What is Market Research?

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Technology is always evolving, and this affects how customers interact with brands. As the market changes, the marketing data changes too, and so do the insights.”Katrina Noelle

We all know that understanding your customer is the key to successful digital marketing. By asking the right questions, brands can use market research to unearth insights and pearls of wisdom to inform their future marketing campaigns. So, what are the best ways to do that?

Understanding market research

Market research enables brands to gain a better understanding of their customers. However, this research has many facets:

Market research: Studying the market to find out what customers are doing

Marketing research: Carrying out research to enable the marketing department to better target their campaigns

User experience research: Finding out how users interact with your brand and products or services

Design thinking: Exploring what customers want and incorporating this into product or service design

The terms can vary from situation to situation, so market research has become an umbrella term for any research that aims to get some insight into customers. This involves both finding out what customers are doing and why they are doing it.

In many ways, market research is a creative opportunity. You’re listening to people and, as a brand, hearing what they have to say. This data then informs your business decision’s strategy development, and can drive creative innovation.

More than data
Market research goes beyond just collecting data.

Of course, it’s important to tune into what people are saying about your brand. However, you also want to understand their motivations, expectations, and pain points. You want to try to uncover the story behind the data.
Remember, customers just give you data. They rarely give you insights. It’s up to the brand to glean the insights from the data. So it’s a two-step process:

Data collection: Collect the data to find out what customers are saying and doing.

Data analysis: Analyze the data to find out what customers are thinking, wanting, and needing, where their pain points are, and where potential moments of surprise and delight occur.

Using these insights, you can then aim to improve customers’ experience of your brand.

Modern market research

Digital marketing has been evolving over the last 20 years. Market research methods have had to change to keep up.

Listen to customer expectations

As technology has advanced over the last few decades, so have customers’ expectations.

Customers now expect brands to:

     Understand and meet their needs.

     Serve them in an empathetic way.

     Hear what they have to say and act upon it.

     Make the user experience clean and easy.
Understand the customer’s world

You need to think of the customer as being more than just someone who buys your products or services. Try to understand the entire world of the customer and the role you play in it.

Ask yourself: What are the various touchpoints where the customer interacts with your brand, before and after they convert – from your social media messaging to any real-world interactions they might have? How can you ensure a positive customer experience at each of these touchpoints?

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Avoid complacency

Today, many brands are extremely digitally savvy and proactive about gathering and analyzing customer data in innovative ways. As a result, brands may become complacent, thinking that they’ve already learned everything they need to know about their customers. Perhaps there are no new insights to discover?

This complacency can cause brands to fall out of step with their customers. After all, technology is always evolving, and this affects how customers interact with brands. As the market changes, the marketing data changes too, and so do the insights.

Ask yourself: When did your brand last collect feedback? Is that feedback still relevant? Have your customers changed? Whenever your customers’ interactions with your brand change, there are new insights to uncover.
Types of data research

Data research can be divided into two principal types:

Quantitative research: This involves putting numbers to something. For example, quantitative research might tell you that 75% of people prefer to shop online.

Qualitative research: This involves understanding the numbers. For example, qualitative research might tell you why 75% of people prefer to shop online.

Going beyond the numbers

Qualitative research is a great way to really understand your customers. It involves asking the right questions and empathetically listening to the answers. Collect the numbers, but then go beyond them.

Ideally, brands conduct both quantitative and qualitative research. In fact, the division between the two is beginning to blur as data collection methods become more complex.

Take social listening, for example. It involves gathering data from potentially millions of people. So it might seem to be quantitative data. However, these people are expressing their feelings, views, wants, and needs. So, is it qualitative? Or a combination of both? And does it really matter, so long as your brand is discovering insights and improving the customer experience?
Market research methods and tools

To effectively conduct market research, you must embrace a range of methods and tools.

The scientific method

Market research is a science. You start with a hypothesis, and then use the data to prove or disprove that hypothesis. You must have a reason for collecting the data.

Digital data collection

Initially, some brands were reluctant to go digital. They were concerned about the continuity of data if data has originally been collected by traditional means and then was going to be collected by digital means. However, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the move towards digital tools.

Group discussions

Also known as focus groups or in-person consumer panels, group discussions can be a valuable source of qualitative data. They can be as simple as an interview, a panel discussion, or a friend group. People talk about their purchase decisions and you can glean insights from that.

Traditionally, these would involve in-person meetings or physical diaries but now this data can be collected digitally using online meetings. Also, you can collect data from customers’ mobile phones as they complete their customer journey. They can choose to share their screen so that you can see their digital shopping process and talk to them about it.

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Online surveys

Online surveys are another effective way to gather market research, and the survey tools are becoming smarter and can offer suggestions on how to make your surveys more effective. For example, suggesting you change a single-answer question to a multiple-answer question because customers are likely to have more than one answer to a particular question.

You need to ensure the integrity of your surveys to ensure that you get reliable data. Watch out for signs of fraud. You can use tools to detect if somebody answering your survey is a bot, for example.

Market research tools

You can use a variety of well-known proprietary tools to conduct market tools, such as:


Google Analytics


Microsoft Teams

Make sure you choose tools that meet your needs and are easy to use.

You can also use customer databases and customer list tools, as well as online communities, to define your audience and get to know them better. Or you may develop your own in-house platform to create your customer database and communicate with your customers.


Artificial intelligence (AI) is making it easier to conduct market research. It can do many time-consuming, manual jobs efficiently. And as the technology has advanced, its accuracy has increased. Consider automatic transcriptions. Initially, these were only 50%–70% accurate, which rendered them unacceptable. However, transcriptions are now much more accurate.
However, market research still requires human input, especially for qualitative research – especially in this age of ChatGPT. empathetic listening and picking up on human nuances are still beyond the ability of AI. Also, although AI can gather and organise the data, it still requires human strategic thinking and creativity to turn that data into business insights.

Social listening

Most social media platforms now provide brands with dashboards that enable them to monitor their social conversations: like Facebook analytics, Twitter analytics, and Instagram analytics.

Social media can be a particularly useful source of data because people are talking organically. They are not waiting to be asked to provide feedback. This is raw data that is given voluntarily and can therefore provide some of the most valuable insights.

However, be cautious when analyzing social data. It is subjective and not necessarily representative of your customer base. Just because 20 people are complaining about something on Twitter doesn’t mean that you have a social media crisis on your hands.

Don’t forget to also do competitive analysis to keep on top of what your competitors and others in the landscape are doing for their own brands.

Challenges in market research

Marketers have to overcome several challenges when conducting market research.

Dealing with bias

Bias is a risk in any research. What assumptions are buried in the hypothesis that you are researching?

People generally think that their own worldview is the only valid one. So you need to be mindful of the preconceptions of the people who are looking for the research and the preconceptions of the people providing the data.

And, most importantly, as a marketer you need to be aware of your own preconceptions. Listen to what the data is telling you. Don’t just search for the story you want to hear.

Misunderstanding data

There are many tools available for collecting data. However, sometimes marketers might misunderstand what the data is telling them. Or there may not be enough data from which to draw meaningful insights.

For example, Google Analytics might give you data on abandoned carts. From this, you can see how many people are not completing their purchases. Before you address this, you have to try to find out why people are abandoning their carts. Is the purchase journey too complex? Do they have data privacy or security concerns? Were there unexpected charges?

Once you know why people aren’t completing the purchase journey, you can take action to address their concerns. However, if you only assume you know why people are abandoning, you may take the wrong action and alienate potential customers further.

Market research always involves listening to the customer. Keep these ideas in mind:
Commission primary research to find out why carts are being abandoned.

     Talk to everyone who has a touchpoint with their customers.

     Check your social data.

     Find out what issues are coming into call centers.

     Conduct A/B testing to learn more about your customers’ preferences.

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     Examine a variety of data streams to understand that customer experience better.

Ensuring data privacy

When you’re gathering and storing data, you must be aware of the relevant data privacy laws.

First you must adhere to the data privacy legislation in the jurisdiction where you operate. So, for example, if your brand is operating at all in the European Union, you must follow GDPR and in the US you should be aware of the CCPA.

However, data privacy is a global issue. Your customers are unlikely to be confined to one jurisdiction. People move and change. So it’s important to take a global approach to data privacy. Industry associations are setting best practices and standards and making sure that marketers are well informed about what they can and cannot do.

How to measure ROI of research

One of the big challenges of market research is that it can be difficult to measure return on investment (ROI).

After conducting your market research and developing marketing campaigns based on this research, you must follow up to see how effective the campaigns were and whether their success can be attributed to the market research. How did the insights contribute to the campaign success?
When to call in agency help

Many brands conduct their own market research. However, at times, it’s worth bringing in third-party expertise. They can guide you along the journey from gathering the data and unearthing the insights.

Before they engage with agencies, brands may often have conducted their own research and have some understanding of their customers. However, they may need an agency to help them for several reasons.

Some data is missing: Brands might know something about their customers, but they need to know more. There’s a chunk of information that’s missing.

A business decision is needed: A brand might be about to make a strategic business decision, but it needs more data to inform its decision.

Something is going wrong: An alarm bell has sounded and the brand needs to find out what’s gone wrong. Perhaps the brand is losing customers or competitors are overtaking it.

A new product is launching: Before launching a new product, a brand might commission an agency to conduct additional market research.

The brand is rebranding: A brand might want to refresh its image, or perhaps it needs to reposition itself after a merger or acquisition.

Working with these agencies, brands might uncover insights that they might have otherwise missed. For example, Unilever commissioned Ogilvy to research the beauty product market. This uncovered the insight that many women didn’t feel represented by current beauty product advertisements. This, in turn, led to the highly successful Dove Real Beauty campaign.
Dealing with consultant fear

Marketers sometimes get nervous when external experts enter the scene. They worry that the agency will tear the previous marketing campaigns apart. This can lead to consultant fear.

However, bear in mind that agencies are there to inform, not judge, the process. They want to ensure that your campaigns are meeting your objectives. Both the agency and the brand are working towards the same goal. No one is against anyone. Everyone is trying to move forward together

Get started with customer insights

Most brands, especially small brands, aim to carry out as much market research as possible themselves before calling in potentially expensive outside agencies. They can use various tools and platforms – such as Google Analytics and social data – to gain an understanding of how customers are interacting with the brand.

Having gathered this quantitative data, they can start to gather qualitative data by talking to their customers, asking them questions to find deeper insights about them. This could involve:

Follow-up calls

Interviews or discussion groups

Emails asking for feedback

Online surveys

You may offer incentives for feedback (but be aware that this can lead to unreliable data as people are motivated by more than just providing you with good data). Tools such as Google Form and SurveyMonkey enable you to gather this valuable data.
Pro Tip: At all customer touchpoints, have an opt-in feature that gives customers the opportunity to provide feedback. This ensures that you can contact the customers and learn more about their experience.

You may also use AI tools to help you clean the data and ensure it’s more reliable. Remember, before you make any business decisions, check that your data is valid.
Armed with this quantitative and qualitative data, the brand might feel ready to start making strategic shifts and developing new campaigns. At this point, it’s often time to engage with outside experts who can focus on this task while the brand attends to other business priorities.


Market research involves finding out more about your customers so that you can better meet their needs. What do you need to know about them? How can you find that information? These are the questions that should always guide your market research.

Market research can lead to customer insights that transform brands. It plays a key role in business strategy because it helps the brand better understand its customers. It takes time and effort – and costs money! – and it doesn’t always deliver an immediate, obvious ROI.

But by deepening the relationship between the brand and its customer, it can bring many benefits that strengthen the brand over time. The brand just needs to adopt a mindset of listening to its audience at a myriad of sometimes surprising touchpoints.

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