Marketing research is how we do PR in the new economy. Not only does it minimize business risks, but it also helps you identify opportunities. Understanding the market, the clients, and the audiences is pivotal to the success of any business. Whether it’s scrutinising competitors, getting to know audiences, monitoring progress, or staying ahead of trends, market research will empower companies with the knowledge they need to make successful business decisions or fuel effective content strategies.
What is market research?
Market research is the process of gathering information about a target market, to inform every stage of business, including:
- Innovation and product development
- Identifying opportunities and risks
- Targeting and segmenting potential customers
- Promoting and advertising products and services
- Pricing and ROI potential
- Understanding the competition and differentiating
- Customer experience and support
- Understanding and prioritising channels to market
In other words, everything from gathering the information, to making sense of it and to provide useful, actionable interpretations based on the information in order to achieve a series of goals, can be said to be part of the market research efforts.
Who needs market research services?
In short, everybody who is involved in bringing products or services to market and require an understanding of what may be some of the best approaches to do so. This includes organisations and individuals in the public or third sectors who are seeking to understand their user base or to secure funding for projects.
Market research has traditionally been a function of the marketing department, in partnership with market research consultants or market research agencies, but this is now changing. Forward-thinking companies understand the importance of market research and how the insight gained can benefit the whole organisation. In these companies, research and insight is typically a collaborative cross-functional process, driven from board level, and involving people from across the business.
Market research can also be a valuable tool for PR agencies and brands who would like to take the insight from studies and use it to tell stories that resonate with customers and potential customers. PR specialists can use market research when advising their clients but also as part of their on-going media relations efforts.
Why is market research important in PR?
Market research is important at every stages of the PR process.
- Before the project: This stage is often neglected, but using market research to inform the development of the PR brief will help you understand your target audience, the competitive landscape, and the dynamics of the industry. It will also help you to build credibility with stakeholders and may help to get the project signed off.
- PR planning: Use market research to investigate areas of interest, consumer trends and hot topics and create a compelling story. Conducting surveys with consumers, or other end-user groups can give you great statistics to build your campaign around.
- During a campaign: To track the impact of the campaign and make adjustments if needed.
- After the campaign: To evaluate the success of the project, understand any issues and look at how to improve for future work.
In addition, it can be used to generate a story or fuel a thought leadership campaign. The most engaging and memorable stories include people. Through research you can explore people’s thoughts and opinions, dreams and fears, loves and hates. It can help you better understand market trends and the psychology and sociology of customers. The perfect foundation for a content marketing campaign but also for SEO.
Consumer and B2B market research
Consumer market research involves talking to members of the public. Some consumer research uses what is known as a nationally representative sample, which enables you to gather a reliable estimate of the views of an entire country. Alternatively, consumer research selects a sample based on a particular characteristic of interest, such as parents, pet owners or coffee drinkers.
B2B (Business-to-Business) market research uses the same methods and techniques as consumer research, but it samples people because of the job that they do. Because businesses buy differently from consumers, B2B research sometimes involves interviewing people in different positions in the same company, such as the IT Manager, the Finance Manager and the Procurement Manager.
Market research methods
Market research methods fall into two broad categories:
- Quantitative research methods: The goal of quantitative research is to gather data from a large enough sample of your target market, that you can be reasonably confident the answers you get represent the market as a whole. Quantitative research is primarily carried out using surveys, which can be done online, in person, by post or on the phone. The output is numbers and statistics that answer questions such as “how many..?” or “how often…?” or “when..?”
- Qualitative research methods: The goal of qualitative research is to look at questions in more depth than is possible in quantitative research, and to dig down into why people think or behave the way they do. Quantitative methods include focus groups, in-depth interviews or online research communities.
It can often be helpful to conduct both qualitative and quantitative research within one project. For example, you could use focus groups to understand all of the different ways that people can feel about a particular issue, and then conduct a survey to find out how many people fall into each category.
Market research types
It’s also helpful to understand the distinction between primary and secondary research. Primary research (also known as field research) involves collecting data from research participants and analysing it to understand the results. Secondary research (also known as desk research) involves searching for published research or data that has already been collected by a third party, and conducting a review.
Primary research can be more expensive to conduct, but has the advantage of being current, and also being designed to ask the exact research questions you want to find out. By contrast, secondary research can be cheaper, but you are reliant on the right data and information being available.
What is a market research strategy?
A market research strategy is the approach that you take to using market research support your business goals. It will detail the type of information you need to achieve those goals, and the methods to use to obtain that information, over a defined period of time. The market research strategy will be used as a framework to guide all of your market research projects.
What is the difference between market research and marketing research?
Market research is focused on the target market, whereas marketing research is broader, and looks at all aspects of the marketing process. Having said that, the terms are often used interchangeably, both employ the same methods, and many market research agencies undertake both market and marketing research.
How important is market research for new business ideas?
Market research is essential. Innovators are often very close to the ideas that they are developing and an objective view that is rooted in reality is invaluable for helping to prioritise and invest in only the most attractive and viable ideas.
What sort of actions will market research help me to take?
Market research gives you the evidence you need to support decision making at all levels of your business. Whether you need to prioritise the best new product concepts, understand what keeps your target market up at night, or just get a steer on the sort of language your customers use around a particular topic, market research can deliver.
Do small business really need market research?
All businesses will benefit from getting an objective view of what customers and prospects really want. Online research is affordable for all businesses and the results can be used for content marketing efforts, digital PR and SEO campaigns.
What are some of the common challenges of conducting market research?
Some of the key challenges are in defining the audience you need to sample, in asking the right questions, and in interpreting the answers. In all of these cases, working with an expert market research agency or market research consultant will enable you to navigate these challenges.
What are the pitfalls I should watch out for when conducting market research?
There is considerable expertise involved in writing a questionnaire or focus group topic guide that will get the right results, without introducing bias. It takes similar expertise to interpret the raw data that research generates to make it meaningful. Working with a trusted market research agency partner will help you avoid bad design, or misinterpretation of results.
Can I conduct market research myself using one of the free DIY survey platforms?
Of course. If your research needs are quite straightforward and simple, then it is possible to save money by conducting the research yourself. However, working with a market research company can help you avoid the pitfalls and challenges of DIY research, such as writing unbiased questions, or interpreting raw data, and it can be surprisingly affordable.
What are some of the biggest challenges for media relations campaigns?
Again, there can be no definite answer here. Media relations should follow a strategy. Only if there is a strategy and goals, only if processes and responsibilities are clearly defined, media relations can be implemented consequently, consistently and successfully. The role is media relations is, after all, to create a positive relationship of a brand with the media, but only insofar as it fulfills the end-goal, which is to reach the right audience with the right message.
There’s an art and a science to be able to do media relations to a level where the experience for the user is enhanced based on the expectations created or the perceived value.
So lacking a coherent strategy, lacking genuinely useful content, lacking the right tone of message and the necessary knowledge to make your service known can definitely be challenges for a large number of companies.
What to look for when hiring a market research company
It is important to work with a reputable market research agencies to conduct your research projects. Market research is an investment and it is important that the agency you choose can meet all of your needs. Here are five top tips for choosing the best agency for your project.
- Look for expertise in your chosen methods. Some companies are full service, which means that they will offer an end-to-end package, in any method that you choose to use. Others specialise in particular areas, such as qualitative research, online surveys, or advertising research.
- Look for experience in your industry. Again, some agencies are generalists, and some specialise in particular sectors, such as research for PR.
- Ask them to demonstrate their expertise and experience. Agencies should have case studies that show how they have worked on similar projects, for similar organisations to yours.
- Ask for recommendations. Use your network to find agencies that have done great work for people that you know. Similarly, check that the agency can supply testimonials and recommendations from other clients.
- Most importantly, get to know the team. Market research is a collaborative process and successful research depends on relationships. Spend some time talking to the team that will be delivering your project to ensure that you have shared values, and can work well together.