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Get Your Marketing Research Process Right with These 5 Key Steps

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Published: Nov 3, 2021

Any product launch, feature update, or promotional activities demand that you know your target audience, their mood, and their pushbuttons well. Do they engage more if you add humor? Are they more likely to purchase if you compare competitors? What channels are more likely to give you conversions? One cannot answer these questions without thorough research. And a comprehensive marketing research process will help you with that.

So, without further ado, let’s get into the 5 steps in the marketing research process. Each step involves multiple stages, and I will elaborate on them with examples in this blog.

1. Identify the problem and break it down into objectives

first-step-of-marketing-research-process

Your marketing research process begins with the identification of a critical problem. This problem can be 

  • Internal (e.g., strategy or growth issues)
  • External (e.g., market demand or pull for your product, feature, or promotional activities).

This step aims to take the problem, analyze it, and ultimately break it down into defined objectives. Here’s how it goes:

Ask relevant teams to locate a problem 

If you are part of a dedicated market research team, the key grievance(s) will come to you from different departments as assignments or projects. But if you are reading this article, you are more likely to be a part of a department that must undertake a marketing research project to solve specific problems hindering your growth.

In such cases, you must first list out all the problems your team is facing. Then:

  1. Identify those problems that can be overcome with a marketing research approach.
  2. Identify the most pertinent and persistent solvable issue.

This one issue will drive your entire marketing research process.

Define the problem

At this stage, you have a broad umbrella problem. It doesn’t really convey anything about past records, expectations, or other comparisons. At this stage, it looks very much like a grievance but nothing more.

So, your next step is to polish the broad problem into something easily identifiable and definite. You add other factors to the problem that show you how your situation compares against the set standards. 

Comparing the problem against your key goals is one way you achieve this. 

For instance, if your identified problem is that sales are at an all-time low, you define the problem as sales are X% lower than last quarter or sales are x% lower than the target. 

Convert problem into a research question

Are you looking at increasing sales, or are you looking at the root cause of low sales? At this stage, you convert your problem into a research question that will define your next course of action. Taking the above example, your defined problem will convert to how can I increase sales? Or why are sales low? 

Define objectives

This stage combines stage 2 (define the problem) and stage 3 (research question). So from two distinct leads, you advance to a single comprehensive one. E.g., instead of ‘sales are X% lower than the target’ and ‘why are they low,’ you arrive at: What strategies can help increase sales to meet X target?  

Next, you break down this overarching goal into smaller, definite objectives. Together, these objectives (and the actionable steps that will result from it) will work to resolve your issue.

For example, your goal can be divided into:

  • Reasons behind customer churn
  • Changes in industry trends and standards
  • Product weaknesses
  • Ways to resolve product weaknesses

Once you have these broken down and defined objectives, you are ready to start developing your marketing research approach.

Case study example following the first step of marketing research process:

A food manufacturer wanted to assess 

– How customers perceive their test product as compared to alternate ingredients listed on other products
– How similar perceptions varied across their product suite.

These objectives arose because people have become highly self and health-conscious and keep a close eye on what they are consuming. The food manufacturer experimented with the combination and labeling of ingredients and wanted to put out a controlled number of products to see how people reacted to them.

(Case study source: Decision Analyst. We will continue this example throughout the article.)

You May Also Like: Why Is Market Research Important For Your Organization? All Essential Reasons

2. Develop the approach to your marketing research plan

second-step-of-marketing-research-process

The first step of the marketing research approach is to know the various methods of study possible and available to you. Your next step is to identify the methods that will best answer your research questions or provide insights to help you achieve your objectives. 

How do you plan on understanding your problem and on resolving it? Are you tapping into primary research or compiling secondary data to reach conclusions? Every objective might require a different approach, and at this stage, you determine your plan of action for each.

Determine your method of research

The different methods of market research are:

Primary researchSecondary research
Surveys and pollsFinding industry-relevant sources for the desired information
Interviews and focus groupsFinding problem-related or objective-related sources
User tests (or other such observational tests)Social listening
Collecting backend dataCollating data from the benchmark and other reports.
Study of historical records
Field trials

Your choice of research method will depend heavily on what research questions you are targeting. If you are looking at a more individual study (e.g., why are my followers unresponsive), you choose to go for primary research. Alternatively, if you are looking for a broader study, relevant to your field, industry, or current trends in general (e.g., change in user engagement on Instagram), you go for secondary research.

Determine the channels and tools to conduct primary research

While you will mainly conduct your secondary research online or through partnerships with the data vendors/sources, you will need reliable platforms for distribution for the primary analysis. Especially so for surveys, polls, interviews, and user tests.

You need to choose distribution channels that:

  1. Are convenient for your target audience.
  2. Offer you the space and features to collect all required information.
  3. Can get you responses quickly and cost effectively.
  4. Sync with your database for easy import/export
  5. Your staff or market research team is familiar with.

Texting is one such viable channel for surveys and polls that ticks all the boxes. It has a 98% open rate (with over 90% being opened within three minutes) and a 45% CTR. You can know more about how to conduct a text survey here: Send Text Surveys To Contacts – Here’s How.

Some more resourceful online channels are:

  • Social media (through posts, DMs to followers/customers, and stories for short polls).
  • Calling (for long surveys and high-value customers)
  • Emails (fit for surveys and user tests)
  • Video calling (for personal interviews and focus groups)
  • Surveys and forms with market research tools.

We’ve mentioned online channels because they enable you to reach a wider audience with fewer resources and less time. But you can also choose to conduct your primary research in person.

We haven’t forgotten secondary research. But, it is very difficult to point out tools that cater to your exact field and use case. As a result, we have compiled a list of 16 market research tools that work throughout the political, nonprofit, and business spectrum. These tools will help you with survey creation and distribution, social listening, and more.  

Read: ​​Top 16 Market Research Tools For Your Business, Political Campaign, and Nonprofit.

Case study example following the second step of marketing research process:

Since consumers were the main focus of the study, the food manufacturer chose surveys as their research method. They distributed the questionnaires online.

Source: Decision Analyst. 

3. Design your research and launch

third-step-of-marketing-research-process

This step of your marketing research process will determine the position of and relationship between all your research methods. 

Your methods can launch:

  • Independently 
  • In chronological order (when at least one method has a dependency on the outcomes of another)

Let’s look at the specific stages under this third step of your marketing research process.

Design your research

Place all your finalized methods of study and define the overarching goals of each. Arrange them in chronological order according to these goals. Remember, some or all of your methods can launch independently, and the dependent ones can launch only later. Here are three common possibilities of your roadmap:

marketing-research-process-dependent-independent-launch

At this stage, you also:

  1. Set the target audience.
  2. Pick specific channels for each method.
  3. Break down the goal of each approach into specific objectives.

Draft questions and pointers

Design questionnaires, pointers, and aims for the study. While the questions will be part of your surveys and polls, pointers and aims will act as the guiding star for your research. For example:

  • Question for surveys: Which channels do you prefer for communications with us?
  • Pointers for collecting data and research: Engagement metrics and ROI for A, B, C communication channels.
  • Aim: To find out the most preferred, highest ROI, and highest CTR communication channels across the industry. 

Launch distributions

If you are conducting surveys and polls, schedule them with dates and timings. If an external team brings you data, send over your questions, objectives, and expectations. If you are collecting backend data, set a timeline and rope in all involved parties.

At this last stage of the third step in your marketing research process, you schedule or launch distributions of your collection points. Now, we wait.

Case study example for the third step of marketing research process: 

The food manufacturer’s target audience came from varied age groups, income slabs, and other demographics. Their common factor was that these individuals were primarily responsible to purchase groceries for their household.

The survey was an evaluation of four labels– one of which was the experimental label. Respondents had to go through each one at a time and the labels were given in a randomized order. Once done, they had to answer a questionnaire about the importance of food habits and personal health, emotional appeal, familiarity with the product, and more.

Source: Decision Analyst.

4. Collect and analyze data

fourth-step-of-marketing-research-process

Start collecting and organizing data as and when it starts coming in. Some data may require the support of other data files before making sense. Keep track of progress for such files. Organizing data in batches can prevent the overwhelm and errors that arise due to the magnitude of the entire set. Data collection to organizing is divided into three steps:

  • Collection
  • Organizing
  • Arranging and Analyzing.

Let’s look at them in detail.

Collection

marketing-research-process-data-collection-tagging

Collecting data involves ensuring you have the right set of data and all required data. For example, say your question is How likely are you to click on a branded link shared via SMS (rate from 1-5). If likely, what persuades you?  If you get a response saying No, you don’t have the correct data point. If you don’t get an answer to the next question, you don’t have all the required data. At this stage, you only tag or identify data files as Valid (required and complete) and Invalid (not required or incomplete).

Sorting and organizing

marketing-research-process-data-organizing

Organizing or sorting involves segregating and categorizing data. Especially if you are doing primary research, you are likely to get data points from many sources. Organizing data will help you see broad patterns and get ready for analyzing and arranging it.

Arranging and analyzing

marketing-research-process-data-arranging

Arranging goes a step further from organizing and sorting data in a way that helps you analyze it. If organizing puts all answers to Question 1 in Column A, answers to Question 2 in B, and so on, arranging will involve getting all similar answers together. So column A is further divided into all the answers you got. 

Then, you analyze it by identifying similarities and differences, patterns and contrasts.

Case study example for the fourth step of marketing research process:

Since the 15-minute survey was online, the analysts received responses as soon as someone filled it and hit “submit”. We do not have access to information about how they sorted, arranged, or analyzed data. 

Source: Decision Analyst.

5. Represent, present, and take action

fifth-step-of-marketing-research-process

The last step in the marketing research process is to visually represent your analyzed data, add observations, suggest ways to take action, and present it to the relevant team. Here’s how it goes:

Visual and other representations

Before you present the data to the related team, one last step: represent the findings visually and add key observations around them. This involves adding charts, diagrams, and graphs. The observations should build atop the conclusions of the visual representations– not merely translate images into text.

For instance, if your graphs show that 50% of people prefer communicating via texts, 35% via emails, and 15% on calls, your textual observations should also include how these trends are clashing or flowing with your current strategy.

Steps to take action

Based on the previous observations and conclusions, you also add definite and actionable steps to resolve your problems (where you started this marketing research process). If we take the above example, the course of action can involve:

  • Moving from emails to text as the primary communication channel.
  • Investing in an SMS tool.
  • Training staff to make conversations more friendly than formal. 

Case study for the last step of marketing research process:

As a result of the study, the food manufacturer got valuable insight on which substitute ingredient(s) generated the highest purchase interest in their target audience. Additionally, they also got insights on information that needed to be better highlighted on the packaging to support their consumers’ interests.

Source: Decision Analyst.

Presentation

The last phase of the research process is reporting the research findings to management or relevant teams. Make space for probable questions and doubts, different scenarios to troubleshoot problems, and account for contingent strategies if your primary one doesn’t feel viable.

These steps in the marketing research process might feel a bit too much to take in. So I’ll end the blog by summarizing them in this flowchart. Download or print it for future reference.

marketing research process final flowchart

Feature image source: ​​Dan Dimmock/Unsplash.

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