Marketing Research: Definition, Types & A How-To Guide

“There is a great difference between knowing and understanding: you can know a lot about something and not really understand it.” – Charles F. Kettering It makes sense, doesn’t it? Now, you may wonder who on earth is Charles Kettering, but that’s probably because you haven’t done your marketing research about the evolution of General...

“There is a great difference between knowing and understanding: you can know a lot about something and not really understand it.” – Charles F. Kettering

It makes sense, doesn’t it?

Now, you may wonder who on earth is Charles Kettering, but that’s probably because you haven’t done your marketing research about the evolution of General Motor’s automotive technology. He was one of their iconic inventors.

And he’s not the only one who needed to rely on research to do something extraordinary.

Thinking inventively, irrespective of your field, requires market research. Because when you someone tells you to think out of the box, there may be assuming you know what’s inside there.

As a content marketer, you may have heard this day in and out.

“Have you done your research?”

It’s more than a million-dollar question because research could be a game-changer in the long-run. It’s an intelligent approach to collecting insights and better marketing your products, solutions, or services in its simplest form. For nearly five decades, descriptive research has been at the forefront of creating branding identities, solving sales inefficiencies, and growing customer loyalty.

Two primary types of market research:

Primary data: First-hand information you have collected yourself or through a third-party – e.g., surveys, feedback forms, ratings, and other social metrics.

Secondary data: Existing information that is accessible in industry reports, studies, trade magazines, marketing studies, newspapers, websites, etc.

Also read: 25 Awesome Market Research Tools to Use in 2020

Two crucial market research questions:

Are you looking for open-ended data to gain a clearer understanding of the market?

In this case, you would be looking to garner data about public views and opinions to understand a problem or a growth opportunity. It gives you an overall glimpse of customer psychology.

Are you looking for specific information to improve a particular aspect of your sales/marketing/branding?

In this scenario, you would be defining the problem to address a part of your sales or marketing journeys. You can harness the value of research in marketing to enhance product launches, new campaigns, and feature upgrades.

By answering these two research questions through primary data and secondary data, you will equip yourself with more information to tackle the most immediate problem or take advantage of the newest opportunity.

More importantly, you will start asking all the right questions

Traditional Market Research Plan

In the past, the road to preparing an effective research design has been a hard one, considering the disparate marketing touch-points and manual efforts involved in collecting data analysis. It consumed a lot of time, effort, and expenses. Some of the standard methods were:

Surveys: You create a list of questions to ask customers about their experiences directly. It can be shared with them through a face-to-face meeting or a phone call.
Focus groups: You bring groups of prospective or existing customers together based on specific demographic traits to figure out their likes and dislikes. There’s also a moderator who explains the questions before asking them.
Observations: You watch how customers behave inside your store and record how they react to or interact with your products. You can also set up kiosks and booths in events and public spaces to collect this type of information for defining the problem or identifying the opportunity.

The traditional market research plan may sound archaic since nowadays, there are more research channels to give you more information about market growth potential, customer psychology, product affinity, etc. It has become tremendously easy to define the problem, sample size, or the type of focus group with primary data and secondary data.

But if you look closely at these three methods, there are many similarities to how information is captured by modern marketers to make sure their content game is up.

Modern Market Research Methods

Online Surveys: Share a simple form via email, website, social media, or any other marketing channel – it lets customers instantly provide their feedback while enabling you to collect it easily.
Instant Messaging Tools: Use a more interactive way of getting feedback by approaching customers on chat platforms – it humanizes a digital approach to market research.
Website Analytics: Scrap website and landing page data based on user interactions and metrics like downloads, time-on-page, bounce rate, etc.
Google Tools: Utilize updated data to research on trends, discover the right keywords, and prioritize SEO efforts in real-time.
Social Mentions: Research on user behavior and patterns of social media relating to specific channels or your company accounts.
Location Awareness: Track user movement based on the smartphone’s location information and trigger questions based on customer awareness and affinity for marketing.

These days, you can also leverage tools to generate actionable insights that can power your marketing research process.

Social Animal can equip you with the data to blow the roof off your content marketing efforts. You can discover the top-performing articles in your niche, as it quietly and quickly crunches and analyzes thousands of articles every minute. Simply enter your target keywords or domains and get smart insights within seconds so that you can know when to post and how to structure your content pieces.

Social Animal also helps you find:

  • Top-performing authors for any keyword or domain for you to start partnering with the most relevant influencers
  • Top-performing keywords or domains in any industry so that you can submit guest posts to top domains
  • Top-performing content types and formats
  • Data points (size, format, channel, etc.) behind the most successful articles unpuzzling the marketing research process

“Marketing without data is like driving with your eyes closed.” – Dan Zarrella

In 2020, data research has become the content marketer‘s weapon of mass appeal. Doing market research is vital not just to meet monthly sales targets or justify marketing ROI, but it’s a major part of what makes the business tick. Without this valuable information, content marketers would be on a wild goose chase – and they might even end up chasing them blind!

Of course, just because you must do it doesn’t make the job any easier. Before you can define the problem that an audience member may face, you must overcome these three challenges.

You might also like: What is Content Analytics? A Complete Guide

Three Top Challenges of Marketing Research Process:

Speed of go-to-market: From product development and solution integration to store management and digital payment gateways, everything’s becoming faster – thanks to AI-led accuracy, affordability, and scalability. This has become research problem. Despite all the available tools, there’s no such thing as being too quick to act on market research.

Too much data: Didn’t think this would be a research problem? Neither did content marketers until a decade ago when the number of data streams began to explode and the ideal focus group no longer had traditional expectations. While the influx of data could be harnessed, the problem is whether you have the budget, resources, or skill-sets to unify the marketing research collected from each touch-point.

Ineffective measurement: Before even unifying the information, accurate interpretation is a stumbling block of the process. Unless you have the utmost clarity about your business goals, you may end up setting the wrong benchmarks that, in turn, affect your sales and marketing effectiveness. Marketing research data is only as good as you can make it out to be.

Data privacy regulation: Regulating data protection has become more than the new normal – it is mandatory. Especially since the Cambridge-Facebook incident brought this issue to the front of the content marketer’s attention, there have fewer debates on exercising extreme caution while collecting customer data.

Overcoming these marketing research challenges is one half of a two-punch knockout experience you can provide customers through market research.

The other half lies in being clear about the steps involved in actually conducting market research.

Basically, the higher the quality of market research– the better position you will be in to leverage the information for future marketing gains.

So, let’s look at what exactly is this marketing research process – and what are the steps involved to ensure you’re on the right track, without a problem in sight.

7 Steps involved in the market research process

Defining the target audience
You must have a clear definition of your target audience before kick-starting any of your marketing research efforts. Unless you know the type of audience you should cater to, you wouldn’t be able to plan your content strategy. Some of the basic target information are

  • Age and gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Location
  • Education
  • Level of income
  • Marital status
  • Occupation

With personalization become the war cry of content marketing research, psychographics has become an equally valuable part of the overall scope of research design. It comprises information such as:

  • Lifestyle
  • Attitude
  • Values
  • Hobbies
  • Behavior

Uncovering such information about your audience can tell you all you need to know about their problems, demands, and opportunities. It helps you to craft a more personalized content marketing strategy.

Unlock breakthrough insights with Social Animal

Harness the power of market research

Determine the objectives of the research
Once you know the audience, it’s time to step back and ask yourself again, “why are you conducting this marketing research”? More often than not, the answer can be traced to your ability to solve a particular problem faced by customers. At the very least, you may be unearthing information about the sort of content that piques their interests and curiosities. In either case, document your research objective – bearing in mind the desired business outcomes such as:

Exploratory research data on the size of the competition, the quickest route-to-market, etc.
Finding more business from existing customers by cross-selling or up-selling
Expanding line of products or service to cater to a wider target audience
Exploring a new customer segment or identifying the market potential for a new offering

Your data research design must also take into account key considerations like:

  • Check if the marketing research data is already available through published news articles, industry reports, commissioned (and premium) research studies, etc.
  • Prepare a summary brief of your research objectives, even if there are several of them – you can always align them to your overall business goals.
  • Consult with cross-functional teams to identify research objectives because the content or product development lifecycle has several moving parts to it.

Planning the Research (selecting the tools)
As mentioned earlier, there are tool-sets available to help plan your activities like creating the right research design. The trick is to pick the ones that require minimal manual intervention, lower operating costs, and a short time-frame they can get into action.

You can leverage quantitative research and data collection tools to assess numerical data or qualitative research tools to identify secondary data like emotions, instincts, opinions, and perceptions.

Four of the most effective market research tools :

Google Trends: It paints a picture of what people are looking for by measuring search volumes, tracking geographic location, and identifying the most popular keywords. You also get exploratory research information about similar topics based on relevant search queries. It can help you research patterns and predict the keywords that your content consumers may use.

Social Animal: If you are looking for a single tool that can help find and deliver the best content across channels, Social Animal has your back. It’s a one-stop-shop problem solver that uses sophisticated AI-powered data analysis techniques to track millions of keywords across hundreds of thousands of articles. Whether comparing competitor performance or analyzing headlines, Social Animal digs deep to let you discover what your content marketing needs the most – rich, exploratory data.

Facebook Audience Insights: If Facebook plays a huge role in your marketing strategy, Facebook Audience Insights is a great data collection tool that provides research information on how the audiences engage with your content. You can better understand demographics, behavioural patterns, and current priorities based on information like the number of page views and likes, on-page actions, and more.

Twitonomy: If Twitter’s the bread and butter platform for your content marketing research, Twitonomy can boost your research efforts. You can determine and predict audience responses based on hashtags, RTs, likes, and mentions.

For a detailed list of market research tools: 25 Awesome Market Research Tools to Use in 2020

How to perform market research with Social Animal?

Choosing the niche
In this stage of market research, it’s pertinent to remind yourself that you are catering to a niche; however, small or large it may be. Marketing researchers must identify the core target audience by catering to their niche content preferences.

The volume of content is so high that it may be easy for yours to get lost in the clutter. Regardless of inbound or outbound marketing, you should focus on creating content that operates in niches. So, your data collection and market research efforts should precede content production with the same niche mindset. Otherwise, you may run into a serious problem of casting your net to an audience so wide that you miss out on conversions.

Search for a keyword that is closely related to your niche to see top competitors for that keyword. You can also see top articles shared on different social platforms for any keyword. Social Animal also gives you a peek into related keywords, so all you have to do is make a list of all the keywords, and competitors you see.

Collecting articles
Analyzing the articles put forth by competitors, influencers, and other relevant content producers is a strategic approach to market research. This competitive research can put you on the fast-track to discovering content differentiation. You can follow best practices in terms of keyword weightage, paid ads, social media activities, etc. Or you can identify untapped potential by bucking the norm without straying far from what’s popular

With Social Animal’s easy-to-use interactive dashboard, data collection has never been this simple. You can find content that is constantly updated every few hours after it gets published. You stay at the top of your game with all the latest keywords that your competitors are using to push their content to target audiences. For instance, if you’re conducting research on marketing for a retail start-up – some of the primary and secondary data you can find are:

  • Competitor mentions
  • Top trending articles for keywords
  • Newly discovered, potential influencers for your topics of interest and a lot more research details!

What’s the next step?

Social Animal also gives you key metrics and historical data on how a keyword or a competitor’s website has performed. Here you can analyze performance based on the content and title lengths, days published and the type of content. This should tell you how you should strategize to get better engagement.

Data Processing and Analysis
The effectiveness of data lies in your capacity to understand them. By utilizing the latest data processing and analysis techniques, you can identify consistent patterns before summarizing the findings.

But first, the collected exploratory research data needs to be converted into formats that can be interpreted by your software like CRM. Only then can you find the answers that pinpoint the solutions to your queries or problems. And then, you must set and apply logical parameters based on which they can be scrubbed and streamlined.

Another key aspect of this step, besides research analysis, is the storage of data. You require a secure and automated data storage mechanism in place, with governance protocols to ensure compliance and verification.

Formulating Conclusion
The last mile of the marketing research process is possibly the toughest, even though it may require the least effort. If your previous steps have been done the correct way, one might assume that they would have to go out of their way to complicate the conclusion. But, considering the explosion of primary and secondary data, this is a real possibility.

The final stage must involve an accurate interpretation of all the information collected in a way that improves decision-making. It could be at the sales or managerial level, or perhaps at the CEO level –the market research findings should clearly, concisely, and contextually communicate the actions that need to be taken going forward.

A few tips for drawing the conclusion:

  • Focus on the overall research design
  • Avoid complex statements, unpopular technical jargon, or highly descriptive research terms about the process itself
  • Offer appropriate recommendations or suggestions, without just focusing on the problem
  • Use visual representations to convey the research findings more quickly and universally

After following these seven steps of the marketing research process, you will have the data required to make your content stickier. And now, the hard work starts – the actual process of generating content after using tools like Social Animal to complete the marketing research process. In fact, any descriptive research of marketing – as a whole – can tell you that both are interlinked.

If you need any more inspiration to get down to it, let’s look at what you can gain through market research. It can also apply to research your own content!

10 reasons how the marketing research process enhances your content marketing campaigns

  • Create a measurable content calendar based on your marketing goals, business outcomes, and resource planning expectations
  • Offers personalized content experiences to the audience by catering to a niche experience or solving a specific problem
  • Provides a set of keywords to make your content more meaningful, compelling, and rewarding
  • Shows you the format/tone/narrative of content that is converting for your competitors – and evaluate how you can adapt that style to suit your brand’s narrative
  • Minimize investment risks on content resources or tools and formulate a smarter budget
  • Research emerging content trends and capitalize on them before your competitors do
  • Uncover potential blind spots or areas that need improvement in your existing content marketing calendar
  • Empower product launches, new campaigns, paid promotions, webinars, and even live events by targeting the audience based on location
  • Solve sales-related problems by giving sales professionals a bird’s eye view into their customers’ pain-points and priorities
  • Helps grow your business by strengthening the bond between the audience and the brand – avoid any problem of disconnected experiences

A marketing research project can be a content marketer’s greatest ally. It rings true now more than ever because of how difficult it is for content to stand out. And you can’t discount the ever-changing customer psychology. One year, they like micro-posts. The next – they swear by long-form articles. Does a pandemic change the way they interact with content? Can your competitors sweep them off their feet and away from you by providing unexpected content experiences? Or when is the right time to rethink the way you have been conducting market research?

The thing about any marketing research project is that there are always more questions than answers. And that’s a good thing because unless you ask the right questions – your content can’t provide answers that people are looking for.

That’s a sign that your content has gone from good to great.
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Christy Bharath is a writer, with 13+ years of content marketing and branding experience. He helps clients tell their stories across industries like Banking, Retail, Healthcare, IT Services, etc. He also trains writers to help them generate authentic and creative content. Christy is a birdwatcher, and he tweets @contentbirder.