Our article series on marketing has first, provided an initial understanding of marketing by defining and explaining the key terms marketers use, and secondly, has taken a more in-depth look at how to identify market segments (Intro to Marketing – Part II – Target Markets). Next and critically important, we need to talk about how to conduct the market research you need to understand how to position and promote your product. Part IV explains the process of collecting qualitative market research.

Everyone can and should do market research

Some business owners start to hyperventilate when they hear the words 'market research'. They think things like:

'I don't have a master's degree in marketing; I have no idea how to do research!'

Or

'I can't afford to do market research; I have a very limited budget!'

Or

'I don't have time to do research; I can hardly keep up with everything I have to do now to keep the business growing!'

Relax. You don't need special degrees to do market research, it doesn't have to cost a lot of money and you absolutely, positively need to make time for market research if you really want to grow your business.

In this article we'll look at some simple ways for you to gather the marketing information that is very important to your business’ long term success.

The methods for doing market research are varied and range from the informal information gathering that every seller does on a routine basis to more systematic methods of data gathering. Research data can be divided into two types, qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative Data Gathering Techniques

Qualitative data is information that is not subject to measurement. You may think that unquantified information is not valid and it's true, you may not be able to calculate projections with qualitative information. However, every kind of information is useful and the 'uncontrolled' nature of qualitative information can make it some of the most insightful research data you'll find.

Chat Rooms, Forums, Message Boards

First and foremost, market research can be done by listening and observing attentively. As an on-line retailer, you don't have the advantage of being able to chat with your customers over a sales counter or listen in on conversations as people stroll past your trade booth but there are ways of listening to your customers on-line.

In order to learn more about your target market's preferences, you need to determine where they are communicating on the net about subjects that are useful to your research efforts. If you sell auto parts, you should seek out auto repair chat boards, auto parts review sites and so on. If you sell craft supplies, you should explore sites that crafters tend to visit.

To find chat rooms that involve your area or involve interests within your target markets, use a good search engine such as Google and search those topics in this way (using auto parts as an example), 'car repair chat room' or 'top auto parts sites' and so on.

Go to these sites and read, read, read. Find out what your potential customers are saying, how they use sites and what's hot. You may even want to subscribe to several sites and become an 'expert', providing advice and directing people to your site, if it's allowed. (If you can't do such 'advertising', just be sure your profile lists your site info – if you give good advice, people will find you.)

Review Sites

A second interesting technique is the use of review sites. There may or may not be relevant reviews available for your area but it's worth trying; you would be surprised at what you may find. For example, try doing a search on Google for 'hand crafted chess board review'. This rather esoteric request yielded a variety of reviews of handcrafted chess boards. Two sites that offer reviews of both common and unusual products are www.shopping.msn.com/reviews and www.amazon.com customer reviews. EBay is also a good source of reviews. Go to the category area you are interested in and look at the sidebars for review articles. These articles give excellent information about how people look at and evaluate products.

Informal feedback

Informal surveys can be useful ways to gather intelligence. Here are some ways to gather informal feedback:

  • Add a comments section to various pages on your site. Offer a reward for posting comments.
  • Add a comments section to your shopping basket, linked to rewards.
  • Review and analyze customer email; what are people saying to you?
  • If you offer live chat, review transcripts for information.

As a general rule, there's never a downside to learning more about your customer and everything counts.

Focus Groups

The focus group is a market research technique that is used to get information that is not easily obtained through surveys or is too expensive to obtain through more quantified methods.

A focus group is a group of people who have been selected based on some set of desired attributes such as teenagers from households of moderate income or mothers who do not work outside of the home. The group is brought together and a facilitator asks questions of the group to gather information. Often the group dynamic generates better information than individual interviews as one person's perspective inspires another person's comments. The group is sometimes shown a new product and asked to comment or is queried about general attitudes and preferences.

It's possible to conduct something like a focus group on-line by holding a live chat session. You can invite users to come together to ask questions of your resident product expert and respond to some new product offerings you're considering. The group setting allows people to springboard off one another's comments and often stimulates useful discussion and insights you might not have gained in otherwise.

Your methods do not have to be scientific to gather interesting and useful information. Remember that first and foremost, every scientist learns that observation is the key to developing hypotheses to test.

Well, terrific, now you have discovered some simple and inexpensive ways to gather market research. Next, we are going to spend a bit of time talking about quantitative research methods in Intro to Marketing Part IV – Quantitative Market Research.