Everything you need to know before getting started
Market research is essential to every organization.
According to the latest global market research report by ESOMAR, a global community of market researchers, roughly $45 billion is spent on market research annually around the globe. The majority of these resources are spent contracting full-service vendors and agencies that do your market research for you. But what if you could cut out the middleman and do it yourself? Doing your own market research is much cheaper, faster, and not nearly as difficult as you might think, as long as you know what you’re doing.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know to run your own market research programs and get insights to help everyone at your company make business decisions—without costly middlemen.
Market research is the process of collecting information on consumers’ behaviors and preferences, category trends, and/or competitive intelligence. Market research is typically conducted by organizations to inform product development and go-to-market strategy to ultimately drive business growth.
Market research can help companies answer questions like:
Sure, business decisions can be made based on gut instincts alone, but doing so comes with high risk. After all, not all of us can be brilliant visionaries like Steve Jobs, who famously said, “It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want.” We beg to differ. Market research provides the necessary data-backed evidence to help you make those decisions with confidence. Here’s why market research is so important:
Market research is a broad term that encompasses several different types of information gathering. It can mean different things to different people and be viewed through a number of different lenses. In order to give you a comprehensive understanding of it, we’ll walk through each of common types of market research, their pros and cons, and how they’re most commonly used. We’ll talk about the differences between:
Fundamentally, market research can be broken down into two major categories: primary research and secondary research.
For the purpose of this guide, we will be focusing on primary research. Once you’re done reading, you’ll be a pro at conducting your own primary market research.
Quantitative and qualitative research can be done individually or in combination to get broader and deeper insights.
|Quantitative research||Qualitative research|
-Large sample size
-Smaller sample sizes
-Aggregates and averages
-Presented in numbers
-Presented in themes
-Faster and easier to analyze results with spreadsheets and statistical software
-Larger sample sizes mean the results are more likely to be statistically significant
-Deep dive into the “how” and “why”
-Exploratory research design provides the opportunity to capture concepts or ideas you hadn’t thought of before
-Less detail around “how” and “why”
-Structured research design means it’s possible the research isn’t capturing all possible concepts or ideas
-Time consuming and difficult to analyze the findings
-Smaller sample sizes mean the results are less likely to be statistically significant
When your organization needs to conduct market research, there are a couple ways to go about it. The two main approaches are do-it-yourself (DIY) market research or to use a full-service market research firm.
Here is a summary of the pros and cons of DIY market research and full-service market research for you to consider when deciding how you’ll conduct your research:
|DIY market research||Full-service market research|
-Complete control over research design and timeline
-All of the work is done for you by the vendor
-No expertise needed
-Requires work internally to set up the research and analyze results
-Takes a long time
-Requires vendor on-boarding to ensure relevant recommendations
Now that you’re well versed in the different types of market research, it’s time to get you off and running! In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know to conduct your own market research from start to finish—from creating a project plan to designing your survey to collecting representative responses to turning results into action.
The best practices in this guide span any market research use case, but we’ll focus on the three example surveys you see below: consumer behavior, ad testing, and brand tracking. By the time you’ve finished reading this guide, you’ll be a pro at DIY market research!
How to create a market research plan
Before you get knee-deep in survey design and data collection, it’s important to have a clear plan in place for your market research. Knowing when you need market research, understanding what type of market research is important to your business, aligning with your stakeholders, and scoping out your project ahead of time will ensure you stay on track and deliver actionable results.
So, when’s the best time to do market research? Trick question! Continuously. No matter where you work, you can always tap into the market’s opinions and preferences to be better at your job.
Let’s look at this in the context of a product’s lifecycle:
If the answer to “when should I do market research” is “all the time,” how do companies manage and plan for that? One way is budgeting for large annual studies—like brand tracking and competitive research every year or more frequently. In addition to that, more and more companies have taken a page from the world’s most innovative companies to make their market research more agile.
Agile market research is an approach to conducting market research in which projects are structured in small, frequent “sprints” so you can adapt to challenges on the fly.
Rooted in the Agile Methodology first introduced in the software development space, agile market research takes on a lot of the same characteristics you’d find in startup culture. Agile market research goes beyond just being faster. As SurveyMonkey president Tom Hale described in his piece in Quirk’s, “The era of doing a couple of large, set-in-stone projects a year is gone. Today your research goals adapt to the ever-changing needs of the business, which translates into frequent projects that validate your strategy along the way.”
“The era of doing a couple of large, set-in-stone projects a year is gone. Today your research goals adapt to the ever-changing needs of the business, which translates into frequent projects that validate your strategy along the way.”
Agile market research isn’t a brand new concept, but it has spread like wildfire. Even a couple years ago, 78% of researchers were planning to adopt agile market research methodologies, according to a study by GutCheck. With DIY research tools like SurveyMonkey and SurveyMonkey Audience, more people and teams within an organization are able to do their own market research without having to rely on centralized insights teams or full-service agencies, and this allows them to always have the data they need to make decisions faster.
Below is SurveyMonkey’s agile market research framework. It visualizes a cyclical approach to exploring, testing, validating, and optimizing strategies—whether they’re ideas, concepts, campaigns, you name it—all the while continuously tracking progress. It takes what otherwise might be a long, drawn out research timeline and breaks it into sprints of smaller, more manageable projects. The beauty of this framework is its versatility. It shows you how agile market research can help you for nearly any challenge or project you might encounter at your job.
Each research phase fundamentally asks the following questions:
The key takeaway here is that with the right tools and processes, research can be an ongoing activity that any team in your organization can own. Now, that doesn’t mean that you should just start conducting research willy-nilly. Having a clear direction and plan will make frequent research that much more strategic and actionable. The first step is defining the business question your research aims to answer.
Starting a market research project from scratch can feel intimidating. If you break it into chunks and have a clear vision of what you’re looking for, things become easier. In order to focus your research, you should lay out the business question and research goals you’re looking to achieve.
The business question is a short summary of the problem you’re solving for and the context of how it fits in to your business. We’re not talking about survey questions here—business questions are high-level goals or challenges that tie directly to your business objectives that can help you make better decisions. A business question might involve:
The research goal is an outline of the specific facts or metrics you hope to learn with your research. In other words, your research goals are what helps you answer your business question, you can map research goals to that question. Writing strong, relevant research goals is important because they will later translate to specific survey questions later on.
A good rule of thumb is to have no more than 3 research goals so you ensure your survey is focused and not overwhelming for respondents.
To bring this to life, here are some hypothetical business questions and research goals: