Market research is the process of gathering information that a company conducts on its target audience and its reference market using a series of methodologies and tools, which today are mainly digital.
Market research helps companies achieve a number of important objectives, such as verifying the success of a business proposal, accurately iterating on an existing product (especially based on data analysis), and having an accurate understanding of how the brand is perceived. These objectives make it easy to see why the questions around “how to do a market research“ are firmly at the top of the list of priorities for marketers and corporate decision makers.
Digital channels have incomparably larger traffic flows by volume than traditional channels, and they are also much faster. To keep pace with the speed with which customer habits change, a marketing strategy (and digital marketing in particular) must be built on a solid foundation: comprehensive, dynamic, and timely market research.
The question of how to conduct market research is by no means insignificant: it’s about whether a company can effectively communicate its value and benefit in terms of increased revenue.
The questions to be asked – which we will try to answer in the course of this post – then become the following: how to do a market research that produces tangible results? How many and which steps must a company face to access the knowledge (related to consumers, purchase behaviors, and the market) it really needs?
How to do a market research: perspectives, typologies, techniques
Market research – and in particular the data-driven form into which it has evolved – traces a privileged way of accessing a type of knowledge that is above all operational, a wealth of information that is increasingly in-depth and articulated, which it is essential to draw from in order to form rational expectations and to organize business activities. These are not abstract concepts but solid methodologies that have immediate repercussions on a company’s economy.
According to GlobeNewswire, the market for market research services is growing rapidly. From the approximately $75 billion recorded in 2021, this is expected to reach $90 billion in 2025, an annual growth rate of 5%.
The pragmatic nature of market research is all the more evident if we consider that it still consists of practices that are to some extent artisanal, even today. Such techniques require interventions in the “real” world. The researcher, in order to gain near certainty, must be able to establish contact – even if only virtually – with potential consumers in order to create an estimated profile that is as similar as possible to the real one.
Before describing the process of conducting market research, let’s clarify some concepts and definitions.
Primary, secondary, and lean market research
Depending on your company’s objectives and the industry you plan to investigate, a market research study can be primary and secondary, or it can contain elements of both.
- Primary research consists of gathering first-hand information about the market and customers in that market. In this type of research, surveys are conducted by the company according to internally determined criteria. Primary research is successfully used to segment the audience and determine buyer personas.
- Secondary research consists of all public data and documents that are currently available (e.g., industry trend reports, market statistics, various types of content, and company sales data). Secondary research is particularly useful for analyzing competitors.
What differentiates primary and secondary research is the source of the data: in secondary research, surveys and tests that have already been conducted are evaluated and then processed according to criteria defined by those conducting the research (not by the company itself).
Lean market research is not about the nature of the source information, but the way that the entire research process is carried out.
In fact, lean refers to a methodology, widely used in contemporary marketing, that consists of implementing a cycle of incremental improvements: starting with data, the research continues with feedback on the product, which serves as fuel for iteration and validation. Put another way: lean market research studies the outcomes of early test “explorations”, learns from the results, and evolves from them without waiting for the conclusion of the process to express an evaluation (which is therefore always open to updates and corrections).
Market research techniques: prioritize interviews and surveys
There are a number of techniques for how to do a market research. Each focuses on a particular aspect of the industry or potential customer, and uses specific tools:
- Focus groups
- Product/service usage research
- Observation-based research
- Buyer personas research
- Market segmentation research
- Price research
- Competitive analysis research
- Customer satisfaction and loyalty research
- Brand awareness research
- Campaign analysis
Of particular importance are surveys and interviews, which are used more frequently because they provide a close-up and therefore privileged view of the system of considerations and expectations that a person has on a certain subject. In both cases, this is qualitative market research:
- Surveys ask respondents a short series of questions (open or closed), which are distributed to the recipient in different ways: through screen sharing – and therefore in real time – via email or (now more rarely) by phone.
- Interviews, on the other hand, consist of “face-to-face” conversations (nowadays, often via video conference) that serve to go deeper on relevant topics (for example by reading non-verbal signals). Interviews allow precise insights because, better than other forms of market research, they can foster the creation of an empathetic relationship between interviewer and interviewee.
Both surveys and interviews can be administered through interactive digital tools, such as uploading questions to personalized mini-sites that function as both a repository and a communication tool, or integrating questions into video content and making them actionable through forms, radio buttons, and multiple-choice forms. In addition to launching surveys, these capabilities can capture data and information from video recipients, preconfigure a product or service, or easily measure a company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS).
How to do a market research: the steps
Now that we have reviewed the main types of market research and the most used techniques, let’s get to the heart of the matter and find out how to do a market research, step by step.
1. Define buyer personas
Buyer personas are fictitious, generalized representations of ideal customers. They are profiles that possess the distinctive characteristics (expected, desired) of the model client and report the possible recurring actions. Buyer personas attempt to create a daily narrative that strives to further understand consumers, the challenges they face, and the decision making processes they employ to choose products and services.
2. Identify a group of personas to engage
Once you have defined the key characteristics of buyers, this information should be used to identify the group of real people to whom you want to ask questions. If the selection has been done accurately, this group should constitute a representative sample of target customers.
3. Prepare questions for participants
The next step is to prepare the questions in a way that maps out a clear, non-dispersive path. Make sure that you structure the interview in a sequence that will ensure a progressive depth of understanding, and that you manage your time so that you’re able to ask all of the important questions.
4. List your main competitors
At this point, prepare a prospectus that lists and describes all major competitors. Identify the strengths and weaknesses, financial situation, reputation, etc. for each.
5. Summarize your findings
Here, the objective is to develop a summary document where you can organize the results of the market research. The tool chosen should facilitate clear communication and sharing of the knowledge acquired with the rest of the team, with project managers, CMOs, and executives from other departments, etc.
6. Tell a story
Now, it’s a matter of structuring what our market research has highlighted into a form that is immediately understandable, comprehensive, and interesting. Holding the attention of stakeholders (for example, department heads or executives who have not followed the preparation of the market research but are interested in the results) is not a trivial matter. For this reason, one solution may be to translate the results into a story and building out their narrative dimension.
7. Choose technologies that automate and simplify data acquisition, communication, and sharing processes
Even in the case of market research, data is the most valuable resource. In order to enhance and optimize it, and make it available to subsequent marketing processes (customer communications, lead generation, and lead nurturing), it’s necessary to respect the integrity and security of the documents where the data – embedded in the research results – is recorded. Document management processes make it possible to exploit information from heterogeneous sources, returning it in the form of output that is suitable for pagination and communication. In this way, data also comes into play in the creation of valuable content that can be used within a customer experience strategy.
In order to communicate the results of research, there are solutions available today that can create a space for an interactive experience. Specifically, we’re talking about personalized videos and dynamic and responsive micro-websites. These tools transform communication into conversations that help brands to get to know their customers better: to be able to offer truly relevant content, design truly useful products and services, and build solid, long-lasting relationships.
Market research is a decisive element of a marketing strategy
To sell to consumers you need to know their needs, desires, and expectations. While this may seem obvious, even today, it’s not. Or at least not completely. For two reasons.
First of all, it describes a more recent reality than we think. Sales communication – and marketing in general, of which communication is a main lever – has taken a few decades to shift the point of view from the product to the customer.
Secondly, mass digitization has made a fully customer-centric approach possible. This is because it was only when the technological and socio-economic conditions matured to the point where data-driven marketing could be developed that brands were able to leverage their information assets to design initiatives tailored to increasingly profiled targets.
The point is that data-driven marketing, although undoubtedly considered a valuable approach, has struggled to be perceived as accessible in terms of costs and skills to be acquired. Yet the ability to extract value from large amounts of data is precisely what allows companies to mediate with the power that consumers have gained over time:
- the power to search for the product or service on different channels, juggling the endless proposals thanks to digital skills that are more and more developed every day;
- the power to make purchasing decisions autonomously or thanks to the support of reliable sources (reviews and referrals) – external to brands.
On the one hand, therefore, new knowledge and tools make it possible to identify, in the incessant flow of data, useful insights for the decision-making process, and on the other, by participating more actively in the conversation with the brand, it’s the users-consumers who offer information on their habits and preferences.
In this context, where the “truth” of the statement from which we started at the beginning of this section is subject to a sort of diabolical logical cul-de-sac – “I know my customers if I can sell them my products, but I sell my products only if I know my customers well” – how can we create an effective marketing strategy? How can we increase the ROI of individual initiatives?
Through market research, marketers not only learn about who their buyers are and how to recognize their behaviors, they also gain an in-depth understanding of the market where they compete and the elements that influence purchasing decisions. That’s why market research provides a great starting point, and that’s why it’s essential to know how to do a market research and, more importantly, how to do it well.