With so many industries reaching saturation point, how do you stand out? This week, our experts share how to plan and invest in a sustainable market research strategy that keeps your business ahead of the curve.
Every business has, at one point or another, run a research project. From new product launches, to rebranding, or rounds of consumer feedback, we all know the value that strong data and analysis brings to our businesses.
So, why do we let this work come to a standstill?
This week, we sat down with data and research experts from our agency network to explore how to efficiently plan, manage, and leverage market analysis to continuously build your business - without losing steam.
This article is comprised of key learnings from our virtual workshop, 'Getting Ahead - Using Market Analysis to Outpace the Competition'. Join an upcoming session here.
Very often, market research and analysis can seem like a ‘one-off’ effort.
Whilst the goal is to treat your research strategy like any other arm of your marketing strategy, there are a few key indicators that might mean it's time for you to start a project in earnest.
“The most common I have seen is when a new Head of Marketing drops into a job.
The second is when performance takes a nosedive for external reasons. Lots of people reassessed their strategies over COVID, and we saw a speedup of different market dynamics play out very fast.”
Other reasons to start a new initiative could include:
“Expect that markets are dynamic,” explains Lee. “Analysing a point in time is one thing, but looking at the history and dynamics of how you got to this point is much more valuable.”
With this in mind, the ideal scenario is to be continuously monitoring key data across your business. This allows you to be proactive in your strategy, as opposed to being pushed into reactive corrections.
“Work out what you know, what the hypothesis is, and where the gaps are.
We’ll then go in to plug those gaps, and see what we need to talk to the consumers about.”
Helen goes on to say that another thing we need to bear in mind is asking what behavioural challenge you’re trying to address.
“Are fewer people buying the product? Are they buying competitors more?
Think about what could be influencing this – is the packaging outdated, has no one seen the advertising, are influencers talking about someone else?
All these reasons lead nicely into what the research might be.
Keeping the behavioural challenge at the forefront of your mind is a good way to know that the research will answer the higher question.”
Of course, one of the main objectives of undertaking market analysis it to get ahead of the competition. However, there are often concerns from in-house teams that research and analysis initiatives are a heavy lift.
We asked our experts how you can get an objective view of your state of play against the competition, taking resource and budget into account.
“You can do something called ‘share of search,’” explains Lee.
“There are tools where you can pull keyword data - model yourself, then your competitors, then pull historical data and plot it out as a share.
By doing this, you can see who is rising and falling, and you will get a sense of market dynamics when averaging it out.
The next step up would be to invest in getting advertising spend data.
You can overlay this with your own graphs to see what correlates, and what channels perform best over time etc.”
Helen explains that your market research doesn’t need to begin with anything too big or complicated.
“We worked with a brand that started with putting out just two questions on an Omnibus survey.
They did that for their first two years, asking ‘are you aware of us and have you used us?’ – two simple metrics to assess how well they were doing.
Over the years, they were able to put out more questions, more frequently to more people. This data is now analysed within an inch of its life, and it’s because they have more money to spend. So, you can go from 1-2 questions to in-depth interviews on a daily basis.”
One of the key things to establish before putting your own strategy into place is assessing which questions need asking versus which questions you think need asking.
For Helen, it goes back to starting with the info you already have.
“It’s about understanding the market as it is.
What do people need from the market, and where are existing brands filling the needs? You also need to know where the gaps are, and this is where subtlety comes in.
People can’t see the gaps. You can’t ask them directly what they want, you must understand their needs.
Follow them around, watch them in a particular area, talk to them in more depth. This is where you get to understand people, what they want, and where market analysis fits in.”
A lot of customer research is interpreted as more of a B2C activity.
We asked Lee to share the best way of understanding brand perceptions for a B2B business, where the audience pool and targeting may be more specific than general demographics in B2C.
“In terms of questions, you’re not going to be sending out surveys etc when the number of people you need to speak to is smaller.
Focus on the qualitative data, by networking and speaking to individuals.”
Helen expands on the usefulness of qualitative data.
“This is super useful, especially if you pick the right people to ask.
You need to be more creative in the B2B market, and be open to rich, qualitative data if you can’t get the numbers to make it robust.”
We explored the difference between qualitative and quantitative data in more depth when assessing resource for a more bespoke project.
“We decide on the right methodology depending on what the gaps are,” Helen goes on to explain.
“It could be a simple quantitative survey, i.e., asking questions and analysing strengths and weaknesses, but often in a highly competitive market, more qualitative research is needed. What are the more emotional things that we can play to?
Using focus groups and workshops to get under the skin of the brand is really helpful.”
Download: The (Re)Brand Workbook
In one of our recent sessions around defining and refining your brand identity, our panel highlighted that during the research stage, people who don’t buy your product/use your service are just as - if not more important - as those who do.
Part of the execution stage involves making sure that the people you are targeting are right for what you need.
Lee highlights a statistic that says 95% of your target audience aren’t in the market at any one time (for B2B marketers, at least.)
“Just targeting in-market or current customers isn’t useful. When choosing an audience, you can’t be too myopic about it."
If you’re in need of a research agency, GO! can help! Get in touch here.
All too often, a project is build to provide specific answers. Lee cites this as a common issue in research projects.
"People want biases confirmed from preconceptions. Research agencies can hold people account when you yourself are too close to them.”
Backing up Lee’s point, Helen explains that people are biased based on preconceived ideas.
“I love doing research for companies when I don’t know anything about them, and I don’t have any preconceptions myself.
It’s important to take the bias out of it. People have preconceived ideas and just want them confirming, and it's all about how you ask.
In the past, we’ve put a slight spin on questions and got some really different outcomes. Measuring brand awareness in a context allows you to get interesting responses.”
In terms of process, Helen recommends starting by knowing your ‘big question.’
“What’s the highest level-question you can ask? If I’m a Marketing Director, I’ll be wanting to know what my ‘big question’ is.
If you had a research department, they would write a research brief, but a lot of companies don’t have that luxury. The process, as a Marketing Director, is to say, ‘this is what I need to do, and these are the answers that I’m after.’”
So, you’ve gone out, asked the questions and have the learnings from your market analysis. The next stage is knowing how to leverage this information internally.
How do you turn your findings into actionable tasks?
Lee begins by saying that there’s no point doing a big market analysis project if you can’t action it into leverage-able insights. “One of the classic things you can do first because of market research is to allocate budget by geography
For example, if you are a UK brand undertaking an awareness project, you could undertake research in every county in the UK and come up with an ‘awareness score per population.’
You can then use this to allocate, and shift spend to where you want to increase this awareness. This is one of the most immediate effects of market research on advertising.”
For Helen, the main thing to bear in mind is that you need meaning from a research project, not information. “It’s fine that it gives you the info and data, these are nice to have, but what does it mean for you?
Another mantra that I like to use is try not to have more than five actionable points at the end of your project, because it’s too much to have in your head.
When there is too much information, people tend to get overwhelmed and believe actioning the outcomes will be too expensive. You need to build it up over time.
After you've received your output, strip everything back to what is useful and what is actionable.”
Part of executing a strategy is knowing how frequently to review it. According to Lee, if a strategy is aligned properly, then it will include frequent updates.
“We track brand awareness on a monthly basis. You should make it an ongoing part of what you do rather than a big one-off piece.”
Helen recommends actually reviewing your fully strategy as part of your annual planning.
“Ask, have I got all the information that I need?
Has anything changed in the market?
The only exception should be when there is a big change in the market, i.e., a new business launches. That’s a good time to go back and see if that has changed anything.”
To round off the session, we asked Helen and Lee to share some key advice for anyone starting out on a market analysis and research project.
Finding a trusted partner was their number one piece of advice.
“Find a partner that’s not always wanting to sell,” says Helen,
“but is there as an advice partner, one who works like an external research department and who you can use as a sounding board.
At the end of the day, you need to find someone you can have a chat with.”
This is echoed by Lee, who says, “Do your research and find a trusted partner. Get as far as you can on your own if you need to - we have found great success doing market research quickly and cheap on an ongoing basis using the ‘share of search metric.’ It doesn't have to be too much.”
These learnings were all shared in our dedicated virtual workshop series for business leaders, SCALE. Join an upcoming session here.