Market Research Methods: What Are They And Which Should You Use?

So, you have a question, but you are unsure of how to get your answer. Maybe you are wondering who your target audience is or why you lost out on a deal to your competition. Maybe you are looking to expand into a new market and want to know more about the customers and competitors in the industry. While these examples are similar in the way they help you understand your business better, they all require different market research methodologies to arrive at the answer. 

Research methodologies are various ways to perform research to understand your problem. The correct type to employ depends on the answers you are seeking, the information you have, and the information you need to gather. There are many different methods, but most fall into four categories: data analytics, survey, qualitative, and secondary. In this post, we will provide an overview of the four categories along with benefits and challenges for each market research methodology.  

Data Analytics 

Data analytics research involves collecting and analyzing large sets of data to derive answers, uncover patterns, and predict future outcomes. This method helps you identify and understand things you are aware of but don’t yet understand.

Data can come from a variety of sources including CRM data, historical transactional data, survey data, a third-party publisher, and more to build a holistic map of the situation, identify gaps and discern trends. Data analytics is the most common research method with almost 70% of companies using it in at least one market research project in the past year.  

For example, you might have large sets of historical data and know there is a data-backed answer for how to segment your customers, but you have yet to compile all your information together to identify the answer. 

Benefits and Challenges

Benefits: Analyzing historical data provides a holistic view of a situation by combining different sets of data and modeling potential scenarios and outcomes. You can confirm hypotheses, break biases, and help build cases internally.

Challenges: This method requires a lot of data, and some of that data may be hard to access, hard to generate, or not easily analyzed. This method also requires a lot of time, money, and resources to acquire and parse the correct data.  

Survey  

Survey research involves gathering opinions, preferences, and experiences by asking a set of questions to a targeted group of people. The focus of survey research is to test theories, assumptions, and hypotheses. The answers are collected from a representative sample of a targeted audience, allowing the researchers to quantify data and generalize the results to the wider population with a reasonable margin of error and strong confidence level.

Survey data can be collected from consumers, other business decision-makers, or your customer lists. Surveys are a very popular market research methodology with over 60% of companies performing at least one survey in the last year.  

For example, you may be wondering how satisfied your customers are, what factors drive satisfaction, and how you compare to key competitors in the market. By surveying your customers and those of key competitors you can understand the drivers of satisfaction and your relative strengths and opportunity areas in the market. 

Benefits and Challenges 

Benefits: Surveys provide an aggregate but statistically significant picture that companies can leverage to make decisions that align with their audiences’ preferences. Surveys also offer the ability to segment answers based on segments of the audience to analyze how different groups respond to the same questions.  

Challenges: Surveys are a fixed set of questions and cannot be adjusted once the survey has been deployed. Responses are limited to the questions posed by the researcher and don’t allow for open-ended qualitative responses. Surveys require many respondents, and depending on the target audience, it can be challenging to find a large enough sample size to provide statistically significant results. Lastly, surveys need to incentivize respondents, which could lead to a high price tag. 

Qualitative Methodologies  

Qualitative research focuses on targeted insights around concepts, opinions, and preferences. Unlike quantitative methods, these market research methodologies leverage a smaller set of data and respondents but allow for more in-depth answers. It also allows for companies to gather follow-up data that delves deeper into the reasoning behind responses 

This method is exploratory in nature to help you formulate hypothesis and establish directional themes or trends. Qualitative research also helps you understand the underlying motivations, attitudes, and perceptions of respondents. 

 The two most common qualitative research methodologies are in-depth interviews and focus groups.  

In-depth interviews 

This market research methodology involves one-on-one conversations between interviewers and those from the target audience. The interview follows a pre-determined set of questions to reveal sentiment, decision-making processes, and unmet needs. With only 40% of companies conducting them, interviews are the least used methodology, likely a result of the challenges mentioned below.  

Benefits and Challenges 

Benefits: Interviews provide the ability to gather more in-depth answers on customer preferences by allowing researchers to ask follow-up questions to probe deeper and further clarify responses. It also allows respondents to answer in their own words rather than be bound by the available responses offered by a survey. 

Challenges: Interviews are responses from a small group of people and the results cannot be generalized to a wider audience. They are also very challenging to implement. Often, it is a struggle to identify and incentivize enough participants, and the price per respondent can be costly depending on their rarity and level of expertise. It is also critical to enlist an experienced interviewer to ensure that both the initial and follow-up questions are tailored to gather accurate information that fully addresses your target questions.  

 Focus groups  

These facilitator-led group discussions reveal perceptions of or reception to a concept or idea. While the facilitator guides the meeting, the direction of the conversation is determined by the participants creating organic responses that stem from participant perception. Just over half of companies have conducted a focus group in the last year.  

Benefits and Challenges 

Benefits: Focus groups allow for exploration of concepts and physical products beyond set responses like those available in through a survey. The social aspect of the focus group can also gather multiple points of view on a topic in one setting. This can add additional insight for both participants in their ongoing feedback and facilitators for their final analysis.

Challenges: Focus groups are kept small to gather meaningful insights from a group of people, something that would be difficult if the group was too large. As such, the sample size is very small, and the responses can‘t be extrapolated to a larger audience.  It is also challenging to find a group of qualified participants that are all available at the same time.

Traditionally, focus groups were conducted in person and there was a higher cost to host the group live. Now depending on the product or concept being reviewed, focus groups can be conducted over video calls, lessening the burden of cost and logistics, however the cost to incentivize members to take part remains. Similar to interviews, you will need to enlist an experienced moderator that can facilitate the conversation and help direct it as needed to ensure the target questions are addressed
 

Secondary Research Methodologies    

Secondary research, also known as desk research, is leveraging data that already exists to answer your questions. This market research method is helpful for answering questions or deepening your understanding of things you are not directly familiar with but understand. It can be used to understand what others in your market are doing, identify potential markets for growth or expansion, or allow you to compare your organization to others on key performance indicators. 

For example, you might understand that customer preferences have affected your market, but you don’t know the exact changes. However, others have already done related research that can provide context or direct answers to your question. Secondary research is a very popular method with over half (55%) of companies conducting secondary research to get insights they need for their strategies.  

Benefits and Challenges 

Benefits: Secondary research is one of the quicker methodologies as it leverages existing data. The bulk of the time is spent identifying the problem, accessing existing data, and consolidating it for analysis and insights.  

Challenges: Some of the data you need might require payment, which would increase the cost of the overall project. There is also the risk that a data point needed for your analysis does not exist, requiring you to either speak to an expert or conduct your own research to fill in the gap. 

Picking the Right Research Methodology 

Though there are many options to choose from, the correct market research methodology to implement will be guided by the information you already have and the questions you are trying to answer.

Before you start your research, begin by listing what you know and what you are looking to learn. Some choices are very clear cut. For example, are you looking to learn more about your company’s operations in the hopes of identifying a better strategy? Since you have access to your own data and are looking to learn more, data analytics would be your best path forward.  

Sometimes choosing the right market research methodology might require more thought. For example, are you looking to launch a new product and want to learn more about customer preferences? You could interview customers or launch a focus group, but do you know what questions to ask? And as the sample pool is so small, the results from qualitative methods should not be used to make assumptions about a larger customer base.

The best place to start would be to conduct a survey to the target audience to get a basic understanding of the market and potential customer preferences. If it is a well-known customer base, you may be able to through secondary research by leveraging existing data to analyze the market.  

Learn how leading companies are leveraging market research for their buisnesses in The State of Market Research.

Market research methodologies

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