5 Ba­sic Meth­ods of Mar­ket Re­search

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While there are many ways to per­form mar­ket re­search, most com­pa­nies use one or more of five ba­sic meth­ods: sur­veys, fo­cus groups, per­sonal in­ter­views, ob­ser­va­tion and field tri­als. The type of data you need and how much money you’re will­ing to spend will de­ter­mine which tech­niques you choose for your busi­ness.

1. Sur­veys.

With con­cise and straight­for­ward ques­tion­naires, you can an­a­lyze a sam­ple group that rep­re­sents your tar­get mar­ket. The larger the sam­ple, the more re­li­able your re­sults will be. In per­son sur­veys are one-on-one in­ter

- views typ­i­cally con­ducted in high-traf­fic lo­ca­tions such as shop­ping malls. They al­low you to present peo­ple with sam­ples of prod­ucts, pack­ag­ing, or advertising and gather im­me­di­ate feed­back. In-per­son sur­veys can gen­er­ate re­sponse rates of more than 90 per­cent, but they are costly. Tele­phone sur­veys are less ex­pen­sive than in-per­son sur­veys, but costlier than mail. How­ever, due to con­sumer re­sis­tance to re­lent­less tele­mar­ket­ing, con­vinc­ing peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate in phone sur­veys has grown in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult. Tele­phone sur­veys gen­er­ally yield re­sponse rates of 50 to 60 per­cent.

Mail sur­veys are a rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive way to reach a broad au­di­ence. They’re much cheaper than in-per­son and phone sur­veys, but they only gen­er­ate re­sponse rates of 3 per­cent to 15 per­cent. De­spite the low re­turn, mail sur­veys re­main a cost­ef­fec­tive choice for small busi­nesses.

Online sur­veys usu­ally gen­er­ate un­pre­dictable re­sponse rates and un­re­li­able data, be­cause you have no con­trol over the pool of re­spon­dents. But an online sur­vey is a sim­ple, in­ex­pen­sive way to col­lect anec­do­tal ev­i­dence and gather cus­tomer opin­ions and pref­er­ences.

2. Fo­cus groups.

In fo­cus groups, a mod­er­a­tor uses a scripted se­ries of ques­tions or top­ics to lead a dis­cus­sion among a group of peo­ple. These ses­sions take place at neu­tral lo­ca­tions, usu­ally at fa­cil­i­ties with video­tap­ing equip­ment and an ob­ser­va­tion room with one-way mir­rors. A fo­cus group usu­ally lasts one to two hours and it takes at least three groups to get bal­anced re­sults.

3. Per­sonal in­ter­views.

Like fo­cus groups, per­sonal in­ter­views in­clude un­struc­tured, open-ended ques­tions. They usu­ally last for about an hour and are typ­i­cally recorded.

Fo­cus groups and per­sonal in­ter­views pro­vide more sub­jec­tive data than sur­veys. The re­sults are not sta­tis­ti­cally re­li­able, which means that they usu­ally don’t rep­re­sent a large enough seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion. Nev­er­the­less, fo­cus groups and in­ter­views yield valu­able in­sights into cus­tomer at­ti­tudes and are ex­cel­lent ways to un­cover is­sues re­lated to new prod­ucts or ser­vice de­vel­op­ment.

4. Ob­ser­va­tion.

In­di­vid­ual re­sponses to sur­veys and fo­cus groups are some­times at odds with peo­ple’s ac­tual be­hav­ior. When you ob­serve con­sumers in ac­tion by video­tap­ing them in stores, at work, or at home, you can ob­serve how they buy or use a prod­uct. This gives you a more ac­cu­rate pic­ture of cus­tomers’ us­age habits and shop­ping pat­terns.

5. Field tri­als.

Plac­ing a new prod­uct in se­lected stores to test cus­tomer re­sponse un­der real-life selling con­di­tions can help you make prod­uct mod­i­fi­ca­tions, ad­just prices or im­prove pack­ag­ing. Small busi­ness own­ers should try to es­tab­lish rap­port with lo­cal store own­ers and web­sites that can help them test their prod­ucts.

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