marketing research for beginners, understanding marketing research fundamentals

what comes to mind when you think of market research do you think of a survey maybe a focus group well you’re partially correct but that’s not the whole story to get started let’s understand what market research is and why you should do it market research is the function that links you to your customer through information in its most simplistic form market research is simply a process for collecting market information but market research can and should be much more than that your real goal is not just gathering information but gleaning insights insights are the difference between having facts about your customer and really knowing your customer an insight is sometimes called an epiphany an aha moment or a Eureka feeling when a solution to a problem presents itself suddenly insights come when you dig beneath the surface going beyond just what the customer is saying and looking for motivating behavior do you remember New Coke this was considered one of the biggest product flops in history in 1985 sales of coca-cola had decreased by 24% as their core demographic aged so coca-cola decided to reformulate Coke to be sweeter to compete with Pepsi significant market research was done and the facts showed that in blind taste testing the new Coke outperformed both Pepsi and traditional coke two-hundred-thousand taste tests confirmed this preference and yet the introduction of new Coke was nothing short of a disaster wasn’t just that consumers didn’t buy it the company actually received over 400,000 letters from angry customers why because they had the facts but missed this insight brand loyalty Trump’s taste people had an emotional attachment to the iconic brand and didn’t want it to be replaced even if it tasted better unfortunately for them the ha moment came after the product was launched there’s no shortage of examples of product developers who didn’t do market research because they just knew their product was the greatest thing since sliced bread but it wasn’t in today’s market consumers are constantly bombarded with new products and trends change almost daily never assume you know what your customers want the risks are just too high so why do market research it centers your business on your customer it keeps you focused it allows you to pursue the right opportunities and abandon those that aren’t it keeps you relevant and future oriented and it improves your decision-making capabilities and reduces your risk the key to success is a deep understanding of your customer market research is how you get there if you could sit down with one of your customers today what would you want to learn think about what you would want to know what questions could you ask them that would give you a deeper understanding of your market maybe you’d like to know why they buy your product do they buy for themselves or for others what about how they perceive your company versus your competition what could you be doing better to win more of their business chances are there is at least one insight waiting to be discovered and the more insights that you discover the more information you have to make sound business decisions you how are you making important business decisions today are you just going with your gut maybe you’re asking a trusted adviser or maybe you’re watching what your competition is doing any of these methods might work but it’s still a bit of a guessing game what market research does is take the guessing out of it simply put to make a good decision you need good information and market research is a key source of that information let’s say someone comes to you with a new product idea and wants you to invest in it but all they can tell you is how the product works without any additional information that’s a risky investment you would likely want to know things like is there a need for the product who are the competitors and how does this product stack up to them how big is the market what do potential customers think of the product each piece of additional information backed up by research makes the decision less risky market research gives you the information you need to help identify opportunities and problems and find solutions to address these it also helps you develop marketing or business strategies another important use is to help you assess customer reactions to products ads prices and packaging and you might use market research to monitor customer satisfaction or marketing performance one of the areas where market research is used most frequently is in marketing the principal tasks of marketing is to create value for customers and to create value you need an in-depth understanding of the market and the customers and by now we know that understanding the customers who they are how they behave why they behave as they do is at the heart of market research marketing decisions involve everything from major shifts in the positioning of a business or the decision to enter a new market to tactical questions like how to price a product let’s look at the four stages of the marketing planning process to see how you would use market research for each the first stage is situation analysis otherwise known as a SWOT analysis this is essentially where you’re taking the temperature of your organization several key areas you’re asking questions like what are the potential threats and how do we address them where are their potential opportunities and what can we do to leverage them and what’s our competition doing and how should we respond the second stage is strategy development which is essentially deciding where you want to be and how you’re going to get there here you might be asking questions like these what segments of the market should we serve what our competitive advantages and how should we measure performance the third stage is marketing program development you may have heard this described as the four P’s product price place promotion you’ll be asking questions that address the four PS how should we position and price the product how are we going to distribute the product and which promotional opportunities will be most effective the final stage is implementation now that you’ve put your plan and program in place do you need to make any modifications you’ll be asking how are we doing against our performance measures how satisfied are our customers and how could we refine our strategy or tactics so think about the decisions that you need to make in the near future do you have solid information are you going with your gut what questions could you ask to improve your decision-making ability and reduce your risk you don’t have to be in the marketing department to use market research whatever your role is chances are you’re making decisions and market research can help you make informed decisions ever heard the expression ready aim fire how about ready fire aim we’ve all been there when you need to make a decision and move quickly there’s a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later the same is true when someone says I need this information and I need it yesterday which is all too common at the start of a market research project market research is about asking questions but that doesn’t mean it’s always the answer so the first question that you should ask is should we do the research to determine this you’ll want to consider a number of factors first why do you need to do the research in other words what decisions are hinging on the information if you can’t clearly define the decisions the results will just be nice to know and not need to know and although it appears evident you’ll also want to ask has a conclusion already been reached if the CEO has already made a decision will the information from the research really make a difference next you want to consider if it’s worth doing the research cost budgets and timelines always play a role first ask yourself what is the cost of not knowing in other words does the value of the research exceed the cost of getting the information if so then ask am I willing to make the investment to do the research correctly and am I willing to allow the time necessary to do the research correctly if the quality the market research is going to be compromised due to budget limitations or time restrictions maybe shouldn’t do it because if the research is worth doing it’s worth doing well lastly you want to consider what you will do with the information if you aren’t going to use the findings shouldn’t do the research is there a commitment through all levels of the organization to use results and do we have the budget to implement the findings and as a final check before proceeding you probably want to ask the obvious has someone in the organization already done this research and a larger company you might be surprised at how often this turns out to be the case so when you’re ready to engage in that market research project stop to aim before you fire ask yourself can we clearly define the decisions that are hinging on this research are we willing to invest the time and money to do this right does everyone agree that we will act on the findings and do we have the budget to do so if you can answer yes to each of these questions congratulations you are ready to start the market research process you Albert Einstein once said if I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask for once I know the proper question solving the problem is easy the formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution so it is with market research understanding the nature of the problem will ensure that the right problem is being investigated and that the information obtained will be useful to solving the problem at hand to illustrate let’s consider a very simple example let’s say that Joe the head of marketing asks you to conduct a study to evaluate the effectiveness of the most recent ad campaign sounds pretty straightforward right so off you go and you come back with the results showing that the campaign was moderately effective you’ve done your job and given Joe what he asked for but what if Joe’s real question is how much should we allocate to the advertising budget or why aren’t sales higher does knowing the effectiveness of the ad campaign give him the information he needs to answer these questions you can see how critical it is to formulate the problem correctly in order to execute the right research and you should never assume that the person asking for the research has accurately articulated the real need here are three steps to formulate the right research problem step one is understand the background ask questions like what circumstances are prompting the research who are the stakeholders and what’s at stake for them what decisions are you trying to make based on the research so in our example we might have uncovered that sales have not hit targets and Joe is being asked to come up with a plan to increase sales but he’ll have to do so with a lower budget unless he can justify the existing budget this puts the need for research in the perspective step two is translate the business problem into a research problem business problems focus on an action in our example this might have been increased sales with a lower budget the research problem rephrases the business problem into meaningful terms from an analytical point of view identify potential reasons that sales have not been higher the research problem always starts with action verbs like evaluate assess identify measure determine think of it this way the business problem is what marketing needs to do the research problem is what marketing needs to know to do it step 3 is create a hypothesis in this case what are the possible causes for sales being under forecast from Joe’s initial request he may be hypothesizing that not enough money was allocated to the advertising and therefore the campaign was not effective but it could also be that a new competitor has entered the market or the quality the product has not lived up to expectations or the distributor’s have more of incentive to push a different product these hypotheses will drive the topics that will be covered during the research once you’ve done this you put the information into a clearly defined research objective what needs to be done the action and with whom the target market what information is needed how is the information going to be used so back to our example what needs to be done we need to identify potential reasons why sales have been lower within our target market what information is needed determine what factors impact which product a customer purchases then evaluate their perception of our product on each of these factors how will the information be used results from this research will inform the action plan for increasing sales and creating a budget Yogi Berra is credited for saying if you don’t know where you’re going you will often end up someplace else are you asking the right questions to ensure that you will get the right answers do you know what the single most important question is that your research must address make sure you know where you’re going if you were planning to build a house what would be your reaction if your builder came back and said blueprint no no I know what you want we don’t need a blueprint I’m thinking you might be looking for a different builder while it is possible to build a house without a blueprint the final product may be different than what you ordered the research design is to market research what the blueprint is to home building it’s the framework or plan for the study which will act as the guide for data collection and just like there is no single right way to build a house there’s no single right way to do research however you can categorize research designs in much the same way as you might categorize houses as ranch split-level and two-story research approaches are categorized into one of three types exploratory descriptive causal let’s take a look at each the first type of approach exploratory research is just that an exploration the general objective is to gain insights and ideas about the problem you would use this most often when you don’t know very much about the problem here are three examples of when you might use exploratory research to develop a hypothesis or clarify concepts for instance if you want to understand what is meant by ease-of-use so that you can develop a method to measure it to establish priorities for further research for instance if your sales have decreased you might use exploratory research to get a sense of whether this is due to new competitors poor quality or any number of other possible factors this would tell you then where you should focus your more detailed research to increase familiarity with the problem for example if you are developing a product in a new category and you don’t know much about the category the second type of approach descriptive research makes up the bulk of the market research that is done it’s generally based on one or more hypotheses which implies that you do have some information about the problem three potential ways you might use descriptive research are to describe the characteristics of certain groups for example developing the profile of the average user of your product in terms of demographics attitudes and/or behaviors to estimate the proportion of people in a specified population who behave a certain way for instance the proportion of your average users who buy your product at a specific store and to make predictions for example predicting the level of sales for each of the next three years if your product is placed in these stores our final type of research is causal research you would use causal research when you’re trying to test a cause-and-effect relationship between two variables you start with hypothesis for example shelf placement is a critical factor in sales so where we have good shelf placement we have good market penetration that’s the hypothesis you’ll test if in your research you determine that in a large number of territories with good shelf placement you do not have satisfactory market share then you would conclude that your hypothesis is not true good shelf placement does not necessarily mean you’ll have good market penetration so have you created a blueprint or are you just forging ahead with a hammer and a bucket of nails how much do you know about your problem do you have enough information to create at least one hypothesis or are you trying to get a feel for what’s going on at this stage are you looking to understand uncover or identify or are you looking to measure select or prioritize if you can answer these questions you’re ready to select the type of research that will best solve the business problem at hand and begin to develop your blueprint you imagine you aren’t feeling well and you visit your doctor you have a good doctor who keeps up with all the most recent studies on various illnesses and potential treatments one of the first things he does is review your chart checking for any underlying medical conditions then he’s likely to ask you questions about your symptoms such as when they started and how severe they are he may take your vitals perhaps do some blood work and run some tests and finally he may give you a prescription or suggest that you do something differently to see if that helps your doctor has multiple methods of obtaining data that may lead to a correct diagnosis and treatment similarly you have multiple data collection methods at your disposal once you’ve formulated the problem and categorize the research approach it’s time to consider how you’re going to get the data you need you may select one or multiple methods as our doctor did so let’s consider at a high level what options you might choose from secondary research contrary to its name is the first thing you should consider it uses data that is already available information that someone else collected for some purpose other than solving your present problem there are two types of secondary research using internal data and external data in our dr. example the current studies that he reads on treatments and conditions could be considered a type of external secondary data while reviewing your charts would be more like internal secondary data primary research is research that is specifically commissioned for the problem at hand and there are three types of primary research qualitative quantitative and experimental qualitative research is about uncovering feelings or understanding decision making quantitative is generally more about numbers and objective data in our dr. example asking you about your symptoms could be considered qualitative research while getting tests could be considered quantitative sending you home with a few things to try to see if they work would fall into the experimental category let’s consider an example that’s in the business room you work for GE and you’re interested in understanding the difference in the demographics of customers who are buying your refrigerators versus your competitors you might first turn to industry data that’s been collected on refrigerator purchases this is available to anyone it’s not specifically about your project but could provide some valuable information this would be considered external secondary data you might also analyze the warranty card information that has turned in by your own customers which would be considered internal secondary data since it already exists in house you could alternatively interview buyers and potential buyers to understand their attitudes and preferences you could use this to profile the segment’s that purchase your refrigerators versus the competitors and this could be done using qualitative research you could then do a quantitative study to determine what portion of your buyers fall into specific demographic or attitudinal segments experimental might not be appropriate in this instance but for illustration purposes you could set up observation in Home Depot and watch who buys which refrigerators going back to our doctor example as a patient do you want your doctor to rely on just one method of gathering data no you want them to be selective but willing to use whatever combination of methods are appropriate to make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe treatment as you consider your market research problem you have a whole toolbox at your disposal you may not need all the tools we should pick and choose the ones that will work for you you need to determine the best way to get information that can shed light on the problem and data that will point to potential solutions the last time you bought a car or made a major purchase did you do any research first did you look at consumer reports read reviews or consult any other resources my guess is you probably did which means you were using secondary data to help you answer the question which one should I buy secondary research is data that is already available information that someone else collected for some purpose other than your specific research problem often once the research problem has been defined the natural tendency is to jump right in and create a survey however it’s a good rule of thumb to pause and consider what you can learn from secondary data first the main advantages of secondary data are that time and money they can save essentially someone else has already spent the money to conduct the research so instead of spending weeks preparing the survey fielding the survey and analyzing the data you simply read the other information that’s available and in the age of the internet it is easier than ever to access a multitude of information with a few clicks of the mouse let’s say that you have invented a new pet product that will be targeted to people with incomes of 40,000 to $100,000 and you need to do some forecasting a quick Google search provides multiple hits for statistics on pet populations ownership and trends in the US information from this search may answer some of your questions and help you refine what other information you might want to seek with primary research census gov is a website that provides a plethora of information including populations household incomes size of households all split out by age ethnicity and geography among many other factors and for our pet project they even include the number of households with pets number and types of pets dollar spent on pets and even annual number of trips to the veterinarian however it’s important to be mindful of the disadvantages of secondary research including the uncertainty surrounding the accuracy or quality of the data and the potential for the data to be an imperfect fit with what you need for example let’s say one of the sources reports household income in increments of thirty to sixty nine thousand and seventy nine to one hundred and nine thousand this doesn’t fit precisely with the forty to a hundred thousand dollar range that you need although the secondary data will rarely be an exact fit for your question it’s a good place to start for several reasons first even if not precise it may be enough to address your needs and you can eliminate the need for the primary research altogether second it may answer some of your general questions which means you can spend your time and money asking more specific questions third it may provide you with some information that leads you to ask different questions than you had initially intended general sources of secondary information include directories trade associations and professional societies government websites such as census gov business intelligence reports such as done in Bradstreet or Moody’s periodicals newsletters and journals and online databases think of secondary research as doing your homework what is your research problem type it into Google and see where it leads you what trade associations and periodicals come up visit their websites do a specific search within their site you will probably find that there is too much information rather than not enough the purpose of qualitative research is to access the emotions of your consumers to get an in-depth understanding of what they’re thinking and why they do the things they do it’s designed to reveal their behavior understand what is driving that behavior and discover what might motivate a change in behavior in qualitative research an interviewer called a moderator leads a person or a group of people called respondents through a discussion on a particular topic in contrast to a quantitative survey where all questions are asked exactly the same way and in the same order qualitative research uses a less structured discussion guide as its name implies this is a set of discussion topics with open-ended questions and probes that guide the discussion as a result the moderator is able to push respondents to reflect and explore their feelings perceptions and behaviors let’s consider an example to illustrate you work for andis a national chain of family restaurants and you’re planning to renovate all of the restaurants to appeal more to the younger twenty to thirty year olds without losing the current appeal to families you may conduct focus groups with parents who regularly eat at Andy’s with their families to discover what it is about Andy’s that appeals to them you’ll be looking to discover not just what they like but why those features are important and how they make your customer feel it’s often the underlying emotion that drives loyalty to a brand for example you might ask them to tell you about a memorable experience they had at Andy’s or to describe the types of occasions when they go to Andy’s or you may ask what is though one thing Andy’s should change and what is the one thing they should not change you may also conduct focus groups with twenty to thirty year olds to understand what types of places they frequent again you’ll be looking for in-depth descriptions good and bad that will help you appreciate the overall experience that this target audience desires while the dynamic and flex double nature of qualitative research is the great advantage the subjectivity is considered by some to be one of its disadvantages another disadvantage is that it relies on a small sample of people which may or may not reflect the views of the entire population of consumers as a result qualitative research is directional in nature it’s not considered conclusive so if you need to really understand your customer understand the emotions that drive their decisions understand why they behave a certain way start with qualitative research quantitative research is all about numbers and statistics it seeks to quantify the thoughts and actions of a target audience to understand past or current behaviors and/or to predict future behaviors how satisfied are our customers how will a price increase impact sales what is the market size for our new product to illustrate let’s continue with our Andes restaurant example recall that you work for Andes a national chain of family restaurants and you’re planning to renovate all of the restaurants to appeal more to the younger twenty to thirty year olds without losing the current appeal to families because you are looking to quantify your results all questions should be written in a way that produce numerical results some questions are naturally quantitative in that they ask for a numerical answer such as how often do you eat out in an average month on average how much do you spend when you eat out how often do you order a salad or an alcoholic beverage how far do you typically drive to a restaurant or how far are you willing to drive other questions may not request numerical responses but are asked in such a way as to be able to quantify the results on a scale of one to seven please rate how important each of the following factors are as reasons that you visit Andes where one is not at all important and seven is extremely important on a scale of one to five please indicate how strongly you agree or disagree with each of the following statements because one of the main goals of quantitative research is to statistically reflect the views of a population the execution of the research is critical several things must hold true the sample population that is included must be representative of the entire population of your target audience this may include considerations of demographics socioeconomic factors geographic distribution gender ethnicity specific purchase or activity behaviors etc the sample population must be large enough to ensure that the results will be statistically projectable to the total population in other words you want to be sure that the results you got with this sample would be reproducible if you conducted the survey again with different people finally the questions must be well formulated unambiguous with a complete set of mutually exclusive options if not you’re left wondering what the respondent was thinking when they answered the question in renovating the andis restaurants you will want to look at whether responses differed by region of the country or by age or by socioeconomic factors Andes in California may require a slightly different layout a different menu or a different neighborhood location than Andes in Ohio or you may decide to market to a slightly different audience in one location versus another based on the market potential if this all sounds complex just know that its standard practice to consult a statistician on the front end of a quantitative project to ensure that the sample size and characteristics will produce statistically relevant results so if your research problem seeks to quantify thoughts and actions such as forecasting sales predicting consumer behavior or measuring satisfaction a quantitative study may be in order what would you say if someone asked you to describe how you do laundry if you’re like most people you would say something like I sort the laundry into whites and colors put it in the washer and detergent when it’s done move it to the dryer yet cetera the problem with asking someone how they do something is that they primarily think about main steps leaving smaller steps out because they don’t think they’re relevant or they may not even realize they’re doing something but if you are trying to come up with a new product idea to facilitate doing laundry those little steps or the unconscious compensating behaviors may provide precisely the insight that fuels a new idea the way around this is ethnography which is a method of observational research ethnography is systematically watching someone do something in his or her native environment in our laundry case this would involve watching people do load after load of laundry under different circumstances in their home apartment or laundromat whatever is their natural environment consider that years ago people would measure detergent in a measuring cup ethnography revealed that people would frequently misplace the measuring cup or simply not use it because it was an added step instead they were using the lid of the detergent bottle to guesstimate the quantity but when they put the lid back on whatever detergent was left in the lid would leak down the side of the bottle that little discovery led to adding drainage slits in the bottle and measuring lines on the lid ethnography with surgeons in operating rooms has led to the development of instruments that are more ergonomically suited for where a surgeon stands relative to the patient ethnography and health clubs led to the addition of magazine racks and water bottle holders on the treadmills after observing people consistently crafting their own holders during workouts ethnographic research is often referred to as in homes or shop belongs depending on the type of observation it entails in shop belongs you would accompany the respondent on a shopping trip and observe how they shop what catches their attention what do they pick up what do they read and ultimately what do they buy this might lead to changes in package design or shelf placement or if you’re the store owner perhaps in the redesign of the store the key is to watch for annoyances or inconveniences and for compensating behaviors what do consumers do as a workaround for something that is not exactly what they want or need these are opportunities for innovation another method of observation is simulation like ethnography simulation involves watching someone do something however unlike ethnography it’s done in a simulated environment for example you may have a Test Kitchen where you bring people in and watch them bake cakes or you may set up shelves of cereal similar to how they would look at a grocery store and watch people shop the advantage of this is that it is a controlled environment and potentially makes it easier to observe the downside is that it cannot exactly replicate the natural environment so some things may be missed a third method of observation is an experiment similar to simulation you’re watching people do something in a simulated environment but in this case you may have different environments or multiple product options to see how a change impacts behavior for example maybe you arranged the cereal in two different ways on the shelves and see if it alters which products consumers pick or perhaps you stock this Test Kitchen with different utensils or different cake mixes and see what impact this has on how the cakes are made observational research is a great tool but it isn’t for every project think about your project would Observation be useful to accomplishing your goals if so how and where does your customer interact with your product and is it feasible to observe this observational research is expensive and time-consuming but if it’s appropriate it always leads to discovery of some critical nuance that might otherwise have been missed you let’s assume that a company is looking to develop a new product line of fragrances that you can add to a load of laundry with this product you can add any fragrance you want and as much or as little as you like the company wants to conduct some market research to predict potential purchase how do you think their predictions would differ if they talk to all shoppers age eighteen and older who shopped at Walmart on Saturday and Sunday versus moms who do at least eight loads of laundry a week versus people who buy scented laundry detergent or anyone who buys at least one bottle of laundry detergent per month you might expect that the opinions of each of these groups of people would vary right the point is who you talk to can influence what you hear it doesn’t matter how many people you talk to if they aren’t the right people you will likely end up with incorrect or irrelevant information so first you want to define your target audience based on the research objectives in the example above perhaps the company decides to include women in the u.s. ages 25 to 45 who do at least four loads of laundry a week but they want to exclude anyone who says they will only buy unscented products the population refers to everyone in your target audience in this case every single person in the US who fits the inclusion and exclusion criteria now since it is likely impractical to talk to the entire population of your target audience you will talk to a sample of the population whose opinions will then represent the total population in addition to inclusion and exclusion criteria there are three primary things you will consider in creating the sample first is the size of the sample this will depend on the type of research you are doing whether it’s qualitative or quantitative time and budget constraints and how critical it is to ensure that the sample is statistically representative of the population second will be quotas for specific characteristics that define your pop violation in our example we might want to ensure that we have a specific number of ethnically diverse women in our group to ensure that the total population is represented and while we’ve said women ages 25 to 45 we may want to ensure that a specific percentage are 25 to 34 and 35 to 45 so we don’t end up with everyone being 25 to 30 we may also want to ensure that we have a mix of women in different socio-economic categories or a mix of those who live in rural suburban and urban locations or in different parts of the country to get all perspectives in quantitative research you may want to look for differences among these groups how does the opinion of someone who is twenty five to thirty four differ from that of someone thirty five to forty five how does the opinion of someone on the East Coast differ from that of someone on the West Coast third are special considerations required for the research for example maybe they have to have internet access now not everyone in your population will have internet access so your sample will not be totally representative or perhaps everyone has to be fluent in English or has to be comfortable talking in a group just know that these may decrease how representative your sample is but the trade-off may be worth it to ensure that you’re able to get the information you’re looking for so who do you need to talk to to ensure that the data you collect is relevant and applicable to your research objective can you define what the inclusion and exclusion criteria should be to recruit the correct respondents how will you balance the need for accuracy with the budget when it comes to sample size and type the key is never assume that as long as you talk to enough people you will have enough information to solve the problem at hand make sure you are talking to the right people you’ve heard the saying ask a stupid question get a stupid answer right is he think about market research it may be more precise to say ask a question stupidly get a useless answer if you’ve ever filled out a survey and thought none of these options apply to me you know what I mean so let’s talk about what goes into creating a good set of questions for your research there are two types of questions open-ended and closed ended questions closed any questions are questions with a limited choice of responses whereas open-ended questions do not limit responses to illustrate the difference consider these two questions tell me about why you shop at mini-mart versus which of the following are reasons why you shop at mini-mart the first question is open-ended meaning the respondent answers with whatever comes to mind and as they answer the interviewer can ask follow-up questions about their response for example if the respondent answers because it’s convenient the interviewer can ask what is convenient mean and why do you consider mini-mart to be convenient the second question which of the following are reasons why you shop at mini-mart is a closed-ended question which means that the respondent can only select from a list of predetermined options like convenient location variety of products price etc designing well formulated questions is an absolute requirement to getting useful data so let’s consider some not so well formulated questions to get a sense of what we need question number one what is your age with these options to choose from how does someone respond if they’re thirty would the checkbox be or box see the problem is that when you’re analyzing the results you don’t know which box the 30 year old respondents checked ensure that your answers are mutually exclusive question number two you indicated that you eat at Pete’s check less than once a month why don’t you eat there more often with these options one of the respondents reason is that there isn’t a location near their house or they don’t like the food they will be forced to pick an answer that does not represent their reason which will skew your data at the very least this question should have an other option but it is important to ensure that you have a fairly complete list of options to choose from question number three what is the fastest and most economical way to get from New York to Boston well an airplane is the fastest but a bus is the most economical how would a respondent answer do you pick the airplane or the bus or do you pick something in between unfortunately when you analyze the data you’ll have no idea what the respondent was thinking when they answered ensure that you are asking only one question at a time question number four don’t you agree that the government should not force us to pay higher taxes this is what we call a leading or biased question you are biasing the answer by setting up the question in a way that makes it appear there is one right answer don’t you agree implies that the right answer is to agree additionally use of extreme words like force can also buy us the answer so you can see how important the design of the questions is if you ask a poorly designed question you’ll have no idea whether the results are reliable or how to interpret them have you set yourself up for success the best way to know is to test the questions before you launch your project have you ever noticed that well-written articles use an inverted pyramid structure for the flow of information it starts with the broad information first who what when where and why to give the reader the basic information set the context for what follows and generally engage the reader the article then moves to the important details of the story and finishes with background information a similar approach is used for structuring the questions in a market research survey or discussion guide in most cases you are going to structure questions from broad basic questions to more specific ones this funnel approach serves several purposes first it allows the respondent to ease into their participation the first questions are crucial as they set the tone for the rest of the survey or interview if the first questions are threatening or uninteresting the respondent may refuse to answer the rest of the questions so start with easy to answer factual questions that are on topic these initial questions may not even be relevant from an analysis perspective but may simply relax the respondent and gain their cooperation for answering the more specific questions later second it gives you context for the subsequent answers if they share with you that their car was recently in the shop three times for repairs and you later ask what factors are most important in a new car purchase you have some context for why they might put reliability in warranties at the top of the list third it lends itself to a degree of logic which is a requirement for a good survey jumping from topic to topic confuses the respondent and can therefore result in potentially contradictory answers fourth it minimizes the likelihood that early questions will bias the answers to later questions if a respondent is asked first about how prices compare among products and whether they think the products are reasonably priced and then later you ask them what aspects of the product are most important James says our price will be overemphasized because you’ve already introduced which to some degree implies that it’s important finally it establishes rapport so that the respondent is more open to answering more sensitive or specific questions later as an example let’s say you want to get a reaction to a new over-the-counter pain medication you might start with general questions like under what circumstances do you use an over-the-counter pain medication how often do you use them which brand or brands do you use today and why these are not too personal so they are relatively easy to answer and serve to warm up the respondent for the topic at hand then you might move to what are the most important characteristics of pain medications what do you like and dislike about the current products what would an ideal pain medication look like these are a bit more personal as they involve some level of judgment but by now the respondent is engaged additionally by asking what is top of mind you’ve not biased their thoughts on the new product that will be shown next then finally you move into a description of the new product and ask what their thoughts are likes and dislikes and how likely they would be to use it you have a context for their responses as they previously shared what they thought an ideal medication would look like so as you structure the survey or discussion guide keep the inverted pyramid in mind introduce broad topics first and then drill down to more specific topics begin with framing questions before moving to more specific questions if you give the respondent an opportunity to warm up relax and get engaged before honing in on the key questions you have substantially increased the likelihood of getting information that will be useful in solving your research problem think of the last time you purchased an item and someone contacted you to get feedback on your experience did you receive a survey in the mail or via email or did someone call you did you respond whoever was conducting the research had to weigh the pros and cons of each of these options for collecting data considering budget time response rates and availability of contact information to decide what method to use the same will be true for you when you conduct your research in addition to internet surveys mail surveys or phone surveys you could consider intercept surveys where you stop people on the street or exiting the polls or in the mall or you might consider recruiting people to come to a specific location where they could take a self-administered survey or do a one-on-one interview or participate in a focus group or you could do some combination of these options the choice will depend on several factors such as the number of participants where the respondents live the type of information you need your budget and the demographics of your participants among other things here are a few examples to help you understand how the project needs may influence the data collection method let’s say you need to get 2,000 people ages 25 to 80 to participate and you have a limited budget it’s a lot of people so stopping people in the mall might not be efficient or representative and recruiting people to a central location might cost too much so here you might consider internet or phone options if the topic of your research is determining the type of people who shop at a specific mall then doing them all intercept might be the most appropriate option if you have a complex topic or need to show people a product you really have to consider an in-person option if your respondent population is elderly not all of them might be on the internet so a telephone survey may work better if your respondent population includes people who might have difficulty reading or writing a self-administered survey might not be the right option if you’re discussing a politically or personally sensitive topic a group setting might not be the right option there really is no single right way to collect your data but it is important to consider the trade-offs to determine which one or ones fit best with your objectives and project constraints so ask yourself some questions to help you determine what will work for your project what information am I looking for does this rule out any of the collection methods what is the budget and how does that impact my choices where are the respondents I need to include and what’s the best method for reaching them are there any special considerations for my respondent base once you have answered these types of questions it is very likely that you will have a good idea of which method will best balance the pros and cons for your project in theater when the curtain goes up the audience watches as a play unfolds telling a story the audience is unaware of all the work that transpired behind the curtain leading up to this one show their experience and their review will be based only on what they see when the curtain goes up in market research the report is much like what happens when the curtain goes up many people who read the report will have had no involvement with what went on backstage the entire market research project will be evaluated on the basis of how well a report tells the story in fact research indicates that the report is one of the five most important elements affecting whether or not the results of the research actually get used so let’s look at the elements of a good market research report first know the audience who is going to be reading the report what were their assumptions going into the project what do they know about the project the answers to these questions will frame the report for example if the results contradict what their beliefs were going into the project the report may need to highlight the comparisons between the actual results and the expected results second ensure that the report is a complete representation of the project provide enough background on the project for a reader to understand the circumstances that led to the initiation of the research remember some of your readers will know nothing about this project briefly explain the methodologies of the research including sample design in any rationale for those methodologies clearly state the objectives and key questions the research sought to address then ensure that the bulk of the report addresses these objectives and key questions third be clear and concise this doesn’t mean the report should be short but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a data dump of everything you learned address the objectives with enough information to back them up and do so within a logical organized structure keep sentences brief into the point and when possible use visuals to communicate rather than a paragraph of texts continuously ask yourself what am I trying to say here and why am i trying to say it if you can’t answer these questions you can be sure your audience can’t either forth tell a story summarize the results but include verbatim to flavor the findings and bring them to life Chip and Dan Heath authors of multiple books explain that data are just summaries of thousands of stories tell a few of those stories to help make the data meaningful it’s the story that will keep the audience engaged in the results finally tell them what the results mean to their business this is after all why the research was done to make some decision about the business these are the conclusions and recommendations and should clearly tie back to the objectives and I cannot emphasize the importance of checking that the report is free of spelling and grammatical errors nothing diminishes the perception of the quality of the report and hence the quality of the entire research project faster than typos have someone else proofread before you hit Send so as you are writing the report ask yourself will this report engage the audience did I give them context for why and how the research was done did I loop back and address the objectives that were established did I provide the right amount of data in a way that is meaningful one of the laws of market research is that people would rather live with a problem they cannot solve then accept a solution they cannot understand make sure your readers understand the solution so the results will actually be used you unfortunately there are several opportunities for errors to occur during the market research process that can lead to poor data collection and therefore unusable results one category of errors is sampling errors which primarily applies to quantitative research since it’s impractical to survey every single person in your target audience you have likely selected a sample of the population whose opinions will represent the total population sampling errors result in the sample not being representative let’s look at the possible sampling errors and how to minimize them population specification error this error occurs when the researcher doesn’t understand who should be included in the survey for example if you’re conducting research on future car purchases and you sample current car owners you’ve missed a segment of your population namely those who don’t currently have a car but may consider a purchase in the future sample frame error the sample frame is the population from which the sample is chosen and this type of error occurs when that population isn’t representative of your total a classic example of this occurred in the 1936 presidential election the researchers used car registrations and the telephone directory as sources for their sample randomly selecting names from both for their poll however in 1936 many Americans didn’t own cars or telephones and those who did were largely republican so when their random sample was polled they wrongly predicted a Republican victory selection error this type of error occurs when respondents self select their participation only those interested respond for example suppose you’re looking to get feedback on airline services if you survey only those who are interested in the survey topic there’s a possibility that you’ll have a negatively skewed result those interested in participating may be more likely to have had a bad experience and now on an opportunity to vent you can minimize this through persistent follow up with everyone invited to participate non-response error this type of error occurs on the makeup of the audience who responds to the survey is different than the makeup of your total audience population non-response errors have increased in recent years with the institution of laws inhibiting telemarketing and caller ID enabling people to not answer calls from parties they don’t recognize convenient samples may also result in a population that’s not representative of the total audience but this is less of an error than a choice if for example you’ve chosen a specific location for conducting the research out of convenience or cost this sample may not be representative of the total sample the difference is that in this case you’re consciously making the decision to bias the sample and can take this into account when analyzing the data so as you move forward with your research think about these opportunities for error as you consider both the design of the sample and the data collection methods meet with a statistician at the start of the project to determine the sample size needed to minimize these errors consider what resources you’ll use to get people to participate sampling errors can be minimized by careful sample designs large samples and persistent multiple contacts and follow-ups to ensure a representative response in market research we use the phrase garbage in garbage out meaning that when the data collection is flawed the results won’t be useful response errors are errors that occur during the data collection and are not related to the sample itself while sampling errors are most applicable to quantitative research response errors can be found in both qualitative and quantitative research there are four primary types of response errors the first type of error is respondent error this refers to the respondent providing incorrect information either intentionally or unintentionally for any number of different reasons the respondent may not want to give the true answer because the question is sensitive or there are socially acceptable responses this is more likely to occur when the respondent is answering questions verbally versus in a written or online format where there’s greater anonymity for example if you asked a question like do you take medication to manage stress the respondent may not want to admit that in fact he does take medication to manage stress questions that rely on memory or recall can often result in unintended respondent error for example asking respondent how much they spent at the grocery store last week the respondent may be trying to answer truthfully but may not know the actual amount spent respondent error can also occur with fatigue or lack of engagement during the research which may result in giving average answers versus thoughtful accurate responses or the respondent may simply misunderstand the question the second type of error is interviewer bias this can either be biased responses from the respondent based on who the interviewer is or the interviewer imposing bias in the way questions are asked in the first situation the respondent may engage with the interviewer differently based on the interviews gender or ethnicity a female respondent may provide very different responses to the same questions if asked by a female interviewer versus a male interviewer in the second situation the interviewer can also bias the results different interviewers may administer a survey in different ways in qualitative research where the questions are less structured the interviewer may ask questions in a biased way such as don’t you think that X is better than Y or the order in which questions are asked may bias answers to subsequent questions interviewer bias can be minimized by matching gender and ethnicity as often as possible and hiring skilled interviewers to conduct the research the third error is measurement error which is generally result of poorly worded questions the question may use language that is unclear to the respondent or may be ambiguously worded the list of potential answers might be incomplete or definitions may be open to interpretation for example asking an employer how many part-time employees they have will result in different answers depending on how the employer defines a part-time worker measurement error can be minimized by pre testing the questionnaire to ensure that all questions are well formulated and easily interpreted the final type of response error is recording here this is often simply a matter of incorrectly typing a response this can be minimised by instituting controls and data processing and/or using a computer program that can check logic consistency across answers and flag those that don’t make sense response errors cannot be completely avoided what steps can you take to ensure that the data coming in will not be producing garbage going out ever start a simple project only to have it balloon out of control you know what I’m talking about the bedroom needs a new coat of paint simple enough just by the paint find the time to do it but then you think oh maybe a new color would be nice but then the curtains don’t really go with it so you need a new window treatment and as long as you’re doing all of that you might as well get a new light fixture sound familiar when conducting market research it is all too common to hear the phrase as long as we’re doing this why don’t we ask fill in the blank we call this scope creep which refers to changes in the original parameters of the project which you establish when you formulated the research problem talking to customers is so beneficial that when others learn that you will be doing this they want to jump on the bandwagon unfortunately adding objectives and other desired information to the original plan can significantly impact the timeline and the budget additionally as you add length to the interview or survey you risk respondent fatigue which can decrease the quality of the data collected so what can you do to prevent this first you should involve all stakeholders who will be using the research results early on in the project don’t assume you know what others will want from the research allow them to provide direct input once you have all the input it’s critical to prioritize the need to know from the nice to know information ensure that all information being sought will be actionable once you’ve done this you put the information into a clearly defined research objective what needs to be done action and with whom target market what information is needed how the information is going to be used establish the deliverables for the project and get others to sign off on it finally implement a process for making changes to the original project scope even though you’ve put everything in place to avoid scope creep there may still be times when there is a need to expand the project parameters just ensure that it is a conscious decision and all parties understand the implications to the budget and timeline so imagine starting your room renovation with a list of everything you might like to do getting input from anyone else who might have an opinion and prioritizing the must-do versus the nice to do then you can make fewer trips to the store and end the project on time and on budget don’t just wish your market research project could run that smoothly plan for it and make it happen former Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart once said ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do the ability to conduct market research depends on the willingness of the public to participate currently people are getting more and more protective of their privacy which makes it more difficult to recruit respondents bad research experiences that violate the trust of participants can only make it worse this is all the more reason why researchers must abide by a code of ethics that protects participants so let’s talk about a few of the key ethical considerations concerning respondents first is that it is critical to preserve the anonymity of and the privacy of respondents this means that personal information about the respondents including full name phone number email addresses or any other identifying piece of information should not be revealed to the client in addition to the researcher anyone observing the research or utilizing the data must adhere to this as well second is that any potential respondent must be informed upfront what the purpose of the research is and what their participation entails and they must willingly give their consent to participate third is that if the research will be audio or video recorded or has been observed the respondent must be informed of this up front and must be given the option to refuse at any time during the research the respondent always has the option not to answer a question or not to continue with the research fourth is that the information be used for market research purposes only this is not about selling or promoting anything and the information should not be used for sales or solicitations this one might not be quite as clear so let’s consider two examples you are conducting focus groups with surgeons during the course of the group one of them expresses a negative opinion about your company’s product due to some incorrect information the regional manager is observing the focus group recognizes the surgeon and immediately contacts the local rep to tell them to meet with the surgeon to give them the right information that violate two of our rules not preserving anonymity and privacy of the respondent and using the information to sell specifically to that individual another example a client or a colleague approaches you to conduct research on a new product that’s about to be launched they want you to contact a specific list of competitive users to share the details of the product get feedback and gauge interest here you need to be very careful about the intent of the research the fact that a specific list of competitive users is being used to recruit makes this sound a bit like paying someone to listen to a sales pitch the researcher also has an obligation to abide by the code of ethics that apply to the client or whomever initiated the research among the most important of these is to provide appropriate disclosure of the means and methods used to conduct the research and to always report research results accurately and honestly even if they are not what the client wants to hear for a complete code of ethics you can visit the marketing research associations website marketing research org just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it put yourself in the respondents shoes and ask yourself how would you like to be treated this is often the best gauge of whether or not something is within the code of ethics you when you think about what makes a company successful customers are going to be at the top of that list but what really differentiates one company from another is how well they know their customer and market research is the key market research is all about getting to know your customer at a deeper level what they want what they need and what makes them tick as a result of this course you should now understand the fundamentals of market research and understand the tools available to conduct a successful market research project if this course is what your appetite and you want to learn more there are a number of organizations that you might find helpful including the marketing Research Association the qualitative research consultants Association the Council of American survey research organizations and the european society for opinion and market research one of the things I hope you’ve taken away from this course is that although market research is a science it is very much an art as well so take what you’ve learned and get to know your customer you’ll be surprised at what you might discover you

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14 thoughts on “marketing research for beginners, understanding marketing research fundamentals

  1. Appreciated it. I'm having an interview for junior market research on the day after tomorrow. I gained a lot of useful information! LOVE

  2. The content is great but what's the point of doing a video if you're just going to show a few sentences without showing the important points with much simpler bullet points. Not to mention the colours of the symbols are meaningless and just confusing.

    You might as well make a podcast and include it in the description.

  3. Love to Learn by reading? complete your knowledge by getting your -13- business books bundle |

  4. As someone else here pointed out, the delivery is good but visual presentation could use some improvement. In addition to the variously colored symbols, the alternating bold/normal font weight is confusing and apparently meaningless. Typography is supposed to emphasize, not complicate. Anyway, thanks for this!

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