Market research is incredibly important for any organization…large or small.  But so many people do market research wrong, whether it is large companies spending hundreds of thousands of dollars or small businesses conducting no-cost or low-cost online research.  Then the market research becomes useless.  So here are some simple rules to follow.

1. Know what you want to get out of the research.  What do you want to learn?  It could be any number of things:

a. How do you best position your product in the marketplace?

b. What price will the market accept for your product?

c. Do you need a 60-second ad, or will 30 seconds get the job done?

d. Why do people buy from your competitors and not you?

2. Know your target market, and remain firm.  At the beginning of the project, you will identify your “sample,” – the people you want to talk with.  But if you are having recruitment issues, your market research provider will ask you to relax your criteria.  Don’t do it.  If you know your target market is within a certain income band, or a certain age group, expanding the sample will do more harm than good.  Why?  Because you are receiving input from people not in your target market.

3. Quant or qual?  Know when to use quantitative research and when to use qualitative.  Generally, if you are testing multiple concepts, use qualitative to narrow things down to the best two or three.  Then, when you want to decide on “the one,” use quantitative.

4. Avoid groups.  This is really subjective, but I do not like focus groups of any type.  It is just too easy to get caught up in groupthink.  One on one interviews generally will yield much more valuable insight.  And with the Internet and technology, it is easy to have one on one interviews across the country, and you can observe wherever you are.

5. Know when to use percentages and when to use actual numbers.  Another pet peeve.  When you conduct qualitative research and nine people say yes and six people say no, do not let the researcher report that 60% of the respondents said yes and another 40% said no.  Percentages can be very misleading, especially when dealing with small sample sizes.  This leads to the next point.

6. Insist that statistically significant differences are noted.  You should not have to guess if differences are statistically significant.  If they are statistically significant, you can have more confidence in the results.

7. Make sure the “answer” and all key findings and recommendations are shown up front in the final research report.  Market researchers like to tease the story out slowly and then wait until the end before springing the answer on you (which is why many people take the deck and jump to the end).  Make sure they know you want the answers in the beginning.  The reason:  when higher ups look at the report, they will want the answers up front, and not have to look for it.  Another way to think about this…You’ve just gotten into an elevator and someone says to you: “So, what did the research say?”  The answer to that question should be the first thing you read in the report after the objectives and methodology.

8. The final report should be no more than 30 to 40 pages.  If the story cannot be told in less than that, it is too long.  Of course, any verbatims and data tables (that you paid for as part of the project) belong to you and should be either appended or sent to you in a separate file.