A market research survey can help you engineer a successful product launch, grow your business, and keep your customers happy.
Without market research, it’ll feel like you’re stumbling in the dark and nothing you do yields the results you want.
Market research is essential whether you’re a billion-dollar organization or just started yesterday. It helps you avoid common pitfalls and gives you the confidence you need to execute your plans well.
In this guide, you’ll learn what a market research survey is and isn’t, how to create a compelling one, and multiple ways it can be used to improve your business.
What is a market research survey
A market research survey is a process of gathering data from and about your target markets, analyzing the data, and drawing conclusions that can be used to launch products, improve services, or identify markets to enter.
You gather data that includes demographic information such as age and income, social norms, preferences, attitudes, and more. Together, these pieces of data allow you to form a clear picture of your customer segments and the market as a whole.
This data makes it easier for you to launch effective marketing campaigns (or outsource to a paid advertising agency), choose the right markets, and serve existing customers.
You can outsource market research to a specialized organization or do it in-house. Though they’re referred to as simply “surveys,” it can take many different forms such as:
- Telephone interviews
- In-person interviews
- Focus groups
- Online surveys
- Offline questionnaires
You can read this article to learn more about the different data collection methods at your disposal.
Types of market research
There are two major types of market research. The one you use will determine how much weight you can put in the data.
Primary research is used to gather information that’s specific to a problem you have and is conducted by you. No one else has the data you gather and you’re the first person to use and analyze it. An example of primary research is sending out a customer satisfaction survey to your customers.
It’s more expensive than secondary research because you have to find participants, administer the survey, and analyze the data yourself.
Secondary research is used to gather general information that may or may not have an impact on your specific problems. Its information available through a third-party source that has been gathered and analyzed without your involvement.
Information is available online, in books, academic research, etc. The challenge with secondary research is sifting through all the information available to find the sources relevant to you.
Market research surveys should only be used after you’ve done secondary research and have an initial baseline. It’ll help you formulate better survey questions and focus on the information you can’t get elsewhere.
Creating an effective market research survey
A market research survey can appear deceptively simple. Just ask questions that’ll help you get insights into your problem. The challenge is what questions to ask and how to structure the survey for maximum responses.
Let’s look at the steps you should take.
Get clear on what the goal of the survey is
There are countless types of surveys and not every one of those ones will help you get to the end goal. For example, if you want to understand customer satisfaction then you’d avoid using an NPS survey because that measures loyalty.
Define the following things before you start crafting your survey.
- What problem(s) are you solving with the information? This will inform the kind of questions you ask and who you ask for feedback.
- Where will you use the data? Is it for the data analytics team, the marketing team, or the customer support team?
- How will you use the data? Will you combine it with other data sets or is it to be used alone? Will it be made public in some way?
The questions above are just a starting point. Expand the list with questions relevant to you until you’re crystal clear on the goal and scope of the survey.
Decide who you’ll survey beforehand
Now, it’ll be easier to decide who you should reach out to. For example, if you’re interested in researching a new product line, you may interview customers and non-customers who fit specific criteria. On the other hand, research focused on customer satisfaction would require recent customers.
Here are a few groups to consider when you’re thinking about who you’ll survey.
- Within the last month
- Within the last 6 months
- Customers who’ve not purchased within the last six months
- Those who have heard about your brand
- Those who haven’t heard about your brand
- The people who came across your brand from specific places
- Those with a specific job or work in certain industries
- People over or under a certain age
- Individuals in select geographic reasons
There are many considerations for choosing who’ll take your survey. When done properly, you’ll get clean data that’ll help you grow your brand. If you do it as an afterthought, the surveys may not get you the data you want.
Create a timeline for completion
This is an often overlooked aspect. People start creating survey questions, things crop up, and the survey is saved for later. In the end, it gets done too late or not at all.
A timeline allows you to plan what needs to be done and when it should be completed. This gives the entire project more clarity.
A timeline also helps in another way. You can ensure that the data you collect is timely and relevant. Many people underestimate the effort it’ll take to design, administer, and analyze survey data. In the end, the survey doesn’t have the impact it would’ve had if it was planned properly.
Pro-tip: consider using a solid PM tool to better plan your timeline and the tasks surrounding the market research survey.
Write out your initial questions
You just ask about what you need to know – right? Not exactly. You can only put a limited number of questions in your survey before people start to drop off. This phenomenon is called survey fatigue and the kind of questions you ask has an effect on this.
Let’s look at what questions you should consider asking.
The first question type is focused on understanding the characteristics of the respondent. The questions you ask here will depend on the goal of your survey but they may include demographic questions such as:
- When was the last time you purchased from us
These let you know who the person is and how much weight you should give their responses. Afterward, you’ll ask your most important questions. These can be open-ended or close ended questions. The type you choose depends on how much information you need and your understanding of the problem you want to solve.
For example, “how satisfied are you with our service today?” can be closed ended and have the following answer choices:
- Very satisfied
- Neither satisfied or dissatisfied
- Very dissatisfied
Or, it can be open needed and allow the respondent to explain the way they feel about your service.
Once you’ve created the questions, it’s important to go back and edit them to make sure you’ve not accidentally added biases.
- Avoid leading statements such as “we’re considered the best restaurant in Atlanta. How was your experience today?”
- Remove questions that have an assumption built in like “how much your income increase this year?” The question assumes that income will increase.
- Replace questions that coerce people into answering a specific way. “Will you start exercising this year to stay healthy and reduce your risk of disease?” is a hard question to say no to.
- Watch out for one-sided scales. For example, strongly agree, agree, and disagree are missing an option. To balance the scale, you’d need “strongly disagree” as well.
I can’t name all the possible ways to inadvertently bias your questions so make sure you go through it with a critical eye. Consider sharing it with someone else so they can help you spot questions that bias the respondent.
Order your questions properly
Finally, you want to order your questions in a way that helps you get the maximum number of responses. Remember the survey fatigue I mentioned earlier? Reduce it by ordering your questions properly.
Here’s a simple way to make sure you have the optimal order and reduce certain response biases like the central tendency bias or the acquiescence bias.
Add demographic questions first
Demographic questions help you understand what kind of respondent you’re dealing with. This data makes it possible for you to categorize the data and make meaningful comparisons.
For example, you may want to figure out the perception of a new product line among customers and non-customers or different income levels. Demographic data makes that possible.
Even if people drop off towards the end of the survey, you’ll be able to use the information you do get to draw meaningful conclusions.
Close ended from simple to complex
After demographic data, start with simple or general closed ended questions that shed light on your problem. The survey software you use should allow you to randomize options so you can reduce the impact of showing the same answer first every time.
After the simple and general close ended questions, ask more difficult or complex ones. You may even decide to move into open-ended questions that require more thought to answer.
Open ended questions
The last type of question is open-ended. These require more effort on the part of the respondent because they need to formulate their own answers. It’s also more difficult for you to analyze because of the variability.
Because of this, it can cause users to drop off more than usual. Put them at the end. Even if people do close the survey at this point, you’ve gotten most of the information you need.
There’s an exception. If you’re doing a customer discovery survey then you want to put your single most important question “what’s your biggest challenge related to X?” right after your initial demographic question.
A market research survey – when used properly – can be a huge asset to your organization. The key is using it properly. Instead of throwing it together, follow the process outlined here to make sure it yields the results you’re looking for.
Clarify your goal, focus on a specific segment of your market, set a hard deadline, write out the questions you’ll need, and put them in the right order.
Let me know what you think about market research surveys in the comments and don’t forget to share.