Market research: how to make it work

Market research is not just the domain of the blue-chips, says Brainjuicer's John Kearon


Market research tends to be the preserve of blue chip brands. John Kearon of online market research agency BrainJuicer asks if your business can get in on the act

How much market research does your company commission? I’m willing to guess it’s not much or none at all. While leading brands rarely make a move in the market without sending out researchers to assess the likely consumer response to their new products, entrepreneurial businesses like yours tend to base decision-making on the acumen and gut instincts of their founders rather than on statistical reports.

This isn’t surprising. Market research can be expensive, and if not done well, the results may confuse rather than illuminate. When resources are limited, it’s at best seen as ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must have’ and at worst, it’s an exercise that adds little or no value.

So is this fair? Well, it’s possible to waste a large amount of money on market research. Broadly speaking, the various tools and techniques employed to predict consumer reaction to a new product or service produce two kinds of data – quantitative and qualitative. The former is all about numbers – for instance, what percentage of the target consumer group would consider buying a particular product. But it probably won’t tell you why they would buy the product and how you could improve it. The latter is all about the in-depth, attitudinal response of a small number of individuals. It can be very inspiring to know what these people think and feel about your product or service, but small numbers can lead you to draw some wildly inaccurate assumptions.

When you consider that, in traditional market research, the results you get depend to a huge extent on the questions you ask, the order in which you ask them and the words you employ, the tendency of many companies to give this particular ‘black art’ a wide berth is understandable.

Why it can be worth it

Despite this, when it’s done well, market research is a very powerful and accurate predictive tool. This is particularly true when testing reactions to ‘current category products’ – those with which consumers are already familiar, such as soap powder and chocolate.

If you’re selling washing powder, the consumer knows what he or she wants, so their reaction to a new innovation (such as a tablet rather than powder) will be informed by previous experience. In these cases, research findings tend to be highly accurate.

When introducing a new and disruptive product or service, prediction is notoriously inaccurate, because it often requires a change in behaviour, and consumers tend to reject the unfamiliar in research, even if they adopt it when launched.

However, it can be very effective to let people trial the product and use observational research to see what they actually do with it.

Getting it right

So how do you ensure your research spend gets actionable results? The key is to use a mix of qualitative and quantitative techniques. Once this meant carrying out independent exercises, but increasingly, agencies are devising tools that can produce both from a single survey. The online research tools we use at BrainJuicer, for example, provide statistically robust predictions, plus the emotional reaction of individuals to a given product, for the same cost of doing either task separately.

The internet is revolutionising market research, making it faster, better value and enabling smart new techniques, such as creating communities of customers and involving them in your brand development.

The result? If you work with an experienced agency – preferably online – you should expect a report that genuinely adds value to your product development and inspires your marketing efforts by providing hard data and real insight. Armed with that information, you can proceed to the market with confidence.

John Kearon is chief executive of BrainJuicer and founded innovation agency Brand Genetics

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