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I'm a small business: how can market research help me?

Are you confused or sceptical about what market research can offer? In part one of her series on market research for small firms — I'm a small business: why do I need to do market research? — Julia Whitehead, director of Ask Joe Public, explained why market research is important. In part two, she reveals how to use market research successfully

What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative research?

Broadly there are two types of market research - quantitative and qualitative - and the relevance of either will depend on what sort of information you want to obtain.

Quantitative research is driven by statistical data. So, for example, if you want to find out what proportion of the market claim they would buy your product, then quantitative research is what you need to do.

There are many different types of quantitative research, although broadly this approach is questionnaire-based and consists of closed-ended questions generally with a five-point scale on whether you agree or disagree with the statement.

The other type of research is qualitative research, which is often conducted with smaller samples of people and uses questioning techniques that are open-ended and interviews that are usually longer in duration. Qualitative research doesn't provide you with figures, but will enable you to get under the skin of what people feel and why.

Qualitative research is more often done face-to-face although internet-based research is becoming more popular. The most popular form of qualitative research is focus groups or group discussions. These are groups of between six and eight people and they are used to explore their opinions about products, brands and services.

How do I know which type of market research to use?

Qualitative research can be used on its own, when you do not require statistics, but can also be used in advance of a quantitative research to help decide what questions need to be asked in the survey. Finally, qualitative and quantitative can be used alongside each other with qualitative providing an extra depth of understanding to the quantitative data.

What should I consider before undertaking any market research?

Before you begin a market research project it is important that you write a research brief.  A research brief will include:

  • Background into your product or brand. This can include when you were established, turnover and where you are at now, as well as what you want the market research to deliver. There may also be specific theories or ideas that you have developed about your brand and wish to test.
  • Objectives, or what you want the information to tell you.
  • A description of your target market - the people that you want to gather opinions from. The sample is an important part of the process for both types of research. For instance, if you are manufacturing a new brand of breakfast cereal, it is important that your sample are regular breakfast cereal-eaters and/or purchasers and their age and demographics relate to your target audience. It sounds obvious but it is no good interviewing pensioners about a children's breakfast cereal.
  • The type of information you require - for example, qualitative or quantitative.
  • Samples of products and packaging that may be shown to respondents in the course of the market research.
  • Budget - how much money do you have available to spend on this project?
  • Timings - when realistically you would like your feedback by? A common mistake of many companies is that they don't plan research far enough in advance.

How do I find the right market research agency or consultant to help me?

If you are employing a research agency or consultant, give potential suppliers your research brief and invite them to respond with a proposal outlining the type of research and methodology they would recommend. Ask around for recommendations and consult industry bodies to find the right agencies to approach. The more background information that you can provide them with, the better equipped they are to provide you with a constructive and appropriate response. Your shortlist for pitching should not be more than about three agencies or consultants.