The internet is probably the first place you turn to when you're looking for something. The internet can help you find people, learn more about your market and keep up to date with regulations affecting your business.
Understanding how to use search engines makes it easier to find what you want. It's also worth thinking about how you can check information can be trusted.
1. Recruitment and finding people
The internet can help you find new employees and make other useful connections.
There are many ways to recruit new staff online
Social media is a good way to stay in touch with people
You can use the internet to learn a lot about people
2. Customers, suppliers and competitors
The internet can give you access to a wealth of information about existing and potential customers and suppliers. It can also help you learn about your competitors.
You can get information about other businesses, like new clients or prospective partners
Searching online can give you a sense of what kind of company you're dealing with:
The web is the best place to start any competitor research:
3. Market research and trends
The internet can provide you with an enormous amount of helpful information when you are performing market research. Online services can help you understand and identify your target customers:
You can use the internet to analyse your market and identify opportunities
You can keep an eye on wider trends in society and technology.
4. Laws and regulations
Keep up-to-date with new laws and rules that may affect your business. There is a wealth of legal and regulatory information available online
Government websites will give you the official line on new initiatives, rules and regulations
5. Using search engines
Search engines are the main way people find information online. If you're having trouble homing in on the information you need, there are a number of techniques that can help. Using basic search operators can produce a more specific set of results:
Use the advanced search
Can you trust the internet?
Anyone can publish practically anything online, so it can be hard to verify the information that you find. When relying on data you've found on the internet, you must be confident that it can be trusted.
Get a second opinion: Ask colleagues or contacts what they think of the information you've found. Are they familiar with the source? Have they ever seen conflicting data?
Find the original source: Statistics often get repeated online without reference to the original source or piece of research. Use search engines to try and identify where a piece of information originated.Identify who's behind it
The internet is full of 'sponsored content' created by companies or individuals that have an agenda. This information is often reliable, but it's important you understand what motivations were behind its creation.
If you want to get inside your customers’ minds, you need to do qualitative research.
Face-to-face interviews and focus groups can provide valuable insights into your products, your market and your customers
Qualitative research is about finding out not just what people think, but why they think it. It’s about getting people to talk about their opinions so you can understand their motivations and feelings.
Face-to-face interviews and group discussions are the best way to get this kind of in-depth feedback. Qualitative research can be valuable when you are developing new products or coming up with new marketing initiatives and you want to test reactions and refine your approach.
Reasons to do market researchResearch 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.
Market research can also help you develop your products and services and make sure they meet the needs of your target audience. For instance, if you run a restaurant and you want to introduce a new lunch menu, you could invite a small group of local people to come and taste the food and give you feedback on your dishes, service and proposed pricing. This kind of exercise would not cost you much but it could provide you with important feedback and increase your chances of success.
Before you go into production with a new line, it’s vital to get your product into the hands of some members of your target market. Is it easy to use, does it do what it's supposed to, is the design appealing? Does it look as if it will stand out next to competing products in-store? Is the packaging working? Is the price right? This type of customer research almost always throws up one or two important issues that can then be ironed out before you launch your product.
Running a research groupGetting clear results from qualitative research can be difficult, however. Some people may be positive just to be polite, while others may be overbearing and dominate the discussion. With focus groups, you are working with small samples of your target market, typically with four to eight people. Or you could conduct one-on-one interviews. By contrast, a survey (quantitative research) might be sent out to a large number of customers.
Choosing the right person to interview people or to moderate a group discussion is vital. Professional market researchers are the ideal choice and it’s certainly important that business owner/managers don’t run the sessions themselves. It’s vital to find an independent person to do the job - that way, they’ll remain unbiased and the people they are interviewing will feel they can speak honestly.
A good moderator will run the session in an unstructured, free-flowing way. Answers should be probed and proceedings should be recorded for analysing later. Body language and non-verbal responses are worth noticing and video is useful to remind the moderator how respondents looked as well as what they said in the interview.
What can qualitative research tell you?
Qualitative research is about getting people to expand on their answers so that you can get more insight into their attitudes and behaviour. It’s all about getting underneath people’s responses to find out what is driving their decisions.
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.