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Your Ultimate Guide to Market Research

19 min read
How can you make a key business decision that is going to disrupt the market, if you don’t know how your consumers are going to respond? Get the insight you need to take action.


There have always been timeless human truths. What people like, what they dislike, what they value, what they need and so on. But how we target audiences has grown increasingly sophisticated (and targeted), and with it, so has the need to understand these audiences in greater detail so that brands and institutions can better serve them.

Traditionally there have been people very good at undertaking this research, and a reliance from businesses on their ability to do it. And this will always be the case in some capacity, as brands are guided by their internal capacity, expertise and budgets. However, this model meant that brands struggled to keep up with the pace of change and customers would suffer because their needs were not being wholly met with point-in-time market research.

  • Who are my consumers, and how should I segment and prioritise them?
  • What are they looking for within my category?
  • How much are they buying, and what are their purchase triggers, barriers, and habits?
  • Will my marketing and communications efforts resonate?
  • Is my brand healthy?
  • What product features matter most?
  • Is my product ready for launch?
  • Are my pricing and packaging plans optimised?

How do we reach our target audience?

How do we know if they like our product?

What would they change?

How do we measure their responses?

These were all questions that brands wanted answered, but many found the process of data collection daunting, time-consuming and expensive. The hardest battle was often knowing where to begin and short-term demands often overruled a long investment.

Market research is better than ever

Today however, the industry is making huge strides, driven by quickening product cycles, tighter competition and business imperatives around more data-driven decision making. With the emergence of simple, easy to use tools, market research is now seen as essential, with fewer excuses not to use data to inform your decisions. With greater accessibility to such software, everyone can be an expert regardless of level or experience.

How is this possible?

The art of research hasn’t gone away, it is still a complex job and the volume of data that needs to be analysed is huge. However with the right tools and partners such as Qualtrics Research Services, sophisticated research can look very simple – allowing you to focus on taking action on what matters.

If you’re not smart on market research, now is the time to start.

What is market research?

Market research is the action or activity of gathering information about market needs and preferences. This affects every aspect of the business – including brand, product, customer service, marketing and sales. By understanding how your audience feels and behaves, you can then take steps to meet those needs and mitigate the risk of an experience gap – which is what your audience expects you deliver versus what you actually deliver.

Why do market research?

The most successful brands rely on data to inform, and gauge their strategy and decision making, from their marketing segmentation to the product features they develop.

The emergence of tools and partners, gives brands more control over the studies run and how the data is used. This also increases the speed in which they operate, with minimal lead time allowing brands to be responsive to business conditions and take an agile approach. Partners have an important role here, particularly giving access to additional expertise, helping you find respondents, fielding surveys and reporting on results.

Find out more: 5 Market Research Pitfalls to Avoid

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Without research, business decisions are based at best on past consumer behavior and at worst on gut feel. The aim of market research is to remove subjective opinions when making business decisions. You may be thinking back to a time when the phrase “I like it or I don’t like it” was used to approve a new campaign idea or feature. Except you are not the consumer. As a brand you are there to serve the audience. You are far more likely to be successful if you maintain that difference, and market research will help you to do that by ensuring the decisions you make are insight-driven.

Take product development for example – just because a feature was a hit in your last product, how can you be sure it will be in the next one? And how are you supposed to take the product to the next level, if you’re not asking the people that use the product? A lack of data and context can create an echo chamber, and this is where mistakes happen and opportunities are missed.

Carrying out market research allows you to use data to answer those questions. By identifying and gathering feedback from your target customers, you can understand how they feel about your products and services, your brand, and your communication before you go to market.
And you can react accordingly, helping you to continuously improve things – giving you a higher chance of success in the short term, and long.

How do you measure success?

Success is defined by how you meet your business goals. The insights gathered from market research are there to help you meet these goals. Every department will have their own objectives that work towards the company strategy so have a look at how market research can help you meet your goals, but towards the bigger picture too. This data is beneficial to the whole business, so collaborate across teams and share the insights that you gather.

Regardless of the function you work within, understanding the consumer is the goal of any market research. To do this, we have to understand what their needs are in order to effectively meet them. If we do that, we are more likely to drive customer satisfaction, and in turn, increase customer retention. But how do we do that? Read our Introduction to Customer Needs Analysis Surveys here.

When to use Market Research

You can use market research for almost anything. If you want to find something out from your target audience, it’s likely market research is the answer.

Here are a few of the most common uses:

Product development – testing new product features and gathering feedback from your target audience can be the difference between success and failure when you go to market.


Brand tracking studies – your brand is one of your most important assets. But unlike other metrics like product sales, it’s not a tangible measure you can simply pull from your system. Regular market research that tracks consumer perceptions of your brand allows you to monitor and optimise your brand strategy in real time, then respond to consumer feedback to help maintain or build your brand with your target audience.

Find out more: Guide To Brand Tracking Research

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Buyer segmentation and profiling – buyer personas help you develop products and communications that are right for your different audiences. By understanding your buyers and potential customers, including their motivations, needs, and pain points, you can optimise everything from your marketing communications to your products to make sure the right people get the right message, at the right time, and via the right channel.

Find out more: How to Create Buyer Personas

Read More

Advertising and communications testing – advertising campaigns can be expensive, and without pre-testing, they carry risk of falling flat with your target audience. By testing your campaigns, whether it’s the message or the creative, you can understand how consumers respond to your communications before you deploy them so you can make changes in response to consumer feedback before you go live.

Find out more: The Complete Guide To Ad Testing

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Competitor analysis – another key part of developing the right product and communications is understanding your competitors and how consumers perceive them. You may have looked at their websites and tried out their products, but unless you know how consumers perceive them, you won’t have an accurate view of where you stack up in comparison. Understanding their position in the market allows you to identify the strengths you can exploit, as well as any weaknesses you can address to help you compete better.

Primary vs secondary research

Research is broken down into two categories, primary and secondary. There is a distinct difference in what these are, and how they are used.

Primary research

Primary research is research that you collect yourself. This is raw data collected through a range of different means – surveys, focus groups, data analysis, observation and interviews etc.

In the past, this has been a daunting concept for brands because they don’t quite know where to begin, or how to handle vast volumes of data. Now, the emergence of technology has meant that brands have access to simple, easy to use tools to help with exactly that problem. As a result, brands are more confident about their own projects and data with the added benefit of seeing the insights that come out of this in real-time.

Primary research has another advantage in that it is fresh, unused data, giving you a perspective that is current or perhaps extra confidence when confirming hypotheses you already had. It can also be very targeted to your exact needs.

Secondary research

Secondary research is the use of data that has already been collected, analysed and published (and therefore you do not own this data). It can also be used to support the use of primary research.

Secondary research can be beneficial to small businesses because it is sometimes easier to obtain, often through research companies (although the rise of primary research tools are challenging this) and a cheaper alternative for businesses with lower budgets.

Both primary and secondary research has its advantages, but they are best used when paired together, giving you the confidence to act knowing that the hypothesis you have is robust.

What are the differences in the primary research you can collect?

Data collection methods – surveys, focus groups, observation and interviews etc), can be broken down into two sections which are determined by the type of data that is collected – qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative vs Quantitative

Qualitative research

Qualitative research is the collection of data that is non-numerical in nature. It summarises and infers, rather than pin-points an exact truth. And so because of that, it is explanatory and can lead to the generation of a hypothesis.

Research methods that would gather qualitative data include:

  • Interviews (face to face / telephone)
  • Focus groups
  • Open-ended survey questions

Researchers use these method types because it can add more depth to the data. So for example, rather than the answer being “no” to a certain question, you can start to understand, anecdotally, why that response is a no.


Quantitative research

Quantitative research is the collection of data that is numerical in nature, and is much more black and white in comparison to qualitative data.

Quantitative researchers often start with a hypothesis and then collect data which can be used to determine whether empirical evidence to support that hypothesis exists.

Quantitative research methods include:

You can also collect two kinds of information:

Exploratory vs Specific

Exploratory. This research is general and open-ended, and typically involves lengthy interviews with an individual or small group.

Specific. This research is more precise, and is used to solve a problem identified in exploratory research. It involves more structured, formal interviews to dive down deeper into a certain topic or issue.

How to conduct your own primary research

What research methods are included in this?

  • Surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Observation
  • Interviews

Step 1: Identify your research topic

How brands control certain research topics may vary depending on the size and team structure across the organisation. For example, smaller marketing teams may oversee everything, whereas larger organisations may split topics up into smaller teams. These research areas could be anything from:

Step 2: Draft a research hypothesis to be answered through your research.

What do you want to find out from the data? How will the responses you get help you understand your consumers better and meet your business goals?

You may want to understand what motivates your audience, how they feel about a new feature or even how much they’re likely to spend on a particular product.

Step 3: Determine which research methods are most effective

If you’re just starting out, you may want to take a broad approach using surveys, interviews and focus groups to get a mix of qualitative and quantitative data. There will be other factors involved in deciding this, such as budget and how quickly you need to turn around the study.

Step 4: Design a plan for carrying out your study

You’ll need to establish answers to the following questions:

  • What is the timeframe?
  • What is your required sample size?
  • Who is your target audience for this research? These will be your consumers.

This is often where people can get stuck, having never undertaken primary research before as it can be difficult to know where to start. Which is not surprising, as traditionally it felt like a daunting task.

Products such as Qualtrics CoreXM make collecting, analysing and acting on that data as easy as possible, so you never have that blank page fear again.

Step 5: Determine how you will collect and analyse your data.

Primary research can generate a huge amount of data, and when the goal is to uncover actionable insight, it can be difficult to know where to begin or what to pay attention to.

The rise in brands taking their market research and data analysis in-house has coincided with the rise of technology simplifying the process. These tools pull through large volumes of data and outline significant information that will help you make the most important decisions.

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Step 6: Conduct your research!

This is how you can run your research on Qualtrics CoreXM

Pre-launch – Here you want to ensure that the survey/ other research methods conform to the project specifications (what you want to achieve/research)

Soft launch – Collect a small fraction of the total data before you fully launch. This means you can check that everything is working as it should and you can correct any data quality issues.

Full launch – You’ve done the hard work to get to this point. If you’re using a tool, you can sit back and relax, or if you get curious you can check on the data in your account.

Review – review your data for any issues or low-quality responses. You may need to remove this in order not to impact the analysis of the data.

A helping hand

If you are missing the skills, capacity or inclination to manage your research internally, Qualtrics Research Services can help. From design, to writing the survey based on your needs, to help with survey programming, to handling the reporting, research services acts as an extension of the team and can help wherever necessary.

Step 7: Close the Loop

The work isn’t finished here. Survey, analyse and now act. What is the data saying? What insight or trends can you see that will impact your behaviour or decision making?

Now, how are you going to act on this?

Share the insights out between your team, and assign actions to ensure you are closing the loop – and using the data to impact your business outcomes.

It may be that secondary research is needed to further support your primary research.

How to source and apply secondary research?

Secondary research can be taken from a variety of places, but it is important to ensure that the source is reputable and reliable so you can be confident in the conclusions you draw from it.

How do you know if a source is reliable?

Use established and well-known research publishers, such as the XM Institute, Forrester and Mckinsey. Government websites also publish research and this is free of charge. By taking the information directly from the source (rather than a third party) you are minimising the risk of the data being mistreated and the message or insights being mistaken.

How to apply secondary research

The purpose and application of secondary research will vary depending on your circumstances. In an ideal state, secondary research is used to support primary research and therefore give you greater confidence in your conclusions. However, there may be circumstances that prevent this – such as the timeframe and budgets of the project.

Secondary research is also sometimes preferred because there is a misunderstanding of the feasibility of primary research. Traditionally, it has been expensive and slow to do with research only reflecting a moment in time. But thanks to advancements in technology, brands have far greater accessibility to primary research, and resources available to help them in their journey. This isn’t always known, so secondary research is the desired option.

Keep an open mind when collecting all the relevant research so that there isn’t any collection bias. Then begin analysing the conclusions formed to see if any trends start to appear. This will help you to draw a consensus from the secondary research overall.

One platform for all your market research

Trusted by 8,500 brands for everything from product testing to competitor analysis, Core XM is the world’s most powerful and flexible research platform. With over 100 question types and advanced logic, you can build out your surveys and see real-time data you can share across the organisation. Plus, you’ll be able to turn data into insights with iQ, our predictive intelligence engine that runs complicated analysis at the click of a button.

eBook: Guide to Modern Agile Research