Market Research

Market Research: Like Coriander, Exercise, and Diets

Posted on Posted in Market Research

Market Research is the least discussed, least sexy and least invested in element of most SMEs marketing.

I don’t like market research either.

But like many things in life (Coriander, Exercise, and Diet), good comes from the effort you put in.

Market Research can be hard, can be boring, and can be hard to prove an ROI in cost / benefit terms.


Market Research is probably the most important fundamental element of the marketing process.

I’ve said it before, and again for emphasis, “Marketing literally starts with ‘market’.”

If you do not forensically understand your brand’s place in the past, present and future of your market you are failing.


Marketing Research & Planning

In the first chapter of my book* I describe the planning process as ‘setting the store out’ for all future activity.

The ‘process methodically prevents skipping through difficult challenges. Prevents individual subjectivity and heuristics.

Planning is a political activity and vested interests can and do shape the outcomes.

But the process needn’t be arduous, needn’t take years, or even months. It needs to only be rigorous and objective.’

Marketing is a discipline. To practice it professionally, you must be disciplined.


Questions, questions, questions. Market research start with questions.

Knowing the right questions to ask is vital.

But ask too many, ask the wrong people, ask vague ones, and you’ll get too much data, the wrong data, or irrelevant data.

The only data that is important is the one you can do something with, so start with simple questions.

The questions should interrogate your business, your customer and your competitor.

The questions needn’t be difficult.

The questions you ask when researching the market should be aligned to the gaps in your evidence base.

Simple Business Questions

1. Where are we now? What’s the current situation?
2. How did we get here? What led us to be where we are?
3. Where are we heading? What’ll happen if we do nothing differently?
4. Where would we like to be heading? What are the short-term, medium-term and long-term goals?
5. How do we get there? What do we need to do?
6. Are we getting there? What are the milestones?

These questions may seem trite, but individuals in many companies will respond differently to those same questions.

Non-consensus may be more illuminating than a consensus  ‘corporate’ position.

So every member of a leadership team ought to be asked independently and confidentially.

Where possible, the questions should be answered with facts.

As opinions often lead to more difficult questions: Why do you believe that? Which can be awkward to answer.


What kind of Market research is best?

Qualitative, and quantitative market research provide the broadest data on which to make decisions.

Definitions (Care of

Qualitative Research is primarily exploratory research. It is used to gain an understanding of underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations. It provides insights into problem or helps to develop ideas or hypotheses for potential quantitative research. Qualitative Research is also used to uncover trends in thought and opinions, and dive deeper into the problem. Qualitative data collection methods vary using unstructured or semi-structured techniques. Some common methods include focus groups (group discussions), individual interviews, and participation/observations. The sample size is typically small, and respondents are selected to fulfil a given quota.

Quantitative Research is used to quantify the problem by way of generating numerical data or data that can be transformed into usable statistics. It is used to quantify attitudes, opinions, behaviours, and other defined variables – and generalise results from a larger sample population. Quantitative Research uses measurable data to formulate facts and uncover patterns in research. Quantitative data collection methods are much more structured than Qualitative data collection methods. Quantitative data collection methods include various forms of surveys – online surveys, paper surveys, mobile surveys and kiosk surveys, face-to-face interviews, telephone interviews, longitudinal studies, website interceptors, online polls, and systematic observations.

I’m not going to go into any detail on these in this article, but I am going to speak about Question Design.


Market Research Question Design

There are three important guidelines to check against when designing a survey, or Focus Group stimulus.

  • How will you use the answers
  • How will you keep the respondent interested and motivated to help
  • How would your mother, sister, wife react to the question if it was asked of them




This article was inspired by numerous conversations with business owners that hired brand consultancies, advertising, PR, design and digital agencies to help them achieve specific business outcomes that used little to no data to support their proposals. Whenever we propose one of our Services we always recommend some research.

Invariably strategies are presented at pitches that rely, on what an ex design agency colleague once called ‘wet planning’ – which is how he described ‘gut instinct’.

Anecdotal evidence, vox pop, opinion, experience are all subjective and biased.


Market Research: Big brands v Smaller brands

Big brands, with big budgets know the value of listening to their stakeholders (internal and external), and dissecting competitors on an ongoing basis. More importantly they engage in brand tracking. (Brand Tracking is the continual programme of measuring brand awareness, advertising awareness (spontaneous / prompted), brand image, brand predisposition, etc. If you don’t do brand tracking it is really hard to be an effective brand manager.)

SME’s with small budgets can more easily copy the tactics of big brands today with the tools available (e.g. SurveyMonkey, and online research panels), but they’ve forgotten the importance of the discipline.

Here’s a list of 9 great sources.

Online Research Unit
Branded Research Inc.
Critical Mix 
Global Survey
Lightspeed GMI


(* ‘A Yorkshireman’s Guide to Marketing’. I’ve only written the first Chapter so far.)