Quantitative research means asking people for their opinions in a structured way so that you have facts and statistics to guide you. To get reliable results, it’s important to survey people in fairly large numbers and to make sure they are a representative sample of your target market
Quantitative research techniques, including surveys and customer questionnaires, can help small firms to improve their products and services by enabling them to make informed decisions based on hard data.
Why do I need market research?
Market research can give you insight into your market, your competitors, your products, your marketing and your customers. It is an important first step before you undertake many key marketing tasks including preparing a marketing plan, doing SWOT analysis, product development, branding and pricing.
Market research should also inform your online marketing strategy - everything from the design of your website to email newsletters, SEO and social networking.
How to carry out quantitative research
Quantitative market research typically includes customer surveys and questionnaires. These can be conducted face-to-face with a clipboard and pen, over the telephone, via post or email, online or via your website.
Survey questions have to be carefully considered so that the results provide meaningful data. Don’t just ask if people know about your business - ask how often they visit, what products they buy and where else they go to buy the same products and why.
Answers on a structured questionnaire are usually closed - in other words, they require respondents to choose from a specific selection of answers and do not allow for the respondent to qualify their answer or elaborate. So a garden centre owner might ask, “How often do you buy plants and gardening supplies?” and respondents would have to choose between five options:
By asking lots of people the same questions, it’s possible to build up a clearer picture of how customers behave. You can then use this quantitative data to guide your business decisions.
You can also use quantitative research methods to compare sub-groups of customers. For instance, if you run a local café or deli, you will probably find that you are catering to a range of different customers, all with different needs - from mums meeting for coffee to local workers popping in for a sandwich, to ethical shoppers that buy your Fairtrade products, to keen cooks looking for specialist ingredients.
It’s worth using surveys to find out about your customers so that you can analyse the results of each group. Make sure you speak to a good number of each type of customer so you get the clearest view.
If you repeat your surveys regularly, you can monitor how opinions are changing and how your new initiatives are being received. Try to keep some of the questions the same so you can make true comparisons with previous research.
Quantitative research techniques
Choosing how to conduct your survey is an important issue. Face-to-face works well if you need to explain anything or show a product to the respondent. Telephone surveying can also be very effective, but it can be hard to catch people when they have time to talk.
If you are sending out surveys by post and email, you may find you have to offer an incentive in order to persuade people to take the time to fill out the questionnaire.
A good time to ask a customer to fill in a questionnaire is when you have finished a job for them. A customer satisfaction survey gives customers the chance to point out any quibbles they might have and also to praise good work. It can be a good way to gather positive testimonials that you can use in your marketing.
At the same time, take the chance to gather contact details and add the customer to your mailing list so you can get in touch with them in the future (make sure you get their permission).
If you want to survey a large number of new prospects, you can contribute questions to an online omnibus survey. These are general surveys that are completed by large groups of pre-selected consumers online. By adding two or three questions of your own to the survey, you can get some useful feedback. This is ideal if you are thinking of going into a new market.
What can quantitative research tell me?
Quantitative market research can answer many business-critical questions, including:
Analysing the results of your quantitative research
Collecting data is just one part of the research task. You have to collate it and analyse it as well. With a complex survey, this can be a specialist task in order to extrapolate all the findings and drill down into the data to see how different groups have responded.
However, a simple survey can be very effective and highly revealing, and small firms can always benefit from asking their customers what they think.
Market research exists to guide your business decisions by giving you insight into your market, your competitors, your products, your marketing and your customers. By enabling you to make informed choices, market research will help you develop a successful marketing strategy.
Market research helps reduce risks by allowing you to get product, price and promotion right from the outset. It also helps you focus resources where they'll be most effective.
Market and marketing researchThere are two main types of market research - quantitative research and qualitative research. Quantitative research focuses on coming up with numbers: for example, what percentage of the population buys a particular product. It's gathered using surveys and questionnaires. You can do simple quantitative research yourself by talking to your customers. More in-depth quantitative research can be used to identify markets and understand customer profiles - vital if you're launching a new product.
Qualitative research gets behind the facts and figures to find out how people feel about products and what factors affect their buying decisions. Researchers use questionnaires and focus groups to gather this intelligence, while interpreting the results is a skilled job.
You can also do desk research with existing surveys and business reports. Much information is available online and from industry organisations, and some of it is free. This information provides data on market size, sales trends, customer profiles and competitor activity. Your customer records also provide a wealth of information, such as purchasing trends.
For forecasting, it can help you assess key trends to anticipate how the market may change. This is a vital step towards identifying new market segments, developing new products and choosing your target market.
Market research needs to be a regular planned part of your strategy. Even as an established business, you need to stay in touch with your customers' needs as well as market trends and your competitors. It measures the effectiveness of your own marketing, giving you information about attitudes to everything from packaging and advertising to brand awareness.
Planning your market researchEffective market research starts with knowing what you're trying to achieve and what information you need - whether you do your own research or brief a professional.
On a tight budget, you can take a do-it-yourself approach to market research. For example, if you're considering taking on a shop, you can check the levels of passing traffic at different times. Taking time to talk to your customers or potential customers is invaluable, too - this free market research can be very revealing.
However, to get the intelligence to make sound commercial decisions, you'll need a more sophisticated approach. For instance, if you carry out a market research survey, you'll need to plan the best way to conduct it and how to interpret the results. What customers tell you to your face may not be the unvarnished truth, while your ability to interpret results is likely to be compromised by your own feelings.
For a truly balanced approach, you should work with a professional market researcher, such as an agency or a freelance consultant. If you're looking for detailed quantitative work, you will probably need to work with a company. However, a freelance market researcher can be cost-effective for a survey or focus group. Professional market researchers are skilled in asking the right questions and interpreting the results, producing objective results that you can act on with confidence.
Marketing tools and opportunities are more accessible and more affordable than ever for small businesses. But any marketing activity takes time and for the cash-strapped small business owner, time is money.
There are so many ways to do-it-yourself when it comes to marketing your business today - from social media and pay-per-click advertising to e-newsletters and events. However, cost-effective marketing is about testing and fine-tuning; and getting a measurable return on the time and money you spend on marketing.
Take a disciplined approachIt's tempting, when you don't have a lot of budget for marketing, to simply try things on the basis that anything is better than nothing. But lack of budget is not an excuse for scattergun marketing. Anything you do can and should be planned and measured.
So-called “free” marketing methods - such as social media - must be approached with discipline. That means you need to set objectives, monitor time spent and measure results. Thanks to analytics software, this is easy to do.
Know your limitsThe dilemma for many business owners, though, is when the DIY approach is actually less cost-effective than getting outside help. A professional website design, proper branding, strategic use of search engine optimisation - all these are jobs that business owners frequently try themselves before realising they need more expertise.
Specialist freelancers, such as here at LjH Consluitng, often provide the most cost-effective solution here.
Every business is different. With a wealth of ways to reach your audience, it's up to you, the business owner, to investigate which marketing methods will work best and to make sure they are delivering results - so your spend isn't wasted.
Nine cheap (or free) ways to market your businessThe internet is your gateway to millions of potential customers if you know how to advertise your business online. If you don’t, there are a lot of online agencies and consultants trying to get into your pocket by offering services that will promote your business
But the good news is that you can do most of this marketing yourself very cheaply or even for free.
Building a websiteIt may seem obvious, but it needs to be said. Your business needs a website to be competitive online. Without a website you will be facing a constant uphill battle. It will only cost you a few pounds a year for hosting and a domain name; and with that you can generate customers and sales. The likes of Wix, WordPress and Go Daddy offer cheap or free website templates which can be used to build a simple website.
Search engine optimisationFree search engine traffic is tantamount to winning the lottery. If you are able to convince the search engines that your website is the most relevant site for your targeted keywords, you will experience a consistent stream of search engine traffic. With the right SEO strategy, this traffic can be converted into revenue. You can either do this optimisation yourself for free, or you can pay someone else to do it.
Content marketingA successful content marketing strategy will drive traffic to your website as well as help with search engine optimisation (SEO) - and it’s completely free. It can be labour-intensive to write regular blogs, articles and case studies; but all that work will bring rewards. A well-crafted content marketing campaign can significantly raise your ranking in search engines
Social networksWhatever business you are in, there's at least one social network for you. Increasingly, small firms are finding that image-based apps such as Snapchat, Pinterest and Instagram are helping to build their brand and attract new customers.
And Twitter and Facebook still have the power to deliver an army of fans and followers. Social media allows you to interact directly with your online customers and the only cost is your time. You can target specific audiences and engage with them interactively in order to build profitable long-term relationships.
Online video sharing sitesIf you are able to produce some interesting videos that are related to your business, posting them on sites like YouTube and Vimeo could send you a steady flow of website traffic. These sites are free to use and the potential traffic gain from them is astronomical. Make sure that you submit more than one video to maximise your exposure.
Online photo sharing sitesOnline photo sharing is like online video sharing. If you have some photos that are relevant to your business, don’t be afraid to share them on Flickr. This will increase your website visibility and send more targeted visitors to your site.
Pay-per-click advertisingYou may think that pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is an expensive tool but you can control your costs with PPC and drive high converting traffic to your site. But you have to find the balance between cost and revenue; otherwise it can be a drain on your budget. It might seem like a good idea to pay for the top spot on Google, but if you aren’t converting enough sales it’s not worth it. The trick is to make sure you are getting a good return in investment with every PPC campaign.
Email marketingEmail marketing has been given a bad name by spam. But the difference between a legitimate marketing campaign and spam is that people will actually request emails that are legitimate. So how can you make your email marketing campaign legit? All you need to do is create an email list of prospects and customers to send regular emails to. Creating that list is a little more difficult; you have to persuade people to agree to be added to your mailing list. Once you have created your list, you can begin email marketing but it is important to allow your recipients to remove themselves from your list if they want to.
Local business listingsIf you are promoting a bricks and mortar company, you should be taking advantage of local business listings online. This will place your website on the front page of search engine results with similar local services when someone does a search within your area. This can be a great way to get a fledgling business in front of the eyes of thousands of potential customers in your area.
There are many different ways to get your name out there and you should use all of them. For cheap, or even for free, you can drastically increase your customer base by making the most of online marketing.
Lisa Hunter is an experienced Marketing, Events and Project Manager. She has over 10 years’ experience working in the IT and marketing industry, delivering strategic marketing support and managing creative projects for a wide-range of clients. In this blog she shares her knowledge and experiences…we hope you enjoy it.