The Marketing Research Process Explained In 6 Steps

/ marketing
Neal Schaffer

If you operate a business, you likely already realize that constant change is something you need to be prepared for. This applies to most aspects of your business, but none more so than marketing.

Market research is a crucial tool for businesses to choose the best marketing strategies, and provides a way to evaluate those decisions by collecting hard data. However, it can seem a bit overwhelming when you’re getting started.

Just as you wouldn’t go on holiday without a plan, you shouldn’t kick off your marketing strategy journey without having data and research to guide you. A market research plan is an integral part of making the right business decisions - it ensures you can solve any problems and that you don’t waste valuable time and effort.

Did you realize that many businesses that need to reduce their marketing budget cut out market research first? This is a mistake you want to avoid, especially if you’re launching a new service or moving into a new market.

The good news is that, if you have a process in place, marketing research doesn’t have to be overly expensive or time-consuming.

In this blog post we’ll share the important steps of the marketing research process. You can follow this guide to cut costs, improve data collection, and create the perfect market research project for your company.

Define And Identify The Issue

The very first step in market research is identifying a problem your business is currently facing. It also happens to be the most important part of the entire process.

Most of the time this will be a large business opportunity, or an obvious issue that needs to be acted on (or even a charitable cause you want to fight for). However, sometimes there might not be enough information available to make a decision you’re comfortable with.

That’s where a market researcher comes in. A market researcher is someone who digs into a problem and finds data that makes it easier to come up with a solution. For example, the problem might turn out to be ‘too few people are making purchases after receiving your emails’, or ‘some features of your app aren’t being used as expected.’

Once you have an explanation for the business problem, you can then focus your efforts on that specific issue for the most effective results. This is also a good time to let your imagination run wild and consider what the final research report will look like. How will it help you improve?

If the answers you expect to receive will solve the problem, then you can move forward with obtaining the data. But if you’re unsure, keep refining your objective until you hit the sweet spot.

Consider The Right Type Of Research Design

At this point, you’ve defined the issue and you know what types of answers you want to have by the end of the process. Now you’re ready to progress further into the marketing research process.

It’s time to choose your data collection method. This will influence everything from your research questions to the demographic you concentrate on. It’s normal for this step of the process to feel a bit overwhelming, because of all the research tools and methods available.  

Don’t worry. Each different method offers a unique way to meet your research objectives and start growing your business. A few options that might work include:

Conducting Surveys

Conducting a market research survey is an effective way to better understanding your target audience and their needs. There are a few different types of surveys you can use to help improve your business.

Since this step is so integral to creating a product or service that addresses a real problem, you want to make sure it's an interactive form that incites objective and accurate responses. Play around with our ready-made market research survey template below.

Interviewing Clients and Prospects

Qualitative data like interviews offer great feedback. They let you speak with the people who are going to be most affected by any marketing that you do. By taking the time to listen to their unique opinions, you’ll be able to decide on the right path of action.

A great way to do this would be to hold a Zoom interview with a large group, run an online webinar, or hold one on one sessions that are more intimate. If you’re unsure who to talk to, use the research issue to help you decide who to interview and what to ask them.

For example, if you were looking to undertake a massive marketing research project, it would make sense to talk to any marketers in your team, as well as other key decision makers.

Running User Tests

This can be done on your landing page or another webpage. It’s cost effective and can provide tons of useful takeaways and insights on how current and potential customers react to a new product, different branding, or unique messaging.

An A/B test will work well to give you data on user behaviour. It’ll give you primary data that shows you things a questionnaire won’t. Heat Mapping tools are also an excellent way to get results based on the data you’re collecting.

In some cases this will be a lot of work, involving massive amounts of data. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it - even if someone has done similar research in the past. However, it’s a good idea to find out what results other companies have had. This can help tweak your data analysis strategy, so you can get the best results possible.

The Three Types Of Market Research

Now is also the time to consider what kind of research is right for you based on the data you want to collect. There are three types of market research: causal, descriptive and exploratory.

  • Causal - This research methodology is the most specific, and usually involves a field test or an experiment. This kind of research helps find a cause between two different things. For example, you might ask whether the placement of your call to action impacts how many sales you make.
  • Descriptive - Do you need detailed information about a certain topic? If so, then descriptive research will be the right solution. This research helps measure topics of interest, usually in a quantitative manner. For example, you may use an online survey to gauge customer satisfaction.
  • Exploratory - If your issue isn’t well understood or defined, you’ll need exploratory research. It helps narrow your focus, gain larger insights, and work through the basics before moving forward. Common exploratory market research techniques include interviews, secondary data and focus groups.

Prepare And Create Your Research Instrument

Now you have enough information to start designing a research tool. Maybe you want to create an online survey? In that case, it’s the time to start creating your questionnaire or selecting what kind kind of respondents you’re after.

Feel like a focus group is a better option? Then you’ll have to come up with material for the moderator and prepare questions for the group interview. Think about the method you plan to use, and start getting things ready so you can progress.

But before you get off and running with your research, it’s good practice to test the tool using a small group first. This will give you additional insights into whether your choice of research fits well with the kind of results you’re after.

Once you have the sample data, place it in an Excel spreadsheet and look for anything that seems off. By doing this you can identify problems early, and guide your decision making before diving deeper into the market research process.

There are a few things to keep in mind when creating a research instrument, especially if it’s a survey. Follow the “rules” below for the best results:

  • Make sure it’s simple for respondents to take part.
  • Ensure each question is short and to the point.
  • Offer instructions for each type of question you ask.
  • Start with general questions and work towards specific queries.
  • Ensure the questionnaire looks good and is easy to read.
  • Pre-test it to check everything makes sense.

Start Collecting Relevant Data

Most market research data you’ll be collecting will be numbers (quantitative) rather than observations (qualitative). However, doing both quantitative and qualitative research can be useful to get the most comprehensive results.

Sure, as a general rule quantitative data might be more practical, but combining the two gives you the best of both worlds. Then you can make sure your solution is flawless.

For example, if you’re considering new tiers of pricing for items on your website, an A/B test will give you sufficient data. But you could also interview customers to find out if a new pricing tier is something they would approve.

If your audience sample size is too small, or you don’t have enough customers to get useful data from an interview, an innovative technique is to use an influencer marketing campaign on social media for your market research.

Try to make sure that the data collected is unbiased and valid. Questions should be as neutral as possible, and incorporate both closed-ended and open-ended styles to get additional information. This can include yes or no questions, multiple-choice questions, and questions that customers can answer with contextual information.

Analyze The Data And Report The Findings

Once you have all the information needed for your marketing research process, it’s time to analyze what that data means. While some data might immediately stand out, looking for trends is an important piece of the puzzle. Try to avoid looking for patterns based on your own assumptions - approach your research as objectively as possible.

It’s a good idea to create a research study summary explaining what process you used, the results you got, and what conclusions you came to. This can mean incorporating a written report outlining the steps that you plan to take based on the data you collected.

Even if this isn’t a formal requirement of your business, it’s a useful practice to ensure you review the results properly and can share which action should be taken and why.

Simply providing data and charts you gathered doesn’t create an action plan.

When you’re presenting your research, make sure to include answers, insights and any recommendations you have. Tables and charts can be included, but make sure there’s good reason for them to be there.

Take the time to add outcomes and suggestions on actions to take as a result of what you have learned. You could even create simple graphics with a free online tool. It makes your research feel more meaningful and makes the path to improvement much easier to visualize.

Take The Research And Move Forward Into Action

The research is done. Now you can take some time to enjoy a well-deserved pat on the back. However, you’re not done working just yet. Once you have a solution to whatever issue you were dealing with, you have to take action to fix it.

Now is the time to start developing your marketing campaigns and strategies. Test each option and get started. And keep in mind that just because you’re done with this market research project, it doesn’t mean you won’t have to do more in the future.

As we mentioned earlier, the business world’s problems and trends change regularly. That’s why consistent research is so important. The data and insights you received in this phase of research will evolve as time goes on - it’s critical to constantly analyze data over time to continue improving.

The techniques at your disposal will evolve as you learn about the industry, your specific buyer personas, and your company as a whole. When you take all of these things into consideration, it should be clear why businesses should spend more money and time on market research, rather than cutting down when times get a little tough.

These six steps to building a successful marketing research process will set you on the right path to making the most of your business. Just remember that you can always dive deeper to improve your marketing campaigns.

Don’t be afraid to branch out and try new things as they become available. The most important thing is having a system that helps rather than hinders your company - so get out there and get started today.

Neal Schaffer is an authority on helping innovative businesses digitally
transform their sales and marketing. Founder of the digital marketing consultancy PDCA Social, Neal also teaches at Rutgers Business School and the Irish
Management Institute.

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