Whoa, did you know that gluten allergies are on the rise in unicorns? Is that a space you want to play in? If so, and you begin creating content and solutions for it, take a look at whether the traffic that comes to your site on that term actually converts. If not, perhaps you haven't designed a solution that meets the needs of the gluten-allergic unicorn community.

Leverage Public Records

You can even make use of public records to get the market information you need! Inc.com compiled a fantastic list of government resources that provides demographic information, three valuable ones which I've listed below:

  1. FedStats: This site publishes government statistics, like statistical profiles of states, cities, and counties.
  2. The Census Bureau: This site gives you access to census data.
  3. The Census Bureau's Quick Facts: This site gives quick facts about people, businesses, and geography.

Finally, think of market research as an ongoing process. Often, the insights you glean result in more detailed and interested questions you'd like to ask. Continue to communicate with your target audience and customers so you can learn what their needs are and what you can do to meet them.

What tips do you have for marketers looking to conduct market research?

Image credit: janoma.cl

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