How to do market research

Market research strategies: Your guide to understanding your customers’ needs

14 MINS Team

Knowing your audience and competitor is the backbone of your business. It’s the foundation on which you build your marketing strategy, product development, and overall business model. Without a deep understanding of your customers and competitors, you’ll be flying blind and making decisions that are more likely to fail than succeed. 

To make smart decisions that help your business grow and use your resources wisely, it’s important to invest in market research. 

What is market research? 

Market research is a process where you gather information about your potential customers, your industry, and your competition. This helps you understand who your customers are, what they like, and what’s happening in your industry. 

By doing this, you can make decisions about things like pricing and what products or services to offer. It also helps you find ways to stand out in the market and make products that people want to buy. 

Types of market research 

Market research encompasses various approaches, each with its own strengths and applications. Choosing which research to use depends on your objectives and industry. 

  • Quantitative research. Quantitative research employs surveys with closed-ended questions and statistical analysis to gather numerical data about consumer preferences. 
  • Qualitative research. Qualitative research relies on in-depth interviews, focus groups, open-ended surveys, and narrative data to explore the motivations and behaviors of consumers. 
  • Exploratory research. Exploratory research often uses qualitative data to gain an initial understanding of your target, helping to define research questions before more in-depth investigations. 
  • Descriptive research. Descriptive research aims to summarize data and describe characteristics or phenomena, often using quantitative data to create profiles or generate statistics. 
  • Causal research. Causal research explores cause-and-effect relationships and often involves experiments to prove or disprove hypotheses about consumer behavior. 
  • Cross-sectional research. Cross-sectional research provides a snapshot of information collected at a single point in time, offering insights into a specific moment in the market. 
  • Longitudinal research. Longitudinal research collects data over an extended period, tracking changes and trends in consumer behavior or market conditions. 
  • Ethnographic research. Ethnographic research involves immersion in a target group’s environment, allowing for in-depth observation and participation to understand their culture and behaviors. 
  • Online research. Online research includes surveys conducted online, data collected through website analytics, and monitoring social media platforms to gather consumer insights. 
  • Telephone research. Telephone research entails conducting surveys or interviews over the phone, making it an effective method for quickly gathering responses. 
  • Mail or postal research. It involves sending questionnaires or surveys via traditional mail, resulting in slower response times but potentially yielding high-quality data. 
  • Competitive analysis. Competitive analysis studies competitors’ strategies and performance to identify market trends, assess strengths and weaknesses, and discover potential gaps in the market. 
  • Product testing and sampling. Product testing and sampling allow customers to trial products or services for feedback and customer preference assessment. 

Market research methods 

You have a wide range of market research techniques to gather valuable insights into consumer behavior, preferences, and market trends. What method you choose should depend on the research objectives, available resources, and the specific information you are seeking. 

  • Surveys. Surveys involve collecting structured responses to predefined questions from a sample of individuals to gather data on opinions, preferences, and behaviors. 
  • Interviews. Interviews are in-depth, one-on-one conversations with individuals or groups to gain a deeper understanding of their thoughts, experiences, and perspectives. 
  • Focus group discussions. Focus groups bring together a small group of participants to discuss a specific topic or product, providing qualitative insights through group discussions. 
  • Observational research. This method observes and records participant behavior in natural settings, providing insights into real-life actions and choices. 
  • Experiments. Experiments manipulate variables in a controlled environment to measure their impact on consumer behavior or preferences. 
  • Secondary data analysis. Researchers analyze existing data sources such as industry reports, government statistics, or historical sales data to gather insights. 
  • Online surveys. Surveys conducted over the internet, often through email or web-based forms, are cost-effective and can reach a broad audience. 
  • Phone surveys. Researchers collect data by conducting surveys over the phone, allowing for personalized interactions with participants. 
  • Mail surveys. Questionnaires are sent via postal mail to respondents, who complete and return them by mail. 
  • In-depth interviews. These interviews involve open-ended questions and extensive probing to uncover detailed insights from participants. 
  • Online reviews and social media analysis. Monitoring online reviews, comments, and social media discussions to gather customer feedback and sentiment analysis. 
  • Usability testing. Evaluating the usability of products or websites by observing users as they interact with them and collecting feedback on user experience. 
  • Ethnographic research. Researchers immerse themselves in the target audience’s environment to understand their culture, behavior, and preferences. 
  • Content analysis. Analyzing and categorizing textual or visual content, such as articles, advertisements, or user-generated content, to identify themes and trends. 
  • Customer surveys. Collects feedback directly from customers about their experiences with a product or service. 
  • Market segmentation analysis. Dividing the market into distinct segments based on shared characteristics and analyzing each segment’s needs and preferences. 
  • Competitor analysis. Examining competitors’ strategies, products, and customer feedback to gain insights into market dynamics. 
  • Retail audits. Visiting retail locations to gather data on product placement, pricing, and customer interactions. 
  • Big data analysis. Analyzing large volumes of data, often using advanced analytics and machine learning techniques, to identify trends and patterns. 
  • A/B testing. Comparing two versions of a webpage, advertisement, or product to determine which performs better in terms of user engagement or conversion rates. 
  • Customer journey mapping. Visualizing and analyzing the various touchpoints and interactions a customer has with a brand to improve the overall customer experience. 

How market research can help small businesses 

Understand the target audience 

When you conduct market research, you gain insights into your target market, particularly on their preference, behaviors, and needs. When you understand what drives your customers, you can tailor your products, services, and marketing efforts to better meet these demands. 

For example, you’re a small coffee shop in a busy city. You thought your main customers were morning commuters. However, research showed you had many remote workers and students who wanted a quiet place to work or study. 

So, your strategies should reflect this. You can create a cozy workspace with Wi-Fi for remote workers and students. Because of this research, you can keep old customers while inviting new ones from the same demographic. 

Market trends are patterns in what consumers like and buy. It can change depending on the industry, market, and specific trend in question. 

Some trends may emerge and evolve rapidly due to technology or shifts in consumer preferences. For example, trends in the fashion industry can change with each season, while trends in the technology sector can evolve rapidly due to innovation. Staying up to date allows you to identify trends and adapt to remain competitive and relevant. 

Imagine this: you own a clothing store and for a while, you’ve been selling a wide range of fashion items. Lately, you’ve noticed a growing interest in online shopping in the market. To understand this trend better, you decide to conduct market research. 

Through surveys and analysis of industry reports, you discover that there’s a significant and increasing demand for convenient online shopping options. In response to their demands, you can create an eCommerce store to feature your products and sell them online. Then, deploy online ads to promote your new website, putting them in local directories and business listings.  

As a result, your store retains loyal customers and attracts new shoppers outside your physical store’s vicinity. Sales of clothing line soar, and your business widens its customer reach. 

Mitigate risks 

Starting a business inherently involves risks, but market research can help minimize them. It allows you to identify potential challenges, market shifts, and emerging trends early on. This way, you can prepare and adapt their strategies accordingly. By understanding customer needs and the competition’s dynamics, you can make informed decisions that reduce costly mistakes. 

If you have a physical store, you may have thought of expanding with another branch. Say, for example, you run a small restaurant that specializes in Italian cuisine. Before making hasty decisions, you decide to conduct market research. 

You gather data about the nearby neighborhoods, looking at factors like population, income levels, and the presence of competitors. You also ask your current customers if they’d visit a second location and what they’d like to see in the new branch. 

After analyzing the data and feedback, you find that there are already tons of Italian dining options in the neighborhood you picked. Furthermore, your target market isn’t as enthusiastic about Italian cuisine as your current customers. With this data, you managed to mitigate the risks of opening a branch in the wrong location. 

Understand competitors 

Knowing about your competition helps you understand your market landscape, identify your and your rivals’ strengths and weaknesses, and uncover opportunities to differentiate yourself. 

By any chance, you own a small software company that develops productivity apps. You notice that your app’s sales are declining and suspect that a competitor’s product may be affecting yours. To gain a better understanding, you conducted a competitor analysis. 

With all the data you collected, you discover that a rival company recently released a similar app with advanced features and a more user-friendly interface. They’ve also been running a more effective online marketing campaign to reach your shared target audience. 

By studying their strategies, you identify areas where your app falls short and where your competitor excels. Knowing this, you can invest in the right app improvements, add the missing features, and enhance the user interface. You can also revamp your marketing strategy to better reach your target audience. 

Now, your app’s sales start to recover, and you even gain new customers who had previously switched to the competitor’s product. 

Make informed decisions 

One of the most significant benefits of market research is that it empowers small businesses to make data-driven decisions. This reduces the reliance on guesswork and increases the likelihood of success. 

Maybe you own a small online boutique that sells handmade jewelry. You’re considering launching a new line to attract more customers. However, you’re unsure about the specific styles and materials that would resonate the most with your target audience. 

To make a decision, you surveyed your existing customers and followers on social media, asking about their jewelry preferences, as well as what types of pieces they’d be interested in buying. Additionally, you analyzed online trends and jewelry forums to understand current fashion preferences and upcoming styles. 

Based on your research, there’s a growing interest in minimalist and personalized jewelry. So, you decide to launch a new line of minimalist jewelry pieces that can be personalized with customers’ initials or meaningful symbols. It resulted in a significant increase in sales, as your new jewelry line aligns perfectly with the preferences of your target audience. 

How to conduct effective market research 

Starting your own market research is easy once you know what to do. This section will talk about the essential process to ensure you’re on the right track in your research journey.  

1. Identify business goals 

Start by defining clear business goals and objectives. Your goals define what you want to achieve with the research, whether it’s understanding customer preferences, launching a new product, or expanding into a new market. 

Without clear objectives, your market research can become unfocused and ineffective. A well-defined business goal ensures that your research efforts are purposeful, targeted, and aligned with your broader strategic vision. 

Start by considering questions like: What do you want to learn about your customers? Are you looking to launch a new product or enter a new market? Do you want to improve customer satisfaction or beat competitors? Once you’ve pinpointed these objectives, you can tailor your research to gather the specific information needed to reach those goals, ensuring that your efforts are purposeful and effective. 

2. Choose the right research methods 

There are several research methods to choose from, and now that you know your goals, you can pick which one to use. When you pick the right method, you can collect the right information effectively. While we’ve previously talked about different kinds of research methods, most of them boil down to two main types of market research techniques: 

  • Primary research. Primary market research involves conducting surveys, interviews, focus groups, observations, and experiments to gather firsthand information directly from your target audience. 
  • Secondary research. Secondary market research relies on existing sources such as literature reviews, industry reports, government publications, academic journals, and online databases to collect data and insights. 

Choosing between primary and secondary research methods depends on your specific research goals, available resources, and the nature of the information you need. Here’s a simplified guide: 

Primary research 

  • Use when you need information tailored to your specific objectives and can’t find it elsewhere. 
  • Ideal for exploring new topics, understanding customer preferences, or collecting unique data. 
  • Methods include surveys, interviews, observations, and experiments. 
  • Requires more time, effort, and budget compared to secondary research. 

Secondary research 

  • Use when existing data or information can answer your research questions adequately. 
  • Suitable for gaining insights into industry trends, competitor analysis, or historical data. 
  • Methods include literature reviews, data analysis, and the use of publicly available reports. 
  • Generally more cost-effective and quicker than primary research. 

If your objectives require specific, customized data, consider primary research. If you seek existing information to support your research, opt for secondary research. In many cases, a combination of both methods can provide a comprehensive view of your research topic. 

3. Create buyer personas 

Buyer personas are fictional representations of your ideal customers, based on research and real data about your existing customers. These personas go beyond basic demographic information and delve into the motivations, behaviors, preferences, and pain points of your target audience. 

They help you better understand and connect with your customers by creating a clear and relatable profile of who your buyers are. Typically, they capture the essence of these fictional characters through details, such as: 

  • Age 
  • Gender 
  • Job title 
  • Goals 
  • Challenges 
  • Interests 
  • Quotes or anecdotes 

These fictional characters help you tailor your products and marketing to specific customer segments. 

4. Group your customers 

Now, it may be easier to make customer personas if you’ve already segmented your target market. Segmentation basically divides a broad target audience into smaller groups based on shared characteristics like demographics, behavior, or preferences. 

By analyzing these segments, you can identify specific trends, preferences, and needs within each group. This helps create more targeted and effective marketing strategies, product development, and customer engagement initiatives. 

5. Research your competitors 

Analyzing the competition provides valuable insights into your market landscape and the strategies of other businesses in your industry. Understanding your competitors not only identifies your strengths and weaknesses but also identifies those of your rivals’. It also lets you uncover market trends you may have missed and discover opportunities to make your branding unique. After all, you don’t want to be mistaken for some other brand. 

Competition analysis ensures your business can thrive in a dynamic and evolving business environment. So, analyze your competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, market positioning, and customer feedback. This information can reveal opportunities to differentiate your business and gain a competitive advantage. 

6. Summarize your findings and make recommendations 

After conducting research, compile your findings into a clear and actionable report. What trends did you identify? What are the key takeaways from your research? Use these findings to make informed recommendations  for your business strategy, such as product improvements, marketing campaigns, pricing adjustments, or expansion opportunities. 

Tips for small businesses when conducting market research 

Now that you know the “why’s” and “how’s” of market research, you’re pretty much set! But before you start your own research, take note of these additional tips and best practices.  

Listen to your customers 

Customers hold all the data you need. Their feedback, preferences, and pain points provide direct and honest information about your products or services. This information helps you understand what works, what needs improvement, and what new offerings could be developed to meet their needs. 

Engage with your customers through consumer blogs, YouTube videos, discussion forums, and social media platforms. Actively listen to their feedback and use it to shape your offerings and strategies. 

By paying attention, you can enhance customer satisfaction, loyalty, and overall business performance. This ultimately leads to better products, more effective marketing strategies, and a stronger competitive position in the market. 

Tap into existing research 

Tapping into existing research allows you to leverage the knowledge and insights already gathered by experts and other market research companies. This approach saves time and resources while providing a wealth of valuable data. 

Existing research, such as industry reports, reviews, and articles, can offer a broader perspective on market trends, customer behaviors, and competitive landscapes. It also helps in benchmarking your business against industry standards and best practices. Leveraging existing research can save time and resources while providing valuable data. 

Use free and low-cost online tools 

Utilizing free and low-cost online tools for market research is essential for small businesses with limited budgets. These tools provide valuable data on search trends and consumer interests that can inform decision-making without the high costs associated with traditional market research methods. 

  • Google Trends. Provides data on search queries, helping you understand trending topics and consumer interests. 
  • SurveyMonkey. Offers free and paid survey tools for gathering customer feedback and insights. 
  • Google Keyword Planner. Helps identify relevant keywords and search volumes, aiding in content creation and SEO strategies. 
  • Google Analytics. Provides website traffic data and user behavior insights to optimize online presence. 
  • Social media analytics. Platforms like Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, and Instagram Insights offer free analytics tools for tracking social media performance and audience engagement. 
  • BuzzSumo. Helps identify popular content and trending topics in your industry or niche. 
  • Quora. A platform for finding common questions and concerns within your industry to inform content and marketing strategies. 

Elevate your marketing game with strategic research 

Market research isn’t just a one-time thing but an ongoing journey that helps you succeed in the competitive landscape.  By committing to the practice of effective market research, you not only stay ahead of the curve but also foster a deep and lasting connection with your customers.  

Consider integrating’s online marketing solutions as a core part of your marketing strategy. With thorough research and’s solutions, you can boost your marketing strategy and take your business to the next level. 

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