Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Market Research

Women considering yes, no, maybe optionsMarket research is definitely something that even very small businesses can do on their own but there are a lot of myths and misconceptions related to research that can cause them to make decisions based on incomplete or inaccurate information. While it’s impossible to cover everything related to doing research well, here are some general strategies and best practices that businesses of any size can put to use to leverage the value of gathering market research to improve their business offerings and marketing effectiveness.

First, when should you do market research? It can be an expensive undertaking. We believe that the two biggest factors are what you need to know and what the upside or downside would be of not doing market research. Sometimes you already have the information you need available to you, or could attain it at less cost than conducting research. For instance, suppose you want to know if your customers would respond more to a “2 for 1” offer or a “buy one, get the 2nd at half-price” offer.  Instead of asking them through research what they might prefer, you could easily simply test the offer by doing an A/B split test to see how they would actually respond. Less costly and far more accurate.

The same consideration of risk/reward would apply to whether or not to do primary or secondary research.

Primary or Secondary Research: Which is Best?

Primary research is research you conduct yourself. Secondary research is research that somebody else has conducted which is available to you. Primary research is going to give you more specific information about your own questions based on your own audience of interest. But it will cost you more to get the information. Secondary research will give you less specific information, but it might be “good enough” especially given the low cost of gathering the information.

Again, it’s an issue of how valuable the information is to you. If you’re making a decision about whether to open a new restaurant in a certain area, which would be a costly endeavor, it probably would make sense to conduct primary research. If you’re thinking about adding a new product to your catalog you could probably gather secondary information about how well other retailers had done with the product.

Using Surveys for Market Research 

Surveys are often the first type of research that business people think of when they want to gather input from customers or prospects. And surveys certainly can be useful. But they’re often not used correctly and the information gathered can be far from reliable or valid.

It’s important to know that the information you gather through a survey will not be statistically significant unless you’re able to identify each member of your target population and choose a random sample of that population. So, for instance, you would be able to do this with your own customer list, but you would not be able to do this with people who might be potential customers because you would not be able to accurately identify every possible member of that audience.

Next, you would need to determine the information you want to gather and the types of questions/scales would serve best to not only gather the information but give you the ability to do certain types of calculations based on the information you gather. This is where it starts to get fairly complex, and beyond the scope of this blog post.

The key point here, though, is that when conducting research of any kind it’s important to “start with the end in mind.” What are the questions you want answered? What information/input would you need to be able to effectively answer them, and to be confident that your decisions would be based on valid and reliable input?

Considering the Questions Themselves

The survey questions themselves in many cases can be problematic and may not yield valid information. Some of the most common issues here are leading questions, questions asking about more than one thing, overlapping scales and ambiguous questions that respondents don’t understand, or don’t understand in the way you had intended.

Leading questions are questions where you are, in essence, suggesting a response. For instance: “On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being high, how much did you enjoy this presentation?” The way the question is written suggests that respondents did enjoy the presentation to some degree. That may not be the case and the results you get are likely to be skewed.

Another problematic issue when creating survey questions is asking about more than one thing in a single question. For instance, a question like “Do you think our products are safe and effective?” would be asking for two different responses. You would not be able to tell from the responses you received whether respondents were referring to “safe” or “effective.”

Overlapping scales are common and make it difficult to analyze results accurately. For instance:

  • What is your income:
    • Less than $20,0000/year
    • $20,000-50,000/year
    • $50,000-75,000/year

If someone made $20,000/year, for instance, which option would they choose? Because of the scale overlap, you would not be able to be confident in the accuracy of the responses.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg but a couple of examples of the types of issues that researchers need to be alert to. Yes, you can DIY when it comes to market research. But it’s important to understand the many missteps that can diminish the reliability and validity of the input you receive.

Interested in learning more, or have a specific research need in mind. We can help.

About Us

Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We work with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content. Whether on- or offline, or both, we’ll help you achieve desired results.

(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)

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