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Market Research: Start with the Basics

– By Carter McNamara

It is extremely difficult to develop and provide a high-quality product or service without conducting at least some basic market research. Some people have a strong aversion to the word “research” because they believe that the word implies a highly sophisticated set of techniques that only highly trained people can use. Some people also believe that, too often, research generates lots of useless data that is in lots of written reports that rarely are ever read, much less used in the real world. This is a major misunderstanding.

The chances are that you have already conducted at least some basic forms of market research. For example, you have listened (a research technique) to others complain about not having enough of something — that should suggest providing what they need in the form of a product or service.

10-01-start-basicsMarket research has a variety of purposes and a variety of data collection methods might be used for each purpose. So the particular data collection method that you use during your market research depends very much on the particular information that you are seeking to understand.

Some of the most common ways organisations use market research – and the tactics that accompany these – include:

1. Identify opportunities to serve various groups of customers.

Verify and understand the unmet needs of a certain group (or market) of customers. What do they say that they want? What do they say that they need? Some useful data collection methods might be, for example, conducting focus groups, interviewing customers and investors, reading the newspaper and other key library publications, and listening to what clients say and observing what they do. Later on, you might even develop a preliminary version of your product that you pilot, or test market, to verify if the product would sell or not.

2. Examine the size of the market – how many people have the unmet need.

Identify various subgroups, or market segments, in that overall market along with each of their unique features and preferences. Useful data collection methods might be, for example, reading about demographic and societal trends in publications at the library. You might even observe each group for a while to notice what they do, where they go and what they discuss. Consider interviewing some members of each group. Finally, consider conducting a focus group or two among each group.

3. Determine the best methods to meet the unmet needs of the target markets.

How can you develop a product with the features and benefits to meet that unmet need? How can you ensure that you have the capacity to continue to meet the demand? Here’s where focus groups can really come in handy. Conduct some focus groups, including asking them about their preferences, unmet needs and how those needs might be met. Run your ideas past them. At the same time, ask them what they would need to use your services and what they would pay for them.

4. Investigate the competition.

Examine their products, services, marketing techniques, pricing, location, etc. One of the best ways to understand your competitors is to use their services. Go to their location, look around and look at some of their literature. Look at their web sites. Notice their ads in newsletters and the newspaper. Follow them on Twitter and look them up on LinkedIn.

5. Clarify your unique value proposition.

Your proposition describes why others should use your organization and not the competition’s. A particularly useful data collection method in this area is the use of focus groups. Get some groups of potential clients together and tell them about your ideas. Tell them how your ideas are unique. Tell them how you would want your program to be seen (its positioning). Ask them what they think.

6. Conclude if the product is effectively meeting the needs of the customers.

One of the best ways to make this conclusion is to conduct an evaluation. An evaluation often includes the use of various data collection methods, usually several of them, for example, observing clients, interviewing them, administrating questionnaires with them, developing some case studies, and, ideally, conducting a product field test, or pilot.

7. Conclude if your advertising and promotions strategies are effective or not.

One of the best ways to make this conclusion is to evaluate the results of the advertising. This could include use of several data collection methods among your clients, such as observing clients, interviewing them, administrating questionnaires with them, developing some case studies.


Carter McNamaraCarter McNamara isco-founder of Authenticity Consulting, which provides long-lasting services in organizational and professional development. He has extensive experience in consulting, leadership, management and organizational development, in both small and large organizations. He is also founder and developer of the Free Management Library, one of the world’s largest collections of on-line resources for personal, professional and organizational development at Published with permission from Authenticity Consulting, LLC

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