Marketing Center

Seven key cornerstones of market research

Learn how to gather information to help grow your business.

To successfully grow your business, you have to first understand your customers and what differentiates your product or service. Market research can help define your customer base, determine where your business is succeeding, and reveal where there’s room for improvement. Before you get started, make sure you understand the basics of market research.

1. Market research defined

Market research is the process of systematically collecting and analyzing information to understand your target audience, potential business risks, and sales opportunities. It can be either qualitative or quantitative in nature: quantitative research highlights specific data, while qualitative solicits opinions and feedback.

2. Primary and secondary research

Primary research seeks to answer questions specific to your product or business through surveys or focus groups created specifically for your business needs. Secondary research covers broader industries or regions through studies, surveys, and analysis conducted by government agencies, academic researchers, and trade groups.

3. Finding market data

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics gathers many measures of economic data that may apply to your business. The Small Business Administration offers business guides for specific industries. Explore trade groups within your industry for more niche research and forecasts.

4. The value of surveys

A customer survey is an effective way to get to know your customers. To make the most of your survey, first determine the primary goal. Then, choose a set of participants that fit your target demographic. For your survey to be statistically meaningful, collect an appropriate sample size — SurveyMonkey recommends starting with 400 people.

5. Focus groups

Inviting groups of five to 10 people from your target audience to respond to open-ended questions about your business can help you analyze the comments and quantify the data from your target audience. Recording the discussions (with permission from the interviewee) can help you look for patterns and big ideas that may emerge from your focus group and audience.

6. Know the disadvantages

Traditional market research has the advantages of clear boundaries and goals, but it’s important to consider the cons in addition to the pros. For example, survey response rates may be low meaning that the findings may be suspect, and conducting focus groups can become expensive.

While market research can help inform your decision-making, you need to be sure that you are not allowing your own personal biases to color your response to the results. You also need to understand the inherent biases in your research sample.  Whether you are conducting a focus group or a quantitative survey, there are biases in the way you target your participants and who is likely to respond.  The researcher should take these potential biases into account before generalizing their findings to a broader audience. 

7. How to start

If you are able to find relevant secondary research then use that information to first gain general knowledge about your industry and market before you embark on your own primary research. The next steps are to determine the objective of the research and draft the initial questions you’d like to have answered. You may find that your questions will require a qualitative type of survey rather than a quantitative one.

Want to know more about customer surveys? Learn how conducting surveys can help test new products or determine the effectiveness of your current marketing strategy.