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An effective market research process consists of several stages, each with distinct research methods, techniques, and groups of respondents. It’s rare for the process to ever be identical for any two given projects, which makes it all the more important to be intentional when designing a research initiative. However, there is a general structure and order that researchers should aim to follow. 

The market research process generally starts with an exploratory phase. While market researchers often begin a market research project with some inkling of the topics they want to investigate, an exploratory research phase helps validate these assumptions and generate more specific hypotheses to explore. 

Following the exploratory phase, researchers test the hypotheses generated by conducting rigorous primary research with a carefully selected pool of respondents. This stage typically utilizes both qualitative and quantitative research tools. 

Researchers add context to their findings by conducting secondary research with existing data sources. These datasets can encompass everything from economic reports to the performance of a competitor’s product in clinical trials.

Finally, researchers share their findings with senior decision makers across the organization. The market research process only provides value when the insights generated are used as inputs in the decision making process of the organization.

The process of navigating these stages can span weeks or even months. Every stage requires distinct research methodologies, analysis techniques, and new sets of skills. Market researchers will often outsource part--or all--of the market research process to third-party vendors. 

Let’s explore the different stages of the market research process in more detail.

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Exploratory Market Research 

The vast majority of market research initiatives begin with some kind of exploratory research process. The goal of exploratory research is to discover new ideas and concepts, directionally test hypotheses developed by the organization or research team, and uncover new insights that guide the rest of the research process. 

Researchers often begin a market research project with an inkling of the most important topics they want to explore. This is often influenced by insights gained through the market and competitive intelligence activities of the organization. 

Events that might prompt the development of new hypotheses include a new product launch from a competitor or an update to the regulations that govern an industry. Many organizations track events like these using a sophisticated M/CI software platform like Knowledge360Ⓡ.

Exploratory research predominantly features qualitative research techniques with small sample sizes. Researchers may host a focus group or invite research participants to an interview. Both of these research techniques tend to be conducted in-person, but have moved to online formats in recent times.

This research method typically take the form of loosely structured conversations. Researchers will have a list of topics to cover, but also have the flexibility to dive deeper when respondents share interesting comments. 

The goal of this research plan is to help researchers develop and evaluate a series of hypotheses which can be tested with a larger, more representative group of respondents. This testing takes place using rigorous techniques, usually of a quantitative research nature.

Primary Market Research

Primary market research plays a pivotal role in the market research process, enabling researchers to systematically test and evaluate several hypotheses simultaneously. In this phase, quantitative primary research techniques are favored, as these allow researchers to obtain measurable, data-driven conclusions. However, blended quantitative and qualitative techniques can provide an even greater wealth of information.

Techniques utilized in primary market research include surveys, polls, and observations. It’s possible for researchers to use more advanced versions of some techniques, most notably surveys, in order to obtain specific types of information. Examples of this more advanced strand of primary research include conjoint analysis and TURF analysis

Regardless of the techniques chosen in this stage, all high-quality primary research shares a couple of key characteristics:

Representative Research Sample

When conducting market research, it’s always important to undertake research with a focus group that is highly representative of the larger demographic that the research seeks to understand. 

The sample should be sufficiently large, enabling researchers to achieve statistical significance and extrapolate research insights to a larger population. It’s also critical that the respondent group shares characteristics with the organization's wider pool of customers. These characteristics may be demographic, psychographic, or behavioral. The selection of a research sample should be driven by the scope of each individual research project.

Minimize Response Bias 

Response bias occurs frequently in primary market research methods, particularly surveys, interviews, and focus groups. When research participants are asked to predict their own behaviors, they often do so through an overly aspirational lens, answering in a way that reflects how they wish they would behave, rather than how they would actually behave. 

It can be difficult to control for response bias in traditional market research techniques, but innovative techniques-like prediction market research-are proven to reduce response bias. In prediction market research, participants are challenged to predict how people similar to themselves would behave. This removes any aspirational sentiment from responses and serves to dramatically increase the precision and reliability of market research.

Learn more about HUUNUⓇ Futures, an innovative prediction market research tool from the team at Cipher.

Secondary Market Research

Effective secondary market research adds context to the findings of primary research, providing information about the broader market and environment. Primary research is often very narrow in scope, focusing on a set of particular, well-defined issues. Secondary research is the opposite of this, and enables researchers to place the insights generated by primary research in context of the wider marketplace.

By consulting existing bodies of data collected and analyzed by reputable third parties, researchers can build an improved, comprehensive understanding of the environment in which the group they are researching operates. This adds additional layers of context on topics, from how consumers make decisions to factors that might affect their responses e.g. a large advertising campaign from a competitor. 

It’s best to only utilize third party data from sources that are known to be reliable. At Cipher, we rely on high-quality datasets from some of the world’s leading organizations, from various U.S. Government agencies to financial institutions like Morningstar and S&P Capital IQ

Often, the volume of data generated from these sources is so high that, in order to make sense of it, organizations have to turn to software for support. In this instance, Knowledge360 is the perfect match, with pre-built integrations to more than 50 reliable data sources. Knowledge360 uses sophisticated AI technology and Natural Language Processing (NLP) to find, analyze, and highlight key pieces of secondary market research. 

Reporting and Sharing Insights

For a market research process to be effective, the insights and intelligence generated must be shared widely with relevant stakeholders across the organization. Unless decision makers have access to and utilize the output of market research projects, the project will have been a waste of time. 

Teams should focus on sharing insights in a concise manner that’s easy to understand. Include visual representations of the data, like graphics and charts that explain key insights. Take care to include a short summary that highlights the key findings so that decision makers can access insights quickly and actively utilize them.

One solution? Create a dashboard using Knowledge360 that pairs primary research findings with high-quality secondary research to present a holistic overview of the state of play.

Work with Cipher on Your Next Market Research Project

While the majority of market research initiatives will loosely follow the process outlined here, the reality is that the process is primarily driven by the scope of the research project. If you’re unsure of the market research process, it’s always best to seek guidance from experienced consultants.

To learn more about the market research process, read our Ultimate Guide to Market Research, or visit our Learning Center. If you need support on a specific market research project, schedule a call with one of our market research consultants