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DIY market research

Doing market research yourself - getting going The wide availability of information and tools on the internet for collecting information from and about customers means many more businesses are using DIY research techniques - subscribing to companies like SurveyMonkey or simply working through the collected market intelligence that is available. Even small companies are able to carry out simple research surveys or to reach out to customers online, or even on paper, but some knowledge of the basics of samples and question design will help in avoiding common pitfalls.

Doing-it-yourself for market research and market intelligence gathering is not so difficult at a basic level, but it can have traps for the unwary. Since 2000, we have had a set of guides and notes on how to carry out your own market research and market intelligence gathering aimed at small businesses and students, which change as new tools and techniques become available.

The biggest challenge when designing your own research project is neutrality and leading with the customer-view first.

It is extremely easy to be so engrossed in the internal view of the business and market, that it becomes difficult to do an objective piece of market research or market intelligence gathering because the people in the business see everything from the inside looking out.

A typical product manager acts as a champion of the products they manage and so they want to create research that shows their products in the best possible light. He or she also knows everything their is to know about the product, the trends in the market and what new technologies are likely to be around and he or she probably has a host of TLAs (three-letter abbreviations) and jargon that they use when enthusing about their product or service to people internally. However, customers and consumers don't think the same way.

To lead with the customer view, you have to place yourself in the customer's shoes. The customer is someone for whom your product is just another one of many that they run across or could use. It's unlikely the customer uses the same language as the product manager uses, or fully understand the technology implications of what they want, or see the point of the policy jargon around the latest initiative. It's not that the customer doesn't care, but the factors that are important to them can both be more detailed (how do I do X?) and more general (will it be reliable) than the product manager's considerations.

The same problem occurs when collecting market intelligence or using social listening to gather data. There is a confirmation bias for product managers in that they will amplify the things they find and like above the considerations and issues that they don't like. For this reason it is often advisable to have an experienced overseer who can take a more detached view of the research and the data, who can take a more skeptical view.

For larger businesses, if you are doing it yourself, some standards of oversight such as an ethics committee (such as those used in clinical research) or a third party manager can be used to take a broader view of the quality of the research before and after it is conducted.

  • If you are doing-it-yourself, the first tip is that unlike sales, you're trying to listen, not to persuade. Research is different from sales, though both use questions.
  • Be aware of the order of asking questions. Too many detailed points early on, can bias subsequent answers. Researchers like to cover general areas first, then drill down later, controlling when they release information in the questions they ask, so as to know what the customer knows, instead of leading the answers.
  • Beware of yea-saying. Most customers and respondents will try to give a positive view when the company is asking the question, even if later they will say something is awful. Don't take the first yes as the real answer, it might be a 'helpful' yes. It can be useful to follow up with a 'money on the table' type question to see how strong the yes is.
  • Above all test any questionnaire or research approach before you go live (piloting) ideally with real people, listening to what those people say. A few distant family members might be sufficient, or people outside the direct marketing and product area who don't know the ins and outs of the product will show you potential areas of confusion and misunderstanding.

If you need more advice, we can provide free basic advice via e-mail to get you on your way. We have experience across a large number of market sectors and with a large number of marketing information gathering techniques. Alternatively for more complex problems we can provide consultations which include looking at your business and its markets to advise on what research could or should be carried out.

If you have a specific question - please click on help and we will be happy to give you advice or point you in the right directions.

Alternatively browse around this site to see what we would be looking for in terms of strategic analysis, implementing strategies, or what we mean by customer knowledge to get a flavour of the areas that will help you.

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