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.
This post looks at how to do market research, including which sites and tools to use to gather useful customer data during your research.
What is Market Research?
Market research involves gathering information about your industry, customers, and competitors so you can make informed decisions. Small business owners use the data they collect when they create a business plan. Bigger companies may engage a market research firm to collect customer and industry information when introducing a new product, for instance.
Market research is an essential component when you conduct a market analysis. It can be useful when starting a new business, creating buyer personas, gauging customer satisfaction, or evaluating the competitive forces in an industry.
4 Types of Market Research
Consider tapping into several types of market research to understand consumer behavior and real-world concerns in your industry. Collect various types of data to provide a complete picture.
1. Primary Research
Primary market research is also known as first-party data. This is data you collect about your customers, potential customers, or business on your own. This is often gathered via online surveys or customer interviews (especially useful when a company is introducing a new product). You own and manage this data yourself.
2. Secondary Research
Secondary research refers to existing data you can use to inform your research. This includes data from second- and third-party sources.
Second-party data is data another brand collects about its customers or business. It is that brand’s first-party data, and it becomes second-party data when your company or another brand purchases it from them.
Let’s say a high-end watch company is interested in tapping into a new market or related niche market. It can turn to other companies for second-party data if the customer base overlaps, but the two companies don’t compete. For example, the watch company commissions a study on the customers of a yacht company.
Third-party data is data collected by organizations having no direct relationship with the research subjects. Think of associations that conduct research by surveying members about their customers. They rely on their members to provide the data. This gives them access to a lot of data—but it also means there may be inherent quality limitations.
Other sources of third-party secondary research include studies based on customer usage of social media platforms, such as that by consumer brand L’Oreal. It also includes reports by consulting firms like McKinsey and third-party data marketplaces like that offered by Salesforce.
3. Qualitative Research
Qualitative research refers to the collection of data with no measurable quantity. The data is descriptive and focuses on understanding behavior, motivations, and other human qualities. When you research buyer attitudes, you are conducting qualitative research.
4. Quantitative Research
Quantitative research, on the other hand, is concerned with collecting numbers for statistical analysis. Data like industry sales, U.S. Census figures, and even number of social media followers or website visitors are considered quantitative.
How to Do Market Research: A 5-Step Guide
During the market research process, marketers collect data and analyze their audience and target audience.
The following steps in marketing research will help you fully understand your audiences and their needs.
- Identify the purpose
- Plan your research methods
- Gather your market research
- Conduct market analysis
- Take action
Let’s look at each step more in-depth.
1. Identify the Purpose
The first step in how to do market research is articulating what you want to find out. The purpose may be to understand the issues, problems, and concerns of your target audience. It may be to support the creation of buyer personas. Or it could be to measure attitudes toward a product or changing forces in a market.
For example, the soda market has been on the decline for several years as Americans turn to healthier alternatives. Soda companies might do market research to better understand what customers want 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. You may also discover a viable target consumer you hadn’t considered. In this case, research shows the occasional soda consumer may be a viable market.
2. Plan Your Research Methods
Once you have a concrete question you want to address, the next step is to choose your method of conducting marketing research and analysis. While most people might think about the “Mad Men” era of focus groups and consumer interviews, the modern digital age makes it easy to collect a variety of information related to your query.
Data collection is one of the most important parts of market research. 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 be more fruitful than others. See examples of research methods below.
3. Conduct Market Research
If you’ve never done market research before, keep an open mind to find what works best for your unique market and discovery goals. Start out with the options below. As results unfold, you can fine-tune how to do market research online.
Send Out Surveys to Understand Customer Sentiment
The most common tool that companies use in their audience analysis is online surveys. 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 specific questions or sending out extensive surveys with open-ended questions to tap into the customer’s 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 left-hand menu to see the age and gender of your fans, as well as their country, city, and language preferences.
See Your Audience’s interests
Alexa tools also help you gain insight into other interests that your audience has. By using our 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.
Similar websites to teachable.com
From this information, you can see what other interests your audience has by looking for trends in the websites they frequently visit.
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 use heatmap tools or invest in A/B testing software that shows customers two options 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 cost-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.
Popularity and competition of search terms related to the online education industry
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.
Check the Digital Footprint of Your Competition
Alexa also has other tools to help you gain insight into a 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 backlink analysis, you can learn about your competitors’ marketing strategies and start to mimic some of their link building strategies.
4. Conduct Market Analysis
Before you can use your market research, you need to analyze it. This is where you put the data you collected into a format that’s useful for decision-making.
The type of analysis you’ll conduct depends on the information you collect. If you’re studying buyer attitudes, for example, qualitative data analysis techniques will be necessary. These techniques find themes in otherwise unmeasurable data.
5. Take Action
The final step in conducting market research is taking action based on what you learn. Will you adjust your product and messaging? Appeal to a new target audience? Ramp up your customer service? 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 about millennials. Brands are adjusting as they realize that this generation prefers experiences over things, and live together before they get married. This means fewer people want gifts at their weddings or need home essentials like oven mitts or toasters. In response to customer trends and market research like this, more wedding registries are offering honeymoon options. Additionally, hotels and airlines are setting up their own wedding registries, where guests can buy experiences for couples.
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. See our 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.