One of the hardest things about running a business is making decisions and although it can feel very onerous being the one that has to make difficult choices, when you get it right - the results for your business are quite often staggering. It's almost impossible to get every single decision right in life (let alone in business) but there are ways of maximizing the ratio of good decisions to bad - and the single biggest factor that has been proven time and again to aid good decision making in business is market research.
Market research, (not to be confused with Marketing Research), is a critical component of any business strategy and is often something that 'new businesses' will undertake. All too often businesses will fail to recognize the significance that continued market research can play in their success.
Whether your businesses is undertaking a new product launch, doing a primary research study, planning an advertising campaign, looking at rebranding, evaluating its customer service, looking to assess the impact of its sales channels or any other of a number of business processes, the importance of effective market research must not be understated.
The problem that many businesses have with market research is that they see it as being difficult to administer, track and evaluate. Many businesses will also see it as an unnecessary expense. Before we explore a solution to all of these legitimate concerns felt by business owners, it is important to understand why these misconceptions exist and perhaps more importantly look at how to prevent them.
The key to market research is the quality of the data you have at hand. Poorly planned market research can lead to gaps in data that often leads to data managers making assumptions to try and fill in the blanks. Not only is this giving a false perspective but by cutting corners it is also potentially ramping up costs as it causes decision makers to make choices based on poor quality information. This either result in the market research having to be undertaken again, not getting the results that you expected from a campaign or even worse - market research becomes undervalued and ignored in the future.
There is a time and a place for qualitative research, which is also known as secondary research, but no market research project should rely solely on qualitative information. The need to dig deep is something that should be focused on once the quantitative research has been explored fully or should be used in the very early planning stages - not somewhere in between.
There is a plethora of effective market research software that can be used to create surveys and other means of collecting quantitative data from thousands of customers, providing results that can be analyzed in depth that can then lead on to more qualitative methods of research - our Q One Market Research platform being the easiest and most effective method.
The need for a mathematical and analytical approach to market research is again something that cannot be overstated.
You might know what you want to find out as a result of a market research exercise but that doesn't necessarily mean you will know what questions to ask. When scripting surveys for quantitative data it is far more beneficial to ask closed questions than open ones. Another point to note is that there is little point in asking questions for something that you cannot change in your business based on the outcome. For example, if you asked a question such as 'Would it be helpful to you if our outlet was based in France?' This question is pointless if you do not have the facility to make this change.
One failsafe way of making sure you are asking the right questions is to carry out a test survey with a small focus group of people (10-20) and analyze these results to see if you can take action on them - if not, then perhaps the questions need to be reframed or re-written.
If you have structured an effective survey and you are receiving results then there needs to be a process in place to analyze and take action on them. Ignoring results from a survey because you personally don't agree with them renders the entire exercise completely useless.
This may seem obvious but there have been numerous cases where small and large businesses alike have made this mistake!
The use of free data might seem like a cost effective way of conducting market research but often the opposite is true. Free data (which often people will search the web for) can have it's place in the very early stages of market research but there are some massive pitfalls with this type of data - it is often outdated, it is often too vague and not related to your industry and you have little to no way of knowing the validity of such data.
Utilizing data from the Internet (and many other free sources) is not cost/time effective and the results often yield little insight for your business.
Businesses that have little experience in market research are often frightened to ask their actual customers about their experiences with their products and services. Some business owners react by conducting surveys with non-customers such as personal acquaintances.
Again, it may seem fairly obvious that market research is best conducted with your target market (and your actual customer base) but again many businesses miss this point rendering the results ineffective and often leaving a rosier picture rather than a true reflection of consumer feeling.
The chances are that as you are here you will already have a fair understanding of the benefits of market research for your business. As we have alluded to already, good market research can be the most powerful weapon in your business arsenal and it's worth reminding ourselves of why online market research is so powerful:
The difference between someone completing an online survey and a face-to-face panel is that the honesty levels are way higher online. Depending on where you are located, politeness can get in the way (to varying degrees) of real actionable information when it comes to the answers that people provide. The virtual barrier (and protection) that the web provides makes people feel more comfortable when it comes to providing answers to surveys. This makes online surveys so much more impactful than face-to-face surveys as the data is far more accurate.
Conducting market research online is a lot more cost effective than conducting it offline. Panel management tools such as our very own Q One cloud based technology solution allow businesses to target their own survey respondents and set up powerful surveys that provide quality actionable results at a fraction of the cost of outsourcing to an offline market research company that is going to provide less valuable and insightful results.
Not only is an online system more cost effective to implement but it is also likely to increase the lifetime value of your customers as you will have a far greater understanding of how they feel about your brand, product or service and also what they want for the future.
The people you reach out to when conducting your market research are key to the success of it. Not only will online surveys give you a greater number of people to survey, when you use an effective panel management system such as Q One you will also be able to target specific panel members and segment them based on the specific survey you are carrying out.
As part of your market research plan you will need to gain a better understanding of your own business - from your customers perspective and also from your employees perspective.
So far we have mainly focused on the external methods of collecting information such as focus groups, surveys (which can include online, telephone, face-to-face, direct mail,) and observations. There are a number of internal methods that you can employ too - but it is important to realize that these should be used to supplement your own primary research and not used to fill in the blanks of a poorly planned survey.
Whilst this data will be more qualitative, further insight can be gained by speaking to your employees - whether they are frontline sales staff or customer service agents - they will be able to provide anecdotal information that could be used to provide extra value to a more quantitative study.
Another way of using anecdotal research like this is to identify areas of your business that may need further exploration. Through these conversations there may be issues opened up that management are unaware of that could be directly impacting on customers - a phased approach to the market research may then be required with each phase going a little deeper if required.
Although this was raised as a market research mistake earlier, the use of secondary (and often free) data sources does have a place in market research planning. Pre-published data might enlighten you to trends (past and present) and demographics. The use of census data or other published data can help to identify areas that you might want to explore more fully in your market research plan.
Remember though, this is to be used as more of a planning tool and is not advised to be used to replace primary research.
Having touched on this already you may be wondering what panel management is. A panel management tool is a type of software that allows you to build a panel, recruit panelists, target and administer market research surveys. It can often be used to segment and offer incentives to audiences and can also make the manual job of administering and analyzing such surveys much quicker, easier and making the whole process more cost effective.
Good panel management software should offer a seamless connection between your research panel and collection insightful data making the whole market research process much more simple. It can be a very effective tool and should form part of your marketing plan.
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Q One is our panel management, data collection and survey design all-in-one market research software technology. The Q One Platform is a comprehensive, cloud-based, multi-channel and multi-lingual, yet simple to use market research technology solution. From the proposal to the final invoicing stage the system does everything you need to run market research projects and can be operated by a minimum amount of human resource. Project information, collected data and panel participation are tracked in real-time. The Q One Platform is built by researchers for researchers. This is our business advantage.
Our cloud based, fully customizable system allows you to create the most complex market research projects that can be set up in the blink of an eye. The Q One platform works on a multitude of channels including online, SMS, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and fax.
The Q One platform gives you all the benefits of a well-designed market research plan and allows you to set up and implement this quickly and cost effectively. Engineered and designed by a team of market research professionals, Q One is the all-in-one solution for your market research needs.
The real benefit of Q One is seen in the title of this article. Q One allows you to implement your well thought out market research plan. This in turn will provide you with real insight in to your business and will ultimately allow you to produce results that are actionable. Actionable results give you power as a business owner, this power will usually lead to better decision making which usually leads to greater success.
Results that are actionable and based on real customer insight and that have real validity supported through good qualitative and quantitative research will almost always provide an upturn in sales and revenue in the long term.
If you'd like to see the Q One platform for yourself then why not book your free demo here to see it working live.
Hopefully you can see as a result of this article that a well-designed market research plan is not just advisable, but it is essential!
The benefits should be clear to see and as long as the pitfalls are avoided then the chances are that your business will be better for it. No business - no matter how big or how small - can afford to waste time, money and resources on a poorly designed market research plan. If you are telling your customers to tell you what you want to hear then you are wasting your time and will make more bad business decisions than good ones. Even worse, if you ignore what your customers are telling you then you are likely to drive them away to your competitors.
In contrast, if you listen to your customers and make them feel valued, then you are likely to increase customer retention and the lifetime value of each and every customer. Building a greater understanding of your customer base and learning how to segment and target your customers should be one of the single most important aims of your business and should lead to a greater customer experience for them and a greater turnover for you - which means everyone wins!