Topic overview

Questionnaires, surveys and focus groups

Questionnaires, surveys and focus groups

Market research questionnaires, surveys and focus groups can be powerful tools for improving your understanding of your market and customers. If you can't find the information you want from your internal records or published market reports, you may need to invest in carrying out your own primary research.

Market research techniques

Quantitative research includes surveys and questionnaires. Qualitative research involves in-depth questioning of small groups of respondents. If you're doing your own research on a limited budget, the best approach is to talk to existing customers and use simple surveys to gather information. More sophisticated methods, such as focus groups, are best left to the professionals.

Market research questionnaires are a well-known way of generating market information. Questionnaires are typically used to answer simple queries - or example, how many potential customers there are in the local area, whether they would find such a product or service useful and the sort of price they would be willing to pay for it. The key is to ask the right people the right questions, and that you are asking enough people to get meaningful results.

Asking friends and relatives what they think about your ideas is not market research. You need to approach a significant sample of people who match the profile of your target audience. Unless people care about the product or service, you'll find that response rates are generally low. An incentive can help lift those rates.

Questionnaires are effective in getting feedback from existing customers. Respondents are usually happy to help as they can see a direct benefit. Remember to show you have acted on their feedback.

A market research survey doesn't always rely on questions. You might research a retail location by observing pedestrian traffic. You may also want to carry out an experiment as part of your market research, such as a blind tasting of different products. Other observational techniques include watching people as they shop (accompanied shopping) as well as anonymous calls or visits to shops, restaurants or offices (mystery shopping).

Another alternative is to use focus groups for market research. Rather than using large numbers of questionnaires, a focus group works with a small number of participants for in-depth research. For example, you might use a professional market researcher to investigate how customers feel about your brand. Participants must be carefully selected to ensure they are a representative sample.

The internet offers further market research opportunities. Online market research can be cheaper and faster than traditional surveys. However, while response levels are high, you have little control over the types of people that respond so it can be hard to achieve a representative sample.

Market research accuracy

Whatever market research you are conducting, you need to understand the potential pitfalls. Before you start, there are also legal issues to be aware of. The Market Research Society produces useful guidelines.

Questions must be carefully designed to avoid influencing the respondent's answer or confusing them about what is being asked. For example, if you ask customers how much they would pay, they may deliberately choose a low price in the hope of influencing you. Conversely, people might say they like a product sample just to be polite.

Ensure you are asking the right people and encourage them to respond. Typically, market research surveys aim to get a representative sample of your target market. Often, busy people will decline to answer, leaving you with a research sample that is heavily weighted towards those with time on their hands. A professional researcher knows how to avoid this.

These kinds of problem can be particularly acute with focus groups. Not only do you have a small sample, but the group dynamic may lead individual members to give misleading answers. For example, if an individual has strong views and tends to dominate discussions, a professional researcher will be able to moderate proceedings to make sure everyone has a say. Focus groups can often be recorded or observed so clients or members of your staff can watch.

If you don't have the skills to carry out market research yourself, you should consider using an agency to work on your behalf. Research by professionals will provide an objective and balanced view.

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