guts logo | Brand Strategy Agency
1st May 2024
Strategy is the hungry monster that feeds on human insights (not insides!): the case for market research
Written by:
Ying McKenzie

Market research is the ultimate detective work

Put simply, it is the practice of gathering information and data about a certain topic. Businesses use market research to gather insight into a target audience, a product, a category, a brand or a company. The goal of market research should be increased understanding to aid decision-making. We want to end the process with no shadow of a doubt of who done it and why!

Putting true crime analogies and jokes aside, businesses have so much to gain from market research. When making decisions, being informed is golden. The factors that influence the decisions and the impact of those decisions on outcomes could mean the difference between winning industry awards or wearing egg on your face.

The biggest brands and companies are successful because they are evidenced-based and insight-driven. Without current research, decisions would be made based on past consumer behaviour, economic factors or at worst, because of personal preference. It is important to remove subjective opinions from business and brand decisions because we serve our audience and stakeholders, and not ourselves.

What mysteries can research solve?

Research can help answer questions about an industry, a competitor or an opportunity. It can give indication and gauge reactions to a potential idea before major investment of resources is allocated to it. In some instances, it can also help us ask the right questions, which is just as important as getting the right answer. Research can help solve problems, and finetune marketing decisions, including what to say, how to say it and who to say it to.

Employee research and internal consultation can expose hidden team sentiment or issues. Stakeholder consultations are a great way to gain intelligence whilst bringing people on board to new ideas and strategic directions.

Analysis of markets and industry trends can inform brand strategy and give confidence to pursue a strategic direction. Research into competitors help identity strengths, weaknesses and gaps. However, the right consumer insight will reveal an opportunity which go beyond the white space. Unearthing a current tension, workaround or consumer aspiration is the goldmine that brands and businesses dream of, so they can help develop a product or service to fill this need. And as the cost of business increases, getting the biggest bang for your buck becomes even more important.

Picture of Homer looking at a console with many buttons. Text saying What do I choose? Too many options!

How to research?

This is the million-dollar question!

In the past, researchers have looked at business questions as either requiring quantitative or qualitative data to be answered. However, this is just ONE way to approach a problem. Research is both an art and a science, and one can be creative in how to use the research tools available to solve an issue or gain deeper insight.

Instead of listing down the hundreds of research techniques one can use, it is more beneficial to understand concepts relevant to research. We offer three of them below:

  • What is the problem?

Defining the problem or the consumer need is as important as discovering the answer. Other than asking consumers directly what they need (not recommended), there is no wrong way to discover a need. Discovery of a consumer problem or need can be from anywhere. Talking to the target audience, life observations, video diaries, user research and tracking studies are all great ways to discover what our audience need, and the tensions or barriers that exist within the market.

One reason why asking directly is not a great way to discover consumer insight lies in human psychology. As markets become more sophisticated, needs are no longer rational or functional and often stem from a deeper emotional space. Not everyone is able to articulate their feelings and emotions clearly. Furthermore, social conditioning and political correctness make it harder to really say what you feel. Which is why skilled researchers and moderators are required to unearth deeper insight based on surface observation or surface-level data.

  • Data triangulation

The most successful brands rely on multiple sources of data to inform their strategy and decision making. They may use customer feedback on products, focus groups, internal brainstorms, social media comments and analytics, market segmentation, consumer tracking data, industry interviews and/or all of the above, to test and finetune a strategic direction for their brand. Different data sources, different types of data (both hard and soft) help triangulate a decision and give confidence to a strategic direction.

  • Primary vs. secondary research

Primary research is research that you conduct yourself, data collected typically for a specific purpose. Data can be captured via different techniques; surveys, focus groups, interviews, observations and online questionnaires are some of the most common.

Secondary research, also called desk research, is the use of data already collected, collated, analysed and published. Usually, it’s data not owned by your business and sourced from different channels; government statistics, industry body publications and annual organisational reports are some typical external sources. The internet, Wikipedia and now, ChatGPT are also sources used by everyone as secondary research sources. The verdict is still out on their accuracy and reliability, but what is clear is EVERYONE is using these sources!

Primary research can be very targeted to the exact needs and objectives of your business or brand. It can be used to test ideas or to confirm hypothesis. Since primary research data belongs to you, it can yield a unique perspective, valuable market intelligence and significant competitive advantage.

Secondary research provides context and knowledge into an industry or market without significant business investment, so can be very valuable for small brands. Secondary research data can come in the form of datasets, reports and survey responses. Some of the most conventional uses of this types of data are to identify trends especially using data spanning several years, perform a competitor analysis or to form and verify early hypotheses before deciding on further investigations.

To reiterate Point 2 above on triangulation of data, using some secondary and primary research data to provide clarity is definitely a good idea to give confidence to decisions.

Cartoon of analysis paralysis. Shows a man with a big head trying to input pieces of data into his brain with a vacuum.

Time to connect the dots!

So now that you have done all this research and have so much data in your hands, what do you do with it? It’s time for data analysis, not data paralysis!

It can be overwhelming when presented with so much data that appear unmanageable and seems so unruly. This is when we need to get organised. Use tools to ‘tame’ the data. Here are some basic ones that do not cost a bomb.

For quantitative data:

  • Excel is your friend. Use basic Excel functions to do some percentages, simple counts, averages and conditional colouring to help start off your analysis.
  • From there use visualisation tools to help you ‘see’ the patterns. It does not have to be complicated. Using Excel or Powerpoint line and bar charts is sufficient and completely legit to analyse some data sets.

For qualitative data:

  • Use AI to do the basic legwork for you. We use Teams and to do an auto transcription to increase efficiency. From there, we make notes and look for themes, patterns and soundbites.
  • Use mind maps and post-it notes – this can be in analogue or digital form. I personally prefer to use analogue tools – use butcher’s paper and spread out on a big board room table or post-it notes and a big white board to gather ideas, themes and observations.

What now?

“Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.”

(Clifford Stoll, American astronomer and author)

Data is like a fundamental building block. Let’s say it is a piece of Lego brick. In itself, it may not mean anything. But put it together with other Lego bricks and we can make a structure, paint a picture, tell a story. That is the purpose of research, gathering the building blocks and interpreting it in a way that tells a story, shines a light into an issue or unearths insight to solve a problem.

We sometimes see brand teams and marketers having access to a lot of data but without the time to analyse or intepret them. Take some time to form a hypothesis, use existing data to see whether they have legs and then go out to seek the answers. Researchers and marketers working together can be a powerful combination. And if you are short of time, call us, Guts is able to help you ‘tame’ the research.

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Guts Creative acknowledges the awesome culture and creativity of the traditional custodians of the Country where we work: Awabakal Nation and Worimi Nation. We walk humbly in their footsteps, support the protection of their invaluable knowledge, and are inspired to do better by Elders past and present.
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