Anthony Basile

Marketing is too important to leave the details up to chance — or to walk into a campaign without knowing what to expect. When you’re promoting your brand, you want to make sure your efforts are on target, selling the products your audience wants in a way that will get a good response.

Market research is the not-so-secret weapon that allows you to reach this state of on-target marketing and outreach. Putting in the time and effort to know your audience, industry and region can pay off quickly when the results start rolling in.

Engaging in market research is especially useful when you’re:

  • Engaging in product development.
  • Developing messaging for a marketing campaign.
  • Shifting your brand positioning.

One of the best aspects of market research is that you never have to feel constrained in your efforts to gather valuable insight. There are plenty of methods under the market research umbrella, and you can pick the one that best suits your situation.

9 Types of Market Research To Use

Market research isn’t just one set of practices. By studying various aspects of your market, audience and competitors, using a selection of methodologies and tactics, you can form a nuanced picture that will prepare you to succeed.

1. Focus Groups

It can be easy to overlook focus groups as an innovative market research technique. After all, this is a tried-and-true methodology. Can a focus group really yield surprising or compelling results? In practice, these gatherings’ reliability as sources of insights makes up for their lack of innovation. Having them as a central pillar of your qualitative market research strategy gives you a solid foundation.

Running an effective focus group, with participants who truly fit your target audience and feel empowered to speak openly, helps you collect qualitative information about your chosen topic. A flexible moderator who is able to stick with the flow of a conversation can gather honest answers about the highest-priority topics for your business — this kind of feedback is always worthwhile.

2. Online Surveys

Surveys are a lower-overhead option when compared to focus groups. Instead of bringing together a panel and gathering their qualitative thoughts, you’re gathering quantitative data from a passive audience. While online surveys are relatively simple to run, the insights you capture can be profound if you structure your questions well.

Your choice of polling platform can determine the success of your approach. By picking a specialized tool — survey software like Pollfish or LinkedIn’s polling feature, for example — you can quickly build out a market research survey that will deepen your knowledge of your target market and customer base. The former uses generative AI to craft questions based on objectives, while the latter gives you easy access to LinkedIn’s attentive B2B audience.

3. Interviews

While focus groups let members of your target audience share their feelings about important issues in your field, the format can be somewhat indirect. Sometimes, you need direct answers about specific products, features or brand decisions. In these cases, it’s time to find a good audience sample and conduct interviews for qualitative market research.

Interview best practices differ based on your market. In a B2C context, you can reach out to your audience through public posts on social media, email and other channels to find your participants. In the B2B space, where products and services tend to be more targeted and niche, you may have to turn to communities based around your industry on platforms like LinkedIn.

4. Text and SMS Polling

Focus groups and interviews are exciting options for getting to the heart of the important questions about your industry — but sometimes, that level of detail isn’t what you’re looking for. Instead, you need a snap response, gauging clients’ responses about a new product or offering. “Would you buy this?” “Which of these do you prefer?”

Text messaging is not just a way to keep in touch with your audience through promotions and updates. It’s also a potential method of gathering prompt reactions to your queries. Your audience is right at your fingertips, ready to give you input about upcoming decisions.

5. Crowdsourcing

In lieu of asking questions directly to your target audience by SMS, LinkedIn poll or another method, you can cast a wider net. Making a public request for input or information through your most public-facing channels, including B2B social media platforms, allows you to take in a wide variety of responses.

While you may receive a rather unfiltered sample of responses by publicly posing a question, the process can also be engaging for customers and enlightening for you. Letting people sound off on important questions about your brand may yield interesting results that are less predictable than responses to narrower surveys.

6. Gamification

If getting your audience interested in answering your questions is proving to be a struggle, you can change up your tone. Gamification, which means adding fun mechanics to brand interactions, allows you an easier way to approach your audience. Offering points or badges to an experience is one way to gamify your communications, as is giving your app a fun, game-like user interface.

Building your market research into an overall gamified customer experience allows you to keep your audience close, while still gathering the data you need. If you use a loyalty point system, giving out points to people who answer survey questions is an easy way to stoke interest.

7. Competitive Analysis

Sometimes, you can learn a lot from studying the lay of the land in your industry, with a specific focus on how well your competitors are targeting your shared audience. When you’re planning to launch a new product or service, it’s worth learning from the experiences of other companies with similar offerings.

Making note of your competitors’ successes and stumbles allows you to start from a position of strength, rather than having to learn every lesson directly. After interviewing or surveying members of your target market about audience sentiments regarding rival brands, you can intentionally differentiate your own offerings and stay ahead of market trends.

8. Social Media Listening

While asking questions directly is one way to learn more about your industry, passively observing the ongoing discussion on social media is another option. What are people saying about your brand and your competitors when they’re not being asked directly? The answers can inform your next steps, provided you filter out the noise.

Listening to social media chatter may present an unrepresentative sample — after all, the people who talk the most might not be the ones most likely to buy your product. With that said, there can be interesting strategic ideas in the unfiltered thoughts of a vast audience, and they can help you understand the mood at that exact moment.

9. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Using AI technology isn’t a method of market research in itself. Rather, it’s a market research tool that can empower other methods. When engaging in data collection about your market or analyzing consumer insights from surveys, interviews or other inputs, you can filter the information through generative AI tools to unlock compelling insights.

Recent developments in the generative AI field have only boosted the technology’s potential value. For instance, an algorithm that can accurately assess the sentiments of natural-language answers and extract trends from that data is a valuable tool for survey takers and interviewers, shortening the time from input to insight.

The Benefits of Market Research

Running down various market research strategies provides a good reminder of how much your brand can learn. It’s also a good reminder that performing effective research takes effort. Why invest in this process?

Market research is worthwhile because of the difference it can make for all your subsequent work. Three specific benefits of market research include:

  • Better understanding your customers’ needs: Products and services, no matter how well designed, are nothing without an audience. You need to know what your customers want and prefer to make sure everything from your design decisions to your advertising strategy is locked on target.
  • Identifying market opportunities: If there’s a customer need that’s going unmet or an audience segment going unserved, you should know about it. Understanding gaps in the market can help you deliver new products and services that have strong built-in audiences from their launch. 
  • Optimizing your marketing strategies: Spending money on a marketing strategy that isn’t getting results is damaging to your bottom line. You should make a point of monitoring the reception of your marketing and sales efforts to optimize every dollar of spend and extract maximum value.

Guesswork can be a waste of time and effort. Well targeted market research takes the uncertainty out of your key processes, providing actionable insight from product development to market research.

Find Market Research That Works for You

As you embrace market research, it’s important to remember there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Your audience is unique, even within your field, and so are your products and services. Finding the perfect combination of market research methods for your business may take some experimentation as you determine the best way to learn about the challenges and opportunities you face.

As tough as it can be to go through a period of discovery, the results are worth it. A strong market research approach lets you know who your customers are and what they need from you. That valuable insight is so fundamental that it can guide your brand strategy for years to come, so all your decisions are informed ones.