The 10 best market research methods

How to collect information on your target market and audience

We live in a world filled with information on everyone and everything. Trying to make sense of all this data is a constant challenge for businesses. One way to do so is to conduct market research, which involves using tools and techniques to gather information and better understand a target market. 

Market research enables marketing firms and researchers to collect key information on their audiences and market, develop better products and user experiences, and create more effective marketing messages.

While traditional market research tools are effective and have their place, a wide assortment of technology now exists to make market research quicker and more efficient. Understanding these methods and tools will allow you to make the most of market research.

Market research falls into two categories:

  • Primary research involves conducting your own research to collect data. Examples include conducting focus groups and doing surveys.
  • Secondary research involves analyzing the results of data collected by other people’s research. Examples include reviewing a company’s financial data and analyzing other researchers’ studies.

Surveys

Surveys involve asking individuals or groups of people a series of questions then collecting, organizing and analyzing the answers. The quality of the responses depends on the quality of the questions asked. Questions can be either open-ended, closed-ended or a mix of both.

Surveys enable researchers to collect a lot of data relatively quickly, and when properly organized, it can be straightforward to analyze. Surveys can be conducted in various ways:

  • In person
  • Over the phone
  • By mail
  • Online

Focus groups

Focus groups usually involve a moderator leading a group of people in a discussion on a topic based on a scripted series of questions. They typically take place in a room or area with equipment to record the participants’ responses, as well as an observation area hidden from the participants. Sessions can last one to two hours. After a session is complete, a researcher analyzes the responses and insights gathered during the focus group. 

Since focus groups involve several people interacting with each other and responding to questions, results can vary widely. Participants can go on tangents and take a different direction than intended, which can be positive or negative. Researchers will often conduct several focus groups on the same topic to balance the results.

Interviews

To conduct an interview, an interviewer will ask the subject direct questions. Interviews are more personal than surveys, and are ideal for asking open-ended questions. They allow the interviewer to go into greater detail and conduct follow-up questions based on the subject’s responses. 

Interviews can be time-consuming, and the quality of the responses will depend on the quality of the questions asked. Leading questions — questions that encourage the respondent to answer in a certain way — can also skew the results, so it’s important to word the questions in such a way as not to lead answers in one direction.

Experiments

Experiments involve testing theories in a participant’s environment using dependent and independent variables. The researcher uses the independent variable to see how it affects the dependent variable. For example, suppose a researcher is trying to find out how the amount of sleep a student gets affects his test scores. The independent variable would be the number of hours of sleep, and the dependent variable would be the test score. 

The results of an experiment are most likely to reflect what happens in real life because of how the experiment is set up in the participant’s natural environment. However, outside variables beyond the researcher’s control can affect the results, and it can be difficult for other researchers to repeat the results. 

In addition, doing experiments with people who are unaware of the circumstances can be fraught with ethical issues. 

Observational market research

Researchers obtain information by observing people in either a natural or controlled setting. The subjects should not know they’re being observed so they behave naturally and show their true feelings and actions. It’s important not to pressure subjects or make them aware of being observed, as they might act differently then.

This type of market research works best in retail settings and can provide data on shoppers’ habits based on sales, dates and times of the year, and other factors. However, researchers have little control over most aspects of the environment, which can affect the results.

Competitive analysis

A competitive analysis involves categorizing and evaluating competitors for the purpose of understanding and comparing their strengths and weaknesses. The process typically begins with defining your product, service, brand and market. It then involves using specific metrics to compare your company with your competitor.

Competitive analysis can include:

  • Marketing factors (e.g., public relations coverage, SEO structure, social media engagement)
  • Product offerings (e.g., types of products, pricing)

A SWOT analysis is one common form of competitive analysis. It involves evaluating strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Public domain data

Researchers can access openly available public domain data to support their research. This data is free to use, reuse and redistribute, although the data should be attributed to its source and shared with others to use. 

Common sources of public domain data include government databases, polling statistics and think tanks. Another source is APIs, which provide developers with programmatic access to applications.

Analyzing sales data

Sales data usually combines with market research data to complete a picture of market research insights. It demonstrates the effects that follow marketing efforts. Sales data provides more comprehensive understanding of customers and their purchasing habits, and how those habits change according to time and circumstances. 

While the data is limited to understanding customers, rather than their environment, this information can provide a more complete picture when combined with other market research.

Purchasing research

When researchers cannot find the appropriate public domain data for free, they can purchase research results. They can subscribe to industry and research reports, such as BCC Research, Euromonitor, Mintel and other sites to collect the data they need to do market research. 

This type of information is typically categorized and organized in an easy-to-use format, which makes it more efficient to use and analyze.

Social media listening

People freely share their thoughts, opinions and other content on social media on a wide range of topics. This makes social media a great source of data for researchers. 

Researchers can use social media listening tools to analyze relevant posts when researching specific topics. One example includes tracking what consumers say about a brand and its products. 

Since most social media comments are unprompted and unfiltered, posts are typically accurate representations of each person’s thoughts and feelings about that topic.

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