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Consumer research: Understanding the behavior of your target market

Consumer research consists of market research methods that help you uncover the wants, attitudes, and behavior of your target market. It generates the information you need to improve consumer perception of your product and create buyer personas and market segments—which help you successfully market your product to different types of customers.

What is consumer research?

Consumer research is used to describe the collection of data to get to know consumer opinions, preferences, buying behaviors, motivations, and needs. Consumer insights look at the wants and needs of your target market to explain why the market behaves the way it does.

Objectives of consumer research

Consumer research is conducted for a variety of reasons, but they all tie back to understanding what drives your target market

Verify market need

Before you launch a product, it’s necessary to know who needs your product and why. You can find out when and where consumers buy items and how they use them. By verifying market requirements, you can ensure that you have all of the information you need to successfully bring your product to market. 

Improve business offerings

Evaluate your potential products and services and compare them to those already in the market. Your product needs to fill a void or improve on what is currently available, so consumer research allows you to find those voids and call for improvement.

Boost sales

Investigate consumer psychology to understand more than just buying patterns. Explore the types of branding consumers resonate with, which colors they respond to, and other attributes that can influence sales.

Improve customer satisfaction

Consumer research can help lead to the satisfaction of the customers you already have. Take an in-depth look at your research results for ways to serve your current customers better with everything from your product offerings and features to store layout. Initiating actions based on consumer feedback will also ultimately result in increased loyalty of current customers.

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Importance of consumer research

At this point, you may ask, “Why is consumer research important?” Consumer research is the best way to get to the heart of what your potential customers want and to align your business strategy with what your customers need. You’re obtaining information directly from the people you want as customers. Not sure where to begin? Our market research solutions are a great place to start if you’re interested in getting to know your target market.

Business growth

Consumer research can give you an accurate view of how the market perceives your business, products, and services. It can also help you understand your competitors—what they’re doing well and not-so-well—so you can do things better and distinguish yourself from the competition!

Use consumer research to keep track of trends, set business goals, and implement successful marketing strategies. Having a deeper understanding of both your customers and your competitors will advise your business decisions, which ultimately leads to higher levels of customer satisfaction and retention, resulting in greater revenue and growth.

Minimize risk

You’ve come up with a new product in your area of expertise. Going with your gut isn’t the most successful marketing strategy! A consumer research survey will help you find out if what you’re proposing will be appealing to your target audience. In fact, our Product Concept Analysis will validate your ideas with a trusted audience—in less than an hour.

Let's use this example:

A product team wants to launch a new feature for chatting within its project management software. They conduct a market research survey and find out that users aren’t interested in a chat, but they have been interested in getting email notifications instead. In this example, the product team can take that information and pivot in a new direction before investing more time and money into something people don’t want.

Define audience

Discover what your customers are like as people. What do they like? Where do they spend their leisure time? What motivates them? What social media channels do they use most? You may think that your target audience consists of one demographic, only to find that another group is equally likely to consume your product or service.

Identify target consumers

Consumer research goes beyond simple demographic information. Demographics will only get you as far as learning about consumer gender identification, age, income, or marital status. A consumer research survey includes psychographics such as interests, attitudes, behaviors, and values so you can target the right market.

Your research data will reveal new insights into your target market. For example, you know your target audience for your new accounting software is for companies of 50+ employees, but you want to be sure you’re covering all interested parties. You can conduct consumer research to find that growing businesses with less than 50 employees are still interested in your product. You’d end up with a whole new segment to target.

Update products and services

Products and services evolve with the quick pace of the market. Sometimes businesses fail to shift when their markets do. Other times, companies are stubborn to think they know what their customers want. Market research can help you move your company in the right direction. Modernize your products and services, reach different demographics, and expand your business with the insights you’ve gleaned. 

Let’s put this in context:

A candy company plans to release 3 new flavors into an existing line of their best-selling candy. After conducting consumer research, the data shows that only 2 of the flavors are attractive to their target market. The company decides to eliminate the 3rd flavor, knowing that money, effort, and resources will be more wisely spent on the 2 more popular flavors.

Types of consumer research

Quantitative vs. qualitative research

Consumer research can include both quantitative and qualitative studies. Quantitative studies focus on demographics or statistics and often ask close-ended questions that help your business generate numbers, averages, and percentages. Qualitative studies, on the other hand, ask open-ended questions that let you collect ideas and anecdotes from your target market.

Exploratory research

Exploratory research looks for insights from participants who are familiar with your product or the problem your product solves. This type of research gathers ideas and impressions from respondents in an open-ended format. These qualitative responses can’t be quantified (except with a word cloud), but they can set a direction for more consumer behavior research.

Descriptive research

Descriptive research gathers thoughts on your product from participants, so you can gain a clear and realistic understanding of the consumer perception of your business. This type of research collects both quantitative and qualitative data by asking multiple choice, rating scale, ranking, or demographic questions alongside open-ended questions.

Correlational research

Correlational research looks at whether one variable in your study, like age, correlates with another variable, like how likely a participant is to purchase a product. It uses data from close-ended questions to calculate the correlation coefficient between variables. Your business can use correlational research to develop predictive models for consumer behavior.

Experimental research

Experimental research looks at how changing an independent variable, like price, affects a dependent variable, like the purchase intention of a participant. This type of consumer research lets your business test specific research questions and get answers with quantitative results.

Best practices for conducting consumer research

With more than 20 years of experience in consumer research, we’re confident that if you follow these best practices, you’ll collect data that will be useful, actionable, and impactful.

  1. Make sure your purpose is well-defined

What, exactly, do you want to learn about your consumers? What information do you need to make decisions about your objective?

Example:

To decide whether to implement this feature update, we need to know ____________.

The data we collect will enable us to make the following decisions about updating _______.

  1. Find your target audience

At some point, it’s likely that you’ve created a buyer persona for your product. Now it’s time to zoom out a bit and look at the groups your buyer persona belongs to. Your target audience is the group of consumers who will care about your product the most.

For example, your target audience for a new athletic shoe may look like this (data for example purposes only). 

  • Age range: 18-28
  • Gender: 50% male, 40% female, 10% other/prefer not to say
  • Preferences: To look stylish, Admires sports celebrities/athletes, Values family, Looks for athletic shoes that are both trendy and comfortable, Can’t afford high-end designer shoes, Follows sports influencers on social media
  1. Design your survey

Create a survey that will help you get the data you need. Here are some survey creation tips:

  • Keep the survey brief
  • Make sure questions are simple, clear, and concise
  • Leave demographic questions for last
  • Include some open-ended questions to gain personalized responses
  1. Test your survey

Always send your survey to coworkers or a small subset of your audience to find any glitches or questions that require clarification.  Learn more about collaborating on surveys as a team.

  1. Analyze and report data

Keeping your survey purpose in mind, analyze the data. Use demographic information to create subgroups for analysis. Report your findings to key decision-makers with insights into your data. With SurveyMonkey, you can create a report with easily digestible information.

  1. Take action

Now that you have actionable, high-quality research data, it’s time to move forward or step back and reevaluate your goals.

Consumer research methods

Your business can approach exploratory, descriptive, correlational, and experimental research from a few different angles, which all have their own advantages.

Interviews

Interviews help you dig deeper into qualitative research since they let you read or hear your participants’ reactions in real-time and ask follow-up questions based on previous answers.

Consumer focus groups

Consumer focus groups are great for establishing consensus through discussion—and for understanding how people in your target market influence the consumer behavior of those around them. 

No time to put together a focus group? SurveyMonkey Audience will help you get the same data in a fraction of the time. Get real, usable data in minutes!

Experiments

Experiments, like online A/B testing or field tests at a business location, let you test how variables like price and packaging affect the consumer behavior of your target market.

Surveys

Surveys make it possible to quickly collect both quantitative and qualitative data from a representative sample of your market, which leads to fast and accurate research iterations.

New advances in consumer research make it easy for your business to conduct its own market research, without having to hire outside researchers to run studies. By using agile market research, your business can iterate studies and adapt to changing consumer preferences.

Respond quickly to market shifts by using agile research methods like concept testing to monitor how consumers respond to ideas, products, and messaging in the current moment.

Consumer research questions

So, what should you ask your target market? Here are a few ideas that will give you a basic sense of who your potential customers are and how your business can reach them.

  • How do you typically find out about brands in this product category?

This question helps you uncover the best ways to advertise your product to your target market. When you filter the answers by demographic, it can also reveal the most effective ways to reach specific market segments.

  • Which factors are important to you when you make the decision about which brands to purchase?

This question gives you insight into what influences purchase intention and buying behavior in your product category, and helps you measure your brand against the competition.

  • How often do you use this product category?

This question helps you estimate potential demand for your product. The answers can help you identify segments of your target market that have high demand for your product and come up with ways to improve the efficiency of your supply chain.

Demographic questions will also help you screen respondents, categorize answers, and identify the strongest segments of your target market. As long as you avoid double-barrelled questions, you can collect data on many different demographic factors in one consumer behavior survey.

Consumer research examples

Consumer research takes many different forms in practice. For example, a business might use consumer market research to:

  • Develop case studies that illustrate buyer personas for CPG market research
  • Use customer satisfaction surveys to conduct online shopping research
  • Run field experiments at retail locations to learn about consumer behavior in store

Consumer research process

Consumer market research methods vary, but the research process stays the same across most consumer research studies. All studies typically follow the same 6-step process:

Step 1: Set an intention for your study 

What do you want to know about your target market? Whether the scope of your study is very narrow or pretty wide, setting a clear intention for your research will make the process a lot easier. If you can’t think of a specific intention, try running an exploratory study—like an open-ended interview with a customer—to uncover interesting research topics.

Step 2: Gather input on your intention

Once you have a research topic in mind, tap existing sources of information before diving into your own research. Previous studies, business analytics, and human resources can all add context and direction to your intention. These sources ground your study in previous experience and expertise—and generate hypotheses that you can test with consumer research methods.

Step 3: Choose a research method and study design

Decide which research method best fits your research question. For example, if you want to build case studies and dive into “big picture” aspects of consumer behavior, in-person interviews are often best. Surveys are a versatile way to tackle many different consumer behavior research topics, and often play a key role in other research methods like focus groups and experiments.

Step 4: Run your study

To get accurate results from your consumer research, your study should include a representative sample of your target market that consists of participants from every demographic group in the market. For example, if you’re running an experiment at your business locations, the locations should be a representative geographic sample.

If your study includes surveys, be sure to follow best practices for creating effective surveys.

Step 5: Check out your results

Once you have a statistically significant number of responses from participants, you can start sifting through your results. Look for patterns in your data, and be sure to compare your real results with any hypotheses about consumer behavior from the beginning of your study. There are a number of tools that can help you quickly identify insights in survey research data.

Step 6: Present your findings

What good is consumer research if it doesn’t inspire change at your business? Turn your results into accessible and actionable insights like buyer personas and market segments, which can be distributed to anyone at your organization. Tools like these help your business improve its products, create more convincing marketing materials, and provide better customer service.

After the consumer research process

Now that you’ve conducted your research, collected your data, analyzed it, and presented your findings, it’s time to turn those valuable insights into action! Go back to your original objective. Why did you conduct this research? What did you learn? And how will the results inform your business decisions? It’s time to grow your brand, fix issues that are causing you to lose customers, or improve your marketing efforts. 

Just remember, your work here isn’t finished. Business environments, audience desires, trends, and problems are constantly changing. Revise and repeat your consumer research on a regular basis to keep your data fresh and your business evolving.

Are you ready to get started? Jumpstart your consumer research with the customer behavior survey template.

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