Posts Tagged ‘Market Research Methods 101’

From the comments of my previous posts, I noted that it is not the basic process, but the seemingly complicated methods and techniques that stem people from “loving” market research. So, I decided to begin a series “Market Research Methods 101” to introduce market research techniques and methods I learned and practiced. Hopefully, I can find a simple and entertaining way to help you at least have a knowledge of the common market research methods, if you have not already become a fan or even an expert.

With respect to primary market research, generally, there are two kinds of methods: qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative market research methods include focus groups, in-depth interviews, content analysis, ethnography, evaluation and semiotics, etc. While quantitative methods are related to statistics, all the way from percentages, multiple regression to factor analysis. The graphic from the article Qualitative Vs. Quantitative Research- When to use which can serve as a cheat sheet when we need to make the decision of which type of methods to use for a particular research project.

Before diving into specific methods, which I plan to do in my future posts of this series, I’d like to first clarify some misunderstanding of qualitative and quantitative research methods.

1. In the context of market research, though these two categories possess different approaches, they share the same ultimate goal: exploring issues, understanding causes and effects, and finally, solving the problems.  When you hesitate about which kind of methods to use, always remember to go back to the origin and ask yourself: What problem(s) I would like to solve? What are my research questions? And what methods are practical to apply?

2.  Whether data is involved is not the attribute to differentiate qualitative and quantitative methods. Both of the two categories use data for measurement. However, qualitative methods reply on unstructured data while quantitative methods prefer structured data. The essential difference between qual. & quan. is generalization, meaning whether the research findings are representative and projectable to the general population. Basically, qualitative research is on a case-by-case base, so the results are always limited to specific contexts; while quantitative research mostly aims at identifying a model or even a theory based on great amount of data, therefore, its results can be utilized in a broader context.

3. There are no good or bad methods. There are no so-called “best” methods. There are only most appropriate methods. In my opinion, the debate of which kind of methods surpass the other is meaningless. Going back to the graphic above, we can find that these two types of methods both have expertise that its counterpart doesn’t have. In industry, it is rare that a market research project sole relies on one type of methods.

For example, assume you want to research people’s attitude about a new ice-cream flavor that Ben&Jerry plan to launch shortly. First of all, you may want to hold focus groups to hear about people’s opinion about ice-cream generally as well as their specific opinion on this new flavor. From the focus group, you might find out what worked and what didn’t work, and then you wonder if it is the same case in the general public, especially Ben&Jerry’s customers. That’s where a survey comes in. Based on the findins from the focus group, we can conduct a survey among a large group of people (usually above 500) to gather data and information for quantitative analysis. From the analysis, you may find specific patterns of people’s ice-cream consumption, but you might not understand the reason behind some of the patterns. At this stage, a series of post focus groups can help you probe those specific questions and concerns. For the sake of fun, I call this kind of approach “hamburger research approach” (pre-qualitative+quantitative+post-qualitative). It is quite common in the real market research industry because it enables business decision makers to gain maximum consumer insights and reduce the uncertainty to minimum extent.

Hope you find this introduction helpful. If you have specific market research methods that you’d like me to discuss in my future posts, please feel free to let me know!


When I mentioned market/marketing research to people who are not in the field, they always told me they saw it as a powerful but mysterious “monster” with complex data, analytics and techniques. They admire market research, but at the same time, it also makes them nervous.

Is market research really a secret world? Actually, it is nothing but solving the problems…

Market research is something as simple as picking your laundry store!

Now let’s recall the typical process we would use to solve a problem in our daily life. Say, you just moved to a new neighborhood and you want to figure out which laundry store you should go. Let’s assume you really care about your laundry and would like to make some effort to find out what is the best laundry store in your neighborhood. To identify the best, first you must know what makes a really good laundry store. You might take into consideration the price, the store location, the customer service, etc. Meanwhile, you also want to know how many laundry stores are in the neighborhood, what are they and what are their characteristics. To get information about how those laundry stores perform on the factors you named previously, you might want to ask a few of your neighbors’ opinion on them. You need to decide who you would like to ask: probably some experienced housewives instead of folks who just moved here like you. From different neighbors, you might get a great amount of distinct opinion and information. So, you may need to organize and analyze those information systematically to finally get your answer.  It seems very simple, isn’t it? Now I’d like to tell you that the process of market research is as simple as the laundry problem we just solved.

First and foremost, the market researchers must clearly consider and diagnose the problem that they need to solve. Do NOT assume it is self-explantory. Sometimes even the clients themselves are not clear what the real problem is. Market researchers should have in-depth conversations with the clients and help them to diagnose the problem, according to which we can raise the research question. In the laundry case, the research question was “what is the best laundry store in the neighborhood”. As soon as the research question is clear, we need to identify relevant variables. Going back to the laundry example, price, location, customer service are all factors that determine whether a laundry store is a good one. Similarly, we would like to find out the factors that matter for a market research question. Typically, there are four sources that we can use to propose variables: theories, previous literature, brainstorming and the client’s insight. Just as we want to know the basic information about all the laundry stores in the neighborhood, we would also do a formal background research for the client, the industry and major competitors according to our research question. Based on all the information we gathered, we are ready to design our research process. The research design depends largely on the research question, the budget and time limit. A mostly used method is self-reported survey. In the laundry example, we selected a bunch of experienced housewives to ask for their opinion about the laundry stores. While in a market research project, we will develop a questionnaire and select an appropriate sample whose opinion we would like to know. After we got information (data) from our sample, we will apply analytical techniques, trying to figure out patterns from their answers, just like we analyze the neighbor’s different opinion on laundry stores. Last but not least, we will write up the research report and prepare for the presentation.

So, that’s market research, that’s it. As to me, it’s a profession that all about solving problems. What do you think? Any thoughts on what market research means to you? I’d love to hear your opinion!