When people talk about the marketing research process, they have a tendency to make it sound unbelievably complicated.
Sure, marketing research is research, and in research, details matter.
However, marketers have an advantage: We’re not looking for theoretical particles out in space.
Half of what we want to collect is customer opinions, which they’re glad to share if we know how to ask, and the other half is customer activity.
Today’s data analytics platform gives us oceans of activity to comb through. It might take time to figure out what to do with it all, but you don’t have to do a study: It just comes to you.
That’s quantitative research, e.g. “research involving measurable numbers and figures.”
What about the other type of research?
Data about opinions, feelings, or perceptions is collected through qualitative research and that’s what people are usually talking about when they think of a marketing research process.
To generate qualitative data, you have to gather a certain group of people before you and extract (ow!) that data from them, usually through something like an opinion survey or focus group.
The marketing research process gives you a framework to make sure you’re collecting useful, relevant data.
7 Steps to a Marketing Research Process That Works
Marketing research doesn’t have to be hard! Each step builds a solid foundation for the next.
Here’s how it goes:
Define the Question
Before you can research anything, you have to know what you want to know.
You might need to talk with others in sales, marketing, or product development to know what the core question is. That question depends on your business situation, and it also helps define the kind of person you want to get data from.
For example, you might be trying to learn, “How can we make our product more appealing to mothers aged 25-35?” If so, you already know the key demographics you’ll be working with.
Bear in mind, “the question” is not necessarily a question that will show up on the survey you’re creating – it works to inform any questions you ask or other data-gathering methods you use.
Set the Objective
Continuing the example, if you’ve got a product that’s underperforming, you’ve probably got some guesses as to why. In research, this kind of guess is called a hypothesis and you want to test whether each one is true or false as part of your research project.
Team members might suspect the product is too big or small, not easy enough to use, or any number of other things. Whatever the “best guesses” are, you can design your study to ensure you get useful information from real people, affirming or denying those guesses.
Collect Data to Inform Your Research Process
With your core question and objective ready, you can use your hypotheses to start building your study. In addition to whatever your teams come up with, you also want to gather information from your market and industry. This helps you cover all your bases.
Existing data is called secondary research. For example, secondary research might suggest customers in your target demographic prefer products of a certain color. If so, you might want to design your study to have your participants compare color options.
(Remember, this is simplified! If all secondary research was about color psychology, our jobs would be a whole lot easier!)
Your company might already have access to some of its own secondary research or you might need to peruse industry associations, publications, or other sources – this informs your primary research, that is, the new research you’re developing.
Clarify Your Sample
You have a strong idea what customer profile will provide the data you need. Now, it’s time to formalize that by finding a specific representative sample – enough study participants so you have a useful quantity of data.
A small sample size can play havoc with results, so it is often best to aim for something like 100 participants whenever your research focuses on consumer feedback.
To reach all those folks, you could mail customers who meet your demographic profile a paper survey to fill out, put up a survey online you could email them about, hold an in-person event, or any number of other options.
Why choose one over the other? These considerations come to mind:
- Convenience: Which method is fast enough?
- Cost-Effectiveness: Which method is cheap enough?
- Comprehensiveness: Which method gets as much of the data you want as possible?
- Clarity: Which method targets qualified participants and prevents unqualified ones?
Do Your Fieldwork
Once you have figured out how to get your hands on your data, you simply execute on that vision.
Congratulations: This is the part most people think of when they think of “doing research.”
Exactly what fieldwork will look like and how much time you should allocate depends on the situation, of course. For a focus group, it might all happen in a day. A survey might be active for six weeks. Test marketing, also a form of research, might stretch across multiple quarters.
Depending on how you performed your fieldwork, analysis could be easy (“how many people preferred blue over red?”) or difficult (“What were participants’ main complaints?”)
Asking hard questions can be vital to getting the insights you want. Making sense of the answers won’t always be easy – but one way or another, you’re about to learn something new!
Report Your Results
Research doesn’t do much on its own – someone has to act on it. That means finding a way to distill down the actionable lessons and distribute them to people who can turn them into a day-to-day difference. That might mean anything from a memo to a major presentation.
Conducting your own marketing research process makes your enterprise smarter ... and goes a long way toward positioning as a true “thought leader.”
It all has to be done carefully, but it doesn’t have to be complicated ... and in the end, being “in the know” is well worth the effort!