What is primary market research?

How to analyse your potential customers with focus groups, surveys and evaluation of your future competition

Primary research is research that you can conduct yourself or commission someone else to do for you, instead of using information that is already published. Your primary research could include focus groups, surveys, or sizing up the competition. In particular, look at your rivals’ use of technology, customer service, prices, marketing and business models and try to find out what your potential customers think of these things – this will help you to identify areas for improvement.

The only way to find out how potential customers view your idea, and your competitors, is by talking to them. This falls into two broad types of market research: quantitative, which focuses on a broad cross-section and produces a numerical result, such as ‘36% of the target audience think this’, which can be useful figures to show a potential investor; and qualitative, which is more in-depth, often using a smaller but representative sample, which covers not only what people do, but why they buy a certain product, how they feel about it and how they would like to see it improved.

An example of qualitative research is a focus group. You gather a small number of people who represent a cross-section of your target market for a discussion with an assigned leader to assess their opinions of the product or service you will be offering. If this can include giving the focus group members first-hand experience of that product or service, their opinions will be better informed. To entice people to attend a focus group, you will need to give them some kind of inducement, such as a small payment or gift.

A simple direct survey of your target audience (the bigger the sample, the better) looking for the number of people who behave in a certain way is an example of quantitative research, where you either send questions out to a database (either by post or via email), go doorstepping or ask people in the street.

There’s also a growing number of online survey tools, such as Survey Monkey, Smart Survey and QuestionPro, where you can set up a basic survey for free and then post a link to it on Facebook, Twitter, your website or blog, or email it out to contacts. Whichever approach you choose, ensure that your research sample represents a cross-section of your target customers in order to gain a reliable picture of the market.

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