Marketing Research: A Problem-Solving Approach

Marketing research is, at heart, a problem-solving activity. You’ve got a business objective – to increase brand awareness, drive sales of your product or service, or improve your bottom line – and you’ve got a set of research questions guiding you to the right data to help you reach your destination.

Too often, businesses launch marketing campaigns without a clear idea of what will happen. They might roll out a new branding strategy, change their marketing approach, or increase their marketing spend, all without data to back up their hunchs. In those instances, the results are usually negative: the campaign doesn’t work as hoped, and the business is at a loss as to what went wrong.

The Role of Marketing Research

The key to avoiding costly missteps and achieving the best possible results from your marketing strategy is proper research. Proper research means asking the right questions of the right people in the right way. It also means basing your conclusions on the data collected and analyzing the findings objectively.

Proper research is the foundation of all good marketing. It ensures you’re investing your time and money into activities that will lead to effective results.

Where To Start

Like any worthwhile journey, the first step to effective marketing is mapping out the route. Before you start your research, you need to come up with a list of questions that will help you get to the bottom of whatever issues you’re facing. You can then use these questions to form a thesis statement for your report:

What is this research about? What are the research questions, and what do I hope to see as the answers?

Answering these questions will form the backbone of your report, and you can use it to scope your research and analyze your results. For example, if you had asked:

“Does a funny joke always outperform a serious one when it comes to driving customer engagement?”

You would have then followed up with:

“Looking at responses to funny and serious jokes in an online survey of 1,500 U.S. adults, the results suggested that a humorous approach not only has the potential to engage potential customers, but also to increase their trust in your product or brand.”

The Difference In Quality

To determine the quality of your research, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the research question, or one of the answers, immediately spring to mind when you hear the topic mentioned?
  • Is the information being presented to me objectively derived from the research?
  • Do I feel like I’m understanding the research question well enough to critique it?
  • Are the conclusions presented in a clear and concise manner?

A high-quality answer to any of these questions will indicate that your research is of very good quality!

Types Of Research

Depending on the nature of your business, you may wish to perform market research in several different ways. For example, you might want to dive into the demographics of your ideal customer or look into the buying behavior of potential customers. If you’re simply looking to increase brand awareness, you might want to consider a content campaign or focus on a specific geographic market. So, too, with sales – to discover what works best for your particular audience, you can experiment with different marketing channels (e.g., SEO, email marketing, and social media) and tailor your strategy to meet their needs.

The Importance Of Scoping

When you set out to answer a research question, you’ll often be presented with a barrage of information. To ensure you don’t waste your time analyzing meaningless numbers or random data, you must set the scope of your research. What is the precise nature of the question you’re seeking to answer? What are you looking for in terms of the respondent’s answers? What do you hope to glean from the results of your research?

Scoping involves determining the research questions, gathering the appropriate data, and performing the analysis. Once you’ve scoped your research, you can determine the appropriate sample size – How many respondents do I need to approach to get reliable results? – and start to form a clear idea of the thesis statement you’ll build on:

“Based on the gathered data, digital marketers can see the relative success of various online marketing campaigns, helping them to focus on the tactics that work best for their particular business.”

As with any worthwhile journey, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. With that in mind, here are some tips to get you started:

Set A Timetable

To ensure your research is of good quality, you must set a timetable for its completion. If you’re performing market research to determine the effectiveness of a new branding campaign, for example, you might wish to set a deadline for gathering the necessary data. Of course, you’ll also need to factor in sufficient time to analyze the results and put them into practice.

Create A Research Protocol

Creating a research protocol is crucial to performing high-quality research. As the name implies, a protocol is a system or procedure designed to consistently achieve a specific goal. A protocol will serve as a guide for all your research activities, from setting up your interviews to analyzing the data. If you’re performing qualitative research (e.g., interviews or focus groups), you might wish to use a certain protocol in order to ensure you don’t deviate from the questions you’ve been asked or the analysis you’ve been told to perform.

Get The Right Respondents

The information you gather will only be as valuable as the respondents you choose for your survey. To ensure you maximize the value of your research dollars, you must get the right respondents for your survey. If you’re performing a quantitative survey, consider the following:

  • The sampling frame: This is the group of people I’ll use to represent the population I’m interested in (e.g., Gen Z or millennials)
  • The sampling method: This is the strategy I’ll use to choose the respondents from the sampling frame
  • The questionnaires: These are the tools I’ll use to collect the data, either manually or digitally (e.g., online survey software)
  • The data collection period: This is the period during which I’ll start collecting data and carry out the survey (e.g., two weeks)
  • The data analysis period: This is the period during which I’ll analyze the data I’ve collected
  • The presentation of the results: This is the part where I’ll share my findings with you (e.g., the digital marketers will create a report to summarize the data)
  • The limitations: This is the part where I’ll mention any restrictions or assumptions made in the course of this analysis (e.g., “Based on the gathered data, digital marketers can see the relative success of various online marketing campaigns, helping them to focus on the tactics that work best for their particular business.”)

If you’re performing qualitative research, consider the following:

  • The interview protocol: This is the guideline I’ll follow to ensure the most effective in-person interviews
  • The observation protocol: This is the procedure I’ll follow to ensure the most effective field studies

Be Careful With Omissions

Marketing research is all about making the right assumptions – based on the research question you’ve been asked – and being able to back them up with evidence. In many instances, these assumptions will include the respondents you choose for your survey. To create an accurate representation of the population you’re interested in, consider the following:

  • The demographics: This is the first and most basic assumption I’ll make about the respondents – their age, gender, and location
  • The psychographics: These are the secondary assumptions I’ll make about the respondents – what do they value, how do they behave, and what are their needs
  • The digital and social demographics: This is the digital equivalent of the psychographics – how people use digital channels to behave, what social platforms they prefer, and what content they’re consuming
  • The marketing mix: This is the marketing strategy you’ll use to reach the target audience – what’s your approach and which channels will you use to reach them
  • The budget: This is the amount of money you have to spend on marketing, including research

With the above in mind, here are some tips to get you started: