Customer Insight – Three key tips on choosing the right market research approach

16 Jan 2017 | Research & Business Knowledge

Need some feedback on your business? Want to know if customers are satisfied, or potential buyers like your new product idea? 

These days, with many a DIY survey tool available, it’s tempting to believe you can just bash out a quick online questionnaire to obtain this sort of feedback, but think again. Choosing the wrong approach can, at best, yield minimal insight and, at worst, give you the wrong steer or alienate your customers. Here we walk you through a few basic tips to help you decide on the best way to tackle it.

1.      Qual or quant?

The first thing to understand is whether you simply want to scratch the surface and get a quick straw poll of ‘who or how many’ people do or think certain things, or whether you are after deeper insights. For example, do you simply need to know basic demographics such as WHO is buying your product and how often? Or are you trying to understand more complex issues such as WHY your customers are turning to competitor brands, what may motivate them to try your new Gold service, etc?

The simpler ‘who, what, or how many’ type questions can be more easily answered with QUANTITATIVE research, or quant as we often call it. Here you are aiming to reach a large audience to find out some basic answers, often just getting people to tick boxes in a quick online survey – that’s the kind of research most of us are familiar with. The number of people responding is important, as you need to feel confident that your data is robust, eg: your core target audience really is older women who buy once a week on average. An online quant study can often be good for this this as you can usually reach large numbers of consumers quickly and cost effectively, then analyse them by different sub-groups.

The more complex ‘why, how, in what way’ type questions seek to get further under the skin of how people feel and behave, teasing out insights that may be harder to get to and need careful probing and investigation. Here it’s inappropriate to ask a big audience to just tick a few boxes, and restrict answers to a few multiple-choice options – they need room to express their thoughts and actions. This is when QUALITATIVE research (qual) is more suitable. Instead it involves carefully selecting a good cross-section of people to talk to and interviewing them in much more depth. While there is structure to the conversation, they are not constrained by tick box type questions. Plus the interviewer is freer to dig further into interesting responses, as well as using specialist techniques to get at more deeply rooted emotions and topics people can be less willing to open up about.

So decide what sort of information you need to know, as this will dictate your starting point, and you may ultimately feel you need both types of research.

2.      Method

We could do a whole masterclass on best method, as it includes first considering qual, quant, or a mix and then how best to reach people, eg: by phone, online, face to face, via focus groups, or a myriad of other means.  

Suffice it to say, the best approach invariably has to be a balance between what’s ideal and what’s practical.  For example, you may feel you’d like to sit down face to face with all the local teachers who may be in the market for your new product. Yet how will you reach them? Is there a ready list of their names and will they be free and willing to speak to you? Is it practical to meet them all face to face given time and budget constraints? Conversely, if you simply send them all a link to an online survey, will you get the depth or volume of response you need? Hence why a preferred method is sometimes too costly or impractical and you have to think of clever alternatives to get the insights you need.

3.      Other considerations

Beyond thinking about the right type of research and best method, we’d also encourage you to consider other important aspects such as:

  • Timing – eg: when you are likely to get the best response, and whether timing may affect your results. You may, for example, get a poor response if trying to interview busy accountants at year end, or find your results are affected if you carry out the annual staff survey a week after a major round of redundancies
  • Incentives – eg: how you will you encourage people to participate. Sometimes they may care enough about your service to be willing to provide a quick bit of feedback, but for anything more in-depth, they may well need coaxing with hard cash or at least a prize draw
  • Method bias – eg: whether your chosen method may skew your answers or miss out an important audience. For example, if you want to reach elderly BBC viewers and have chosen an online survey, you might miss out a key subset of consumers who are not confident using the internet

However you go about it, it’s rarely possible to design the perfect study, there will usually be some form of compromise to make. At least if you know this in advance (eg: it was too costly to include a certain age group), you can ensure you factor this into your thinking when you reach analysis and interpretation stage.

As you can see, there’s a lot riding on ensuring you plan out your research properly if you want to get the best results. Your budget may dictate a DIY approach using Survey Monkey or other free tools, which can certainly be better than operating in a bubble without seeking customer input. Yet if you are making important business decisions, it can be worth paying to bring in the experts. We are obviously keen to defend our dark art, so excuse me suggesting this!  But you will hopefully find that if you work with us we can really add value and help you get the deep insights you really need to make your business a success.