5 Steps for Conducting Effective Market Research

What if you heard that an investment of a few thousand dollars today could save you millions of dollars and potentially your company’s reputation tomorrow? That is the power of market research, the special sauce behind your business and marketing strategy.

Clients often come to us with assumptions of their industry or customers. We can either validate or disprove their assumptions through research to inform more impactful strategies. And that impact can be substantial.

For example, we recently worked with a client who thought they had a simple, non-controversial name for a new product. Just to make sure they had the right name, they asked us to carry out a brief market research project with a select audience of their key targets. To say it was money well spent is an understatement. The research uncovered the name they were set on, a simple two letter abbreviation, actually reminded people of a deadly disease. Had the product gone to market under that moniker, it could have been disastrous for the company and potentially done irreparable harm to the brand.

Market research, when conducted correctly, has the ability to have a massive impact without breaking the bank. To execute effective research, it’s important to keep five key steps in mind:

1. Choose the right approach.

Research can be classified into three broad buckets: secondary, primary qualitative and primary quantitative. Secondary research is ideal for gathering information that is already available in the market, such as recent news items, company websites (including financial reports), official government statistics and industry reports. This makes secondary research best suited to learn about competitors, industry trends and recent occurrences in the market.

Primary research allows for more customization to drill into the whats, whys and hows of particular topics. Quantitative web surveys are ideal for close-ended questions (for example, multiple choice questions, ranking questions, net promoter score, etc.) where the results are typically numeric in nature. Qualitative research, usually conducted through focus groups or one-on-one phone interviews, is used to obtain direct respondent input and gain in-depth insights on their perspectives. While quantitative questions can be asked, qualitative research is more focused on why and how respondents feel and act the way they do.

2. Target the right audience.

At a high level, choosing the correct audience begins with identifying the type of person you are looking to hear from (such as growers, retailers, “foodies,” consumers, etc.). Target audiences should be narrowed from there with more specific qualities.

Growers may be defined by attributes like acreage size, crops grown and geography whereas consumers may be segmented by whether they are the primary grocery shopper in their household, have children or live in a certain community (rural, suburban or urban). Getting direct feedback from the audience most likely to use your products and services will allow for better results when the research is used as the basis for strategies and actions.

3. Ask the right questions.

Being able to precisely define what you want to know about your key audiences and what you want to get out of the research will result in more productive market research. Stuck on where to start? Begin by envisioning three to five news headlines that could come out of the research (for example, “New research shows that X% of consumer believe Y”), and construct questions that yield answers allowing you to fill in the blanks in those headlines.

Remember that in quantitative web surveys, unlike qualitative phone interviews where an interviewer can add context to questions if the respondent is unclear, respondents only have the words on the screen as their reference point. Therefore, survey questions must be clear and easy to understand for everyone. When developing quantitative surveys, avoid using abbreviations, confusing jargon and questions that can be interpreted in multiple ways.

Lastly, seek deeper understanding and motivations by anticipating obvious answers and making respondents think about key drivers of their decisions (e.g., “Aside from efficacy, what is the most important attribute of a canine flea-and-tick parasiticide?”).

4. Manage your costs.

The costliest part of market research is recruiting. As a general rule, the more specific the audience, the more expensive the research Finding 500 consumers to take a survey is typically much easier and less expensive than finding 50 pest control advisors with at least five years of experience who all live on the West Coast.

Clients’ ability to provide a list of potential respondents and their contact information based on their own contacts or customers can help reduce costs and expedite timelines. Providing an introductory email or phone call to respondents communicating the reason they are being contacted can also help increase the response rate.

5. Understand how to use research results.

It is critically important to understand the difference between data and information. Raw data is simply the results of the research: numbers, qualitative responses, etc. Information is the result of organizing the data and putting it into its proper context. Turning data into information provides insights that can be used to ensure strategies are effective when put into action. Take our 2023 Consumer Curiosity Report, for instance. Knowing that 8% of early food adopters regarded TikTok as their No. 1 influencer when it comes to food is merely a data point. However, when we broke out the data by generation, we found that TikTok is the No. 1 influencer among Gen Z foodies with a whopping 31% saying so. As marketers, this is significant when looking for the best ways to reach a core audience segment.

By focusing not just on the “whats,” but also on the “so-whats,” marketers can leverage research to drive strategies and, ultimately, sales.

Eric Maroun is a senior business analyst at Curious Plot. He has more than 15 years of experience in market research with a focus on agribusiness, food and companion animal clients.