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The basics of market research

Marketing guru Brad Geiser explains
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What’s the simplest way to research your market? Ask or interview people, even just your immediate network of relatives, friends and neighbors. Brad Geiser, director for strategics, creatives and market research at Geiser-Maclang Marketing Communications, says: “As you interview people, your body of knowledge increases. When you’re new in a business, it allows you to accumulate facts, and it’s cheaper.”

Personal interviews are one of the five basic methods of market research; the others are surveys, focus groups, observation and field trials. Most businesses use one or a combination of them based on the data that they need and their budget.

Interviews, like focus groups, include unstructured and open-ended questions and provide more subjective data than surveys. Although their results aren’t statistically reliable, they also yield insights into the attitudes of your target customers and usually uncover issues related to new products or services.

Surveys are of five types: In-person or one-on-one, telephone, mail, and online. All of them are relatively inexpensive. In general, you can analyze a sample group that represents your target market with concise, straightforward questionnaires. The larger the survey sample, the more reliable the results will be.

Observation research removes the inconsistencies between people’s response to a survey or focus group and their actual behavior, because when you observe customers in action at stores, at work or at home, you can see how they buy or use a product or service—thus giving you a more accurate picture of customers’ usage habits and shopping patterns.

Lastly, field trials work by placing new products in selected stores to test a customer’s response in real-life selling conditions, which can help you modify your product, adjust your prices or improve your packaging. Usually, startup business owners should establish a rapport with local storeowners and web sites that can help test their products.

If, after your research, you realize your business may not work out, “it’s not a death sentence for your idea,” says Geiser. “A real entrepreneur will figure out a way to make it work. What people really look for in market research are new ideas, new beliefs, and new directions—an edge. Not just what is, but what could be.”

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