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Learning how to do market research better than your competitors equips you to outperform them. A strong market research process helps you learn about your audience, understand their needs, and position your products and services to serve them better. With these insights, you can improve your marketing strategies and rise above competitors who don’t fully understand their market or target audience.

The rest of this post looks at how to do market research in a three-step process. It also includes sites and tools to help you gather useful customer data during your research.

How to Do Market Research in Three Steps

During the market research process marketers collect data and analyze their audience and target market.

The following steps in marketing research will help you fully understand your audiences and their needs:

  1. Identify the customer problem
  2. Develop a research plan and collect data
  3. Take action based on insights

Let’s look at each step more in-depth.

Step No. 1) Identify the Customer Problem

The first step in how to do market research is identifying the issues, problems, and concerns of your target audience or market.

For example, the soda market has been on the decline for the past few years as Americans turn to healthier alternatives. Soda companies can do market research to understand the root cause and develop marketing strategies to capitalize on this customer behavior. In the market research process they might discover that consumers are buying smaller cans and bottles, which is actually more profitable for companies. Learning why customers are opting for smaller, individual bottles instead of choosing liters and packs of cans would help them reposition their product to appeal to that desire.

Step No. 2) Develop a Research Plan and Collect Data

Once you have a concrete question you want to address, the next step is to choose your method of conducting marketing research. While most people might think about the “Mad Men” era of focus groups and consumer interviews, the modern digital era makes it easy to collect a variety of information related to your query.

Consider tapping into all three main data sources:

  • First-party data: This is data you collect about your customers or business.
  • Second-party data: This is data another brand collects about their customers or business. It is their first-party data, and it becomes second-party data when your company or another brand purchases it from them.
  • Third-party data: This is data available for purchase by companies or aggregators that did not collect the data on their own. It not necessarily about their customers or brand. They purchased or acquired the data from other places, usually for the purpose of reselling it.

One example of a company using second-party data is a high-end watch company commissioning a study on the customers of a yacht company. The customer base overlaps, but the two companies don’t compete. If the watch company is interested in tapping into a related niche market, it can turn to other sources.

Later in this post, we’ll dive deeper into how to do market research as it relates to data collection.

Step No. 3) Take Action Based on Insights

The final step in conducting market research is taking action based off of what you learn. Consider trends in data and identify customer habits and desires to find ways to adjust your offerings and market positioning.

For example, consider the research that millennials prefer experiences over things, and younger couples are already living together before they get married. As a result, fewer people want gifts at their weddings and don’t need home essentials like oven mitts or toasters. In response to customer trends and market research, more wedding registries are opting for honeymoon options. Additionally, hotels and airlines are setting up their own wedding registries where guests can buy experiences for couples.

How to Gather Market Research Data

Data collection is one of the most important parts of market research. So as you learn how to do market research, focus on this step of the process.

Note that data collection will be different for every company. Your organization might not be big enough to collect first-party data and, therefore, need to rely on second- and third-party sources. And, depending on your marketing objectives, some research tactics will work better than others. Try these options to discover a variety of ways on how to do market research online to find what works best for your unique market and discovery goals.

Send Out Surveys to Understand Customer Sentiment

The most common tool that companies use in their audience analysis is survey research. Most survey software platforms are free or cheap to use, and you can export the data for easy manipulation. Whether you’re simply asking a few questions or sending out extensive, open-ended surveys to tap into the customer hive mind, you can have a treasure trove of first-person data in just a few days.

See What Website Visitors Are Doing on Your Site

Tools like Google Analytics make it possible to tap into online market research without disrupting your customers. Check out some of the options available through web analytics tools, which allow you to monitor engagement rates and customer behavior. You can use this information to make marketing decisions based on data-backed proof of customer interests.

Learn About Your Website Demographics

Google Analytics can help you learn about the demographics of your website visitors as well. Under the Audience Reports, you can view demographics like age and gender. To learn more about those interested in your brand, check for insights on any social profiles you have. For example, on your business’s Facebook page, you can navigate to the Insights tab, then click on “People” from the lefthand menu to see the age and gender of your fans, as well as their country, city, and language preferences.

See What Else Interests Your Audience

Alexa tools also help you gain insight into other interests that your audience has. By using the Audience Overlap Tool, you can see what other websites your audience frequently uses. Enter your site URL (or the URL of other sites that your target audience regularly visits). The report will display a visual map of other sites that share a similar audience. From this information, you can see what other interests your audience has by looking for trends in the websites they frequently visit.

audience interests in market research process

Run Experiments and A/B Tests to Analyze Customer Behavior

If you have an idea of how you think customers will react to a particular option, product, or layout, test it with online customers. You can invest in A/B testing software that shows two options to customers to see how they behave. You can also run experiments related to your products and services to see if they catch on. This is more effective than investing in changes to your brand or website only to realize your customers hate it.

Research Top Competitor Search Terms

As you learn how to do market research, remember to look at your audience as well as competitors. There are multiple ways to track your competitors. Alexa’s Competitive Keyword Matrix helps you see what keywords are driving your audience to your competitors’ sites.. From an SEO perspective, you can go after these keywords. From a market research perspective, you can learn what problems your competitors address and how they meet the needs of consumers who you’re missing out on.

how to do market research with keywords

Check the Digital Footprint of Your Competition

Alexa also has other tools to help you gain insight into your competitor’s footprint online. The Competitor Backlink Checker allows you to see who is linking to other sites that are competitors or share an audience similar to yours. Through this backlink analysis, you can learn about your competitors’ marketing strategies and start to mimic some of their link building strategies.

find backlinks during market research process

How to Do Market Research for Your Brand

The best marketing plans are guided by data.

Information about your target audience, competitors, and industry helps you get to know your market and identify trends that will shape your marketing tactics and brand positioning. There are dozens of tools available to help marketers accomplish this, and we recently put together a list of the best sites for market research.

We also offer a suite of tools that show you how to do market research better than your competitors. Sign up for a free trial of Alexa’s Advanced Plan to access our powerful tools that make it easy to start your market research journey. The plan includes the Alexa tools mentioned in this post along with other reports designed to help you learn about your industry, target audience, and competitors.

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