Market Research – Part 1

This is part of my work definition – market research based on which we make strategic decisions. Now, there are several methods, several issues and several theories around this. I have had varied amounts of success (which in turn, means there have been failures…) around this topic. I want to use this platform to put my thoughts out there, in the hope that I can engage in meaningful discussions and learn from people in the field on what are the latest methods, what works and what does not…and where rule of thumb is sufficient & where to get anal about the decimal point?

Let me put out some methods I use in this part and we shall cover the issues, theories and concepts in later sections. In fact, I would even like to do a section on decision making, analysis and insights.

What is the question – Is this a horse? Or Is this horse black?

According to me, this is one of the most important aspects of market research – problem definition. Most problems, by the time they get to the market research department have gone through this phase and maybe quite well defined. But, I’m part of a strategic marketing team which also handles market research and have come across both kinds of beasts – one where we get very specific requests and one where we need to define what is being asked and set the work plan accordingly.

Forming a thesis

I could have included this as part of the problem definition and logically it should belong there, but I wanted to mention it separately. In our hurry to start working on the problem, we sometimes forget that probably based on the understanding of the problem, there are solution sets or issue corners that we can define to start our search around. These can act as guiding posts, but should not prevent us from thinking out of the box – what if the solution is in a lateral set and not in the logical solution set. What if creatively redefining the problem can get us to a different solution set – all these questions can be raised and settled in this phase…and of course, nothing is set in concrete and most of these phases get revisited and updated based on newer information and improved understanding.

Using Templates

I know most people cringe at the very mention of the word templates. However, I believe they serve very important purposes post the problem definition phase, ranging from:
a) Focus on what data to collect and presentation formats, and
b) keeping the market research focussed on the end result.
There is a lot of data out there and not all of it is information. Templates serve the purpose of a sieve to separate data from information without wasting time. However, I’m not a huge proponent of following templates for the sake of it, without understanding and in a very rigid fashion. Like, milestones that guide us towards our goal, we should use templates intelligently to get us where we are going and not the other way round…

The never ending search…and the God-sent Google

Once, we have set the stage with the problem and a view on the solution, then begins the search for the meat – the data to create the information and analysis from. Google has done to market researchers a favor equivalent to what open platform did to developers (if the analogy makes sense, that is!)…it has made search accessible, it has made collection of data at the fingertips of the willing – at least the secondary analysis part of it. “If it is out there on the internet somewhere, our expert “google search” fingers will find it” – is the motto in our group! Of course, the rule of thumb with internet source is that if you only have one point of source for your data (unless it is corporate approved), you are probably wrong…and that brings in an interesting point and one my all time favorites on triangulation (which is again a topic for another post). Of course, SEC filings, financial statements, annual reports, investor meet podcasts, conference presentations and now a days corporate blogs and even, twitter are sources of rich information on markets, products. revenue as well as performance statistics.

Someone in my team recently asked me what did market researchers do when Google was not around (and that was not very long ago…) and I had thought about it earlier, so I said – depend on fat, yearly fact books, shipment information from import/export houses (which needs connections to pull off!) and of course, once own industry wisdom (which means grey hair, highly valued industry experience and of course, no career switching, I guess!)

The Human Touch

Primary inputs from people in the industry, customers, end consumers, distributors/producers up and down the value chain can increase your understanding of the market & products, lend credibility to the data from secondary analysis, validate/invalidate assumptions made in the market forecasts made based on secondary research. Other forms of primary analysis methodologies include focus groups and online market surveys/chats/web2.0 based collaborative forums, all of which have their own advantages and disadvantages as well as inherent sources of errors (which will be a discussion topic in another blog – based on my recent most market research experience and thoughts..). However, when triangulating based on primary information, one should keep in mind that people have several internal biases based on information proximity and their own mental models and hence, I try to listen carefully, understand what they are saying and eventually try to decode and interpret it as per the problem statement and thesis.

As one gains more information, the problem statement and thesis needs to be revisited regularly to ensure that we are still solving a current problem, which is feasible as per our newly gained knowledge of the market. No market research discussion is complete without a mention of the issues and the analysis methodology. I shall attempt to cover it in the next 2 blogs…

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