In this week’s post, I’ve put together 3 important Dos and Don’ts to help you boost your market research so you can stop wasting your own time and start achieving actionable results today!
Market research is of crucial importance in business and should play a key part in planning your new ideas, products or services.
Perhaps this is your first time round and you’ve no idea where to start, or perhaps you’ve given it a go before but never quite felt like its achieved what its meant to.
Either way, you’re in the right place! I hope these quick tips will help you on your market research journey. Please do leave a comment if anything from this post stands out to you – I’d love to hear what you’ve taken away!
Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for some bonus tips near the end…
1. DO: Use Your Network.
Most of us are guilty of underestimating quite how many people we know, or of disregarding useful sources of information within our network. You’ll likely be surprised by how far your web can spread, so its always worth sharing your project with everyone you know and asking them to pass it on to others in their own circle.
I strongly recommend blocking off some time to list out everyone, or at least every group, you know. Think about their past experiences and what you do or don’t know about them. If you can think of even the slightest connection to your chosen industry, then highlight their name.
Its going to be worth contacting them and seeing what lurks beneath even your vaguest memory of that connection they mentioned one time or that work experience they did ten years ago… You just never know who they might have stayed in touch with, or how they’ve followed up on old interests.
What’s the worst that can happen if you send them a quick description of your project and ask for their help in seeking more information? If they’re such a distant connection that you’re afraid they’ll think its odd that you messaged then frankly, were you all that committed to what they thought of you anyway?
Or maybe there are people in your network who you know would be useful, but something else is holding you back from contacting them. Maybe you’re intimidated by their level of prestige, or maybe you feel guilty for having been out of touch for a while.
If this is your situation then, I’m sorry to say: you’re being silly. If you, as a genuine, transparent and friendly person, send them a genuine, transparent and friendly message then what is the worst that can happen?
I love asking myself this question. Not just in a research context, but in almost any situation where my fear is holding me back.
What is the worst that can happen?
Maybe you send them a message and they don’t reply. Ah well, your nerves suggest you weren’t in regular contact anyway. Maybe they do reply and decline your request for participation in your research. Sure, that can sting, but if you really imagine that your message could be offensive enough for them to hate you for the rest of eternity then you’ve got an altogether different problem.
If this does happen to you, then you can easily reply with a quick note to say you understand, or even a brief apology if you’re worried you’ve upset them in some way.
There. Done. That’s the worst that could happen. Is it worth risking this miniscule discomfort for something that could be so valuable to your business? Most likely.
DON’T: Rely on people you know.
If you read that last tip and thought “this is great – I knew it was worth asking my nan! She’s bound to be an untapped resource!” then I hate to break it to you, but in market research you can’t be too reliant on the people closest to you.
While your friends, family or partners might be able to provide some useful information or contacts, if you really want to learn about your market, you can’t base your ideas on the recommendations of those who would try to protect your feelings.
Consider back in the good old days of the X Factor (is that still going?). You’d watch, filled with expectation as nervous hopefuls described how yes, they were nervous, but a lengthy list of loved ones had told them they had the voice of an angel and nothing to fear.
They’d walk cautiously up to that intimidating red ‘X’ on the floor, open their mouth and… Ouch.
You’d watch them be crushed before your very eyes, and you’d wonder how on Earth their loved ones could have allowed them to embarrass themselves like this.
Unfortunately, it happens, and it happens in business too. People who are too close to you and wary of your feelings might hold back on any criticism. You don’t want to throw money into a new business venture, or launch a product/service, only to find yourself crushed like our naive X Factor contestant.
2. DO: Look out for competition
Looking at competitors in your industry can provide extremely valuable information. By making yourself aware of everything from their pricing to their messaging to their brand colours, you’ll be able to pick out your points of difference.
You’ll be able to see what works and what doesn’t, what you like or don’t like, and what you can do better versus what you’ll leave to them.
With this valuable information you can make sure you stand out from the crowd by offering something unique, tailored to your personal skills and values.
If their competition is less direct than you had previously thought, you might be able to reach out to and learn from them, or possibly even arrange a collaboration. This is only likely to work if you have slightly different target audiences, or distinct enough offers that your market might give their custom to both of you. But, if it does work, then you can gain huge benefit from accessing their contacts, customers or knowledge of your industry.
DON’T: Be upset when you find it.
Whether you’re looking for it or not, it is likely that during your market research you’ll find someone who’s already implemented your idea.
Its natural to be downhearted by this and to worry about how you’ll ever stand out or monetize something that’s already being done.
But look at it the other way round.
If no-one, not one single business, is doing the same thing as you, what does that mean? How convinced are you that in the history of the world, not one person has thought of the same idea as you?
Sure, you (hopefully) have a unique aspect that makes your idea yours, but if no-one else is doing anything remotely similar then there’s likely to be a good reason. Maybe there’s just not the market for it, or maybe there’s a tricky obstacle that you’re not aware of yet. Whatever the reason is, there will almost definitely be one.
So look at your competition with gratitude. They’ve tested the foundations of your idea, reined it and proven that it works, and there will always be something you can do to make it unique.
Without them, beware. You’re probably treading a dangerously worn path of previously failed entrepreneurs. Either that or you really are on completely untested grounds.
3. DO: Get Personal.
What comes to mind when you think of market research?
Surveys perhaps, or quickly googling some industry reports.
Both good methods, but its important to mix things up with some qualitative, people-centred interactions.
You need to really think and care about the people you’re hoping to serve. There are meanings, interpretations and emotions that can’t be picked up from impersonal methods like surveys or secondary data.
You can access these personal quirks with additional market research methods, perhaps focus groups or interviews. Even the least formal chats over coffee can provide real insight.
Sure, these take up a bit more time and effort, but they’ll be truly valuable to you. By getting directly involved with audience and having proper interactions with them, you’ll be able to understand their reasoning for certain decisions, notice any doubts or prejudices they might have, and understand through their own language the problems they’re facing.
You’ll know exactly who is providing each response, and you’ll have the chance to follow up with them personally and ask questions you hadn’t previously thought of, or probe for deeper explanations.
And this isn’t restricted to the people you can meet with in person, it extends digitally with Facebook groups and similar being one of the greatest sources for market research. By all means, post your survey in Facebook groups, but why not try posting questions directly as well?
People join Facebook groups to share advice and support among their specific community. You’d be amazed by how much interaction can span from posting just one question, as people jump to your aid or relish the opportunity for a rant about whats troubling them.
With a stream of comments going, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to ask follow-up questions, make note of common words/phrases used and truly get a feel for what your target audience is thinking.
Bonus points given if you can provide value along the way. If you can provide someone with a quick fix or resource for their problem, then not only are you achieving your market research goals, you’re also building relationships that could be crucial to your success down the line.
Personal interactions may be on a smaller scale than your quantified surveys, but this gives you broader scope to stay in control of how you come across. When you post a survey, you’re immediately met with scepticism and possibly even irritation.
In today’s world, we’re all a tad fed up of being spammed with questionnaire after questionnaire, desperately competing for our attention and often including a sleazy sale at the end. Even the most thoughtful and relevant surveys can get lost in the crowd as people scroll hastily past anything that resembles what they’ve learned to avoid.
You may even find your posts being taken down or restricted, which can be extremely frustrating and cause delays in your research.
Personal interactions can help you indirectly here as well, as by considering the people behind the data you’re after, you can tailor your approach for positive reception. If you’re sending out a questionnaire, try to be warm, friendly and transparent in your approach.
This might be as simple as attaching a message describing what you’re doing and how you hope to provide benefit in the long run. It could involve directly messaging the people whose platforms you’re taking advantage of (e.g. group moderators) and actually asking their permission.
Whatever you do, always show appreciation. Add in a ‘thank you’ at any and every opportunity – through the description in your post, as a note tacked onto the bottom of your survey, or in response to every individual that tells you they’ve helped you out.
Markets are not just made of numbers. They are made of people. Business owners, market researchers, customers – all people. By connecting on a personal level and considering something other than numbers, you can gain deeper, descriptive information and boost the volume of responses you get for your more generalised data.
DON’T: Let your numbers go to waste.
The previous tip demonstrates the importance of personal, qualitative data, but that’s not to say that the less interactive, numeric approach should be cast aside.
Industry reports can give you a vague idea of overall trends and forecasts, useful for providing a solid basis to start from.
For easily-analysed, quantifiable data, surveys are definitely a great option as they allow you to collect information quickly and easily from large audiences with the click of a button.
But if you’re going to make and distribute a survey, the last thing you want is for it all to be for nothing.
You’re probably not going to be doing market research just for the fun of it. Whether you’re doing it because you recognise the benefits it brings or because you know its what you’re ‘meant’ to do, but you’ll only get true value from it if you’re able to able to learn from the results.
This is a particularly common issue with surveys, which are so often thrown together haphazardly to produce a set of questions from which you’re not going to gain reliable information.
You need to consider the wording of your questions, as without personal interaction you won’t have the chance to respond to confusion which might result in inaccurate data or people abandoning your survey without completing it.
FREE Download! My top 5 survey writing mistakes
If all goes well with your survey, or you manage to gather together some stats from research done by others, then its important to know how to use it.
Why did you ask that question? You need to know what you’re looking for within your data, because numbers can’t just tell you what they mean. Its on you to figure that out.
When considering your quantitative methods, really take the time to think through the purpose of your market research and recognise your analytical capabilities when it comes to working it out.
Have an idea of what ‘manageable’ data looks like to you. What numbers can you actually work with? Its all well and good collecting every detail under the sun, but if you can’t do anything with it, then save these questions to be asked more qualitatively so you get the information in a language you understand.
There’s no shame in doing market research in a way that recognises your limitations, and you’ll save time while actually being able to make sense of and gain from your data.
For this, you’ll also need to consider what platforms you’ll be using. How will you distribute your surveys, and what will you get back?
Different social media platforms will be more or less useful to you depending on where your target audience spends their time. Although your market research is designed to tell you more about your target audience, you likely have at least some idea of who you’re appealing to.
Use your common sense to determine which platforms to channel your strongest efforts into, and stop wasting time on the others.
There are also a number of different platforms for creating questionnaires, and its worth taking a little (note: I do mean a little!! Don’t fall down the rabbit hole…) time to have a look at some different options and see whats going to be most useful to you.
What are your priorities?
These services come at different budgets (and there are plenty of great free options!) and with different analytics or customisation features.
There’s little point in paying for extra analysis that you might not understand, or that you have the ability and time to do yourself. Consider your branding and how important it is to have your logo, colours or tone of voice visible. Refer back to the questions you’ve taken the time to think deeply about, and what styles you’ll need to have available to ask them effectively.
While personal connections and individual understanding are important in market research, a broad and quantifiable basis will still be useful to you, so do put some time and effort into these decisions and ensure you get the most accurate and useful results.
Your market research is going to be crucial in helping you understand your target customers and refine a validated idea of how best to serve them.
You didn’t do all of this for nothing, so make sure you take care when analysing and sorting your results. Hopefully, by using these tips and putting in the necessary work to plan your research and organise your data, you’ll be have increased confidence and clarity in the actions you need to take when it comes to launching your new business, product or service.
One last tip for you.
While its important to use your market research (pleease don’t let your efforts go to waste!), its also important to recognise it as an ongoing process which you should be consistently engaging with.
Return to it for feedback, comments, observations and review the impact you’re having. Ask for further advice or suggestions. What problem are you still not solving for your customers? What desires are still unfulfilled?
Appreciate your market research, not as a predetermined phase of your launch, but as a toolbox to keep by your side which will help you to consistently review, update and innovate in your business.
I must admit I’ve surprised myself by quite how much I had to say on this subject – believe it or not this is actually around half the length of what I originally wrote! I’d love to know if this has helped you in any way, so please feel free to leave a comment. If its been valuable to many of you then keep an eye out for part 2!