Last week we asked (and hopefully answered) the question: Why should small businesses invest in market research? We also provided some tips on identifying your goals, audience, and key questions to ask to make sure you’re getting the most of your market research. Now we’re ready to dive into doing the research itself.
If you’re new to market research, there are two basic approaches you can take: Primary and secondary. We’re going to be a little backwards here and start with the second option first. Secondary — also called third-party — research involves culling through information that’s already out there —online, in existing reports put together by research firms, and in the stacks at your local library. All you have to do is go out there and find it.
You can start by searching the Interwebs to see what you can uncover about your target audience (where they shop, what they spend their money on, how much they earn in a year, stuff like that). The Bureau of Labor Statistics website has tons of useful information on consumers and markets. Try these specific pages:
- Major economic indicators
- Current employment statistics
- Wages and earnings
- American Fact Finder
- Business Dynamics Statistics
Other non-governmental websites for DIY market research include:
- KnowThis.Com: This site includes all kinds of information on conducting market research, including where to find research sources.
- MarketResearch.com: Here you can search for existing market research reports and industry analysis by topic.
- Think with Google Marketer’s Almanac: Search for data, insights and consumer trends surrounding key events and moments.
- Clarita MyBestSegments: Research all kinds of information on your target customers including how to reach them, what they're like, and where to find them.
- Pew Research Center’s Key Indicators: Track key national, political, economic and demographic trends with this site's comprehensive collection of charts, infographics and data sets.
- HubSpot Research: This site is a great source for marketing research on a wide range of topics. Just enter what you're looking for in the search field.
There are also plenty of third-party research sites that will collect and compile data for you, or connect you to existing market research reports, for a small fee. You can also try reaching out to trade groups related to your industry; these groups will often have market research they’re willing to share (or sell). Here’s a pretty exhaustive list of trade groups in the U.S. There’s even an American Association of Candy Technologists (where do we sign up?).
Universities and academic institutions are another good resource for market research. We’ve also gotten our hands on some pretty solid market insight from the media kits provided by various consumer and trade publications (magazines, newspapers, journals). You can try contacting publications read by your target audience, and request a media kit that usually includes at least some demographic and psychographic information about their readers. Some publications will even post this information on their websites.
Bottom line is: get ready to put on your deerstalker hat and light up your calabash pipe. You’re going to be doing some digging.
Go straight to the source
The second (actually first) approach you can take is the one we like most: Primary research. In other words, getting it straight from the horse’s (or rather, your audience’s) mouth. Primary research involves gathering data directly from your prospective customers, rather than from existing research. Which makes the insight you capture much more specific and relevant to your business and goals. (BTW: That ill-conceived Pepsi commercial featuring Kendall Jenner solving world peace by handing a cop a soda? Yeah, pretty sure that creative team did zero primary research on that disaster.)
There are a few different ways to go about doing primary research. One method is to conduct focus groups — semi-structured, usually small (between five and 10 people) moderated group discussions typically held in an off-site facility. You know the cliché: people gathered around a table, ripping apart your beautiful campaign while the creative director and client watch in horror from the other side of a two-way mirror.
In reality, focus groups can be a highly effective way of learning more about your target audience and what they think about you, your brand, your offerings, and your campaigns. The key to a successful focus group is a good moderator — an experienced, unbiased professional (not in any way connected to your company) who knows what questions to ask and how to guide the conversation so it doesn’t veer off-track. Important: be sure to record focus groups via video and/or audio so you can play it back later if need be or share it with others.
As an alternative to focus groups, you can do one-on-one interviews with representatives of your target audience — either in person or over the phone. One-on-one interviews have the advantage of preventing group-think; because the interviewee is alone, they won’t be influenced by what other participants in the room are saying. But we feel the group-discussion dynamic tends to lead to better insight. Keep in mind the car Homer Simpson designed — all by his lonesome.
Another way to gather primary research is through surveys. We recommend using an online survey service like Survey Monkey, Survata, Temper, or our favorite, the beautiful Typeform. Most social media platforms have survey tools as well including Google Surveys, Twitter Polls, Surveys for Pages and Simple Surveys for Facebook.
Don’t go it alone
Okay, we can guess what you might be thinking right about now. This all sounds great. You’ve seen the light, and the value of market research. But who has time to create and post surveys, find focus group participants, spend hours online combing through census statistics, let alone compiling all that info into something you can actually understand and use to make better marketing decisions? Not I, you say.
That’s where professional market researchers come in. Yes, they cost money but there’s a strong case to be made for investing in one. For starters, they know where to find your target audience, and how to bring them to the table. They also know how to coax the information and insight you need from even the most recalcitrant and reluctant of focus group participants.
Because they’re neutral, market researchers bring no baggage with them. They won’t be offended by what prospective customers might say, have no problem hearing what can often sound like harsh criticism, and won’t interpret the feedback through the myopic lens of a client who’s too close to the product or service (hey, it’s not their company or product, after all). You’ll get the unvarnished, un-spun and, yes, sometimes painful truth from a third-party researcher. More often than not, that’s exactly what you need.
A professional market researcher also knows how to translate and serve up research findings in a way that’s understandable and, more importantly, usable. They’ll compile and present the research in a concise, easy-to-read report you can share with your team and use as evidence to back up your decisions. That report includes key take-aways from the research as well as recommendations on how to act on that information.
We don’t claim to be market researchers, not by a long shot. But we’ve worked with some of the best in the business, and our creative work for clients has been the better for it. If you’re interested in doing market research for your own business, we’d be happy to discuss the whys and hows in more detail. Whether you go it alone or choose to hire a professional, we can help you clarify your goals, identify your audience, ask the right questions, and make sense of your findings. No deerstalker or pipe required.