The way most people think about marketing is backwards. Why? Because they rely on their own opinions of what their audience will like, instead of using research and data to cater their marketing to their audience. The result is wasted dollars and ineffective marketing strategies.
That’s why market research is such a crucial tool for your business, regardless of how big you are or what industry you’re in. After all, you have a market that you sell to, right? You need to deeply understand that market—their behaviours, needs, values—and then create strategies that reflect your audience. Market research gives you these insights to better position you against your competitors.
As per, well, everything in life, there are many different ways to approach market research and figuring out what method to use can be daunting. Let’s break down the three categories and when they make sense.
Quantitative research is your numbers-on-a-spreadsheet type of data. Income, demographics, purchase totals, vacation destinations, bounce rates, how long it takes to perform a task—anything you can use mathematical analysis on to look for themes or gaps.
Quantitative research can be incredibly useful because, unlike some other research methods, the data you get is far less subjective to personal interpretation. It can also highlight key features of your market and their behaviour, and you typically get a much bigger data set to work with.
Let’s pretend you send out a multiple choice survey to your market and they tell you their age, income level, what social platforms they use, and how many products similar to yours they’ve purchased in the last year. Next, you look at your website analytics to determine where your traffic is coming from (search engine, social media, etc.), how long they stay on your website, and how often they actually buy something. All of these are examples of quantitative research and, through analysis, you can find themes on where your market spends their time and how they decide to buy (and compare that to where you’re spending your focus and dollars today).
Quantitative research is often the best first step, and is particularly useful when you already have an established offer and the data to go along with it.
If quantitative research is numbers on a spreadsheet, qualitative research is how your market feels about it. The goal of qualitative research is to discover the beliefs, values, and habits of your market—what they hold wildly important, and what influences them to make the decisions that they do.
Qualitative data comes most commonly from feedback surveys, open-ended questions, and focus groups. This can be a great way of figuring out the “why” behind the themes in your quantitative data. For example, you may know that visitors to your website often drop once they get to your about page, and by then surveying your market on their feedback on that page, or even targeting those who bounced and asking them what happened, you suddenly get the context around why it’s happening.
This method (particularly focus groups) is also very helpful when you’re in the early stages of development and want to understand how your market thinks and feels about it, or if you have a specific roadblock you want to put in front of people for their input. Keep in mind, though, that it is very subject to interpretation and/or bias, and you tend to get a much smaller data set to work with.
Empirical data relies on observations, past results, and/or experience. Approaching something a certain way because it worked really well for you or someone else before, seeking out business professionals asking for their advice, or making a hypothesis based on trends you are seeing—all of these are empirical. And while “but we’ve always done it this way!” is often a barrier to progress, intentional use of tactics that have proven success records is just a smart way to not have to start from square one.
Both the qualitative and quantitative research methods relied on the fact that you knew who your market was. But if you’re just starting out and are not yet clear on who your target audience even is, empirical research is the best place to start. While it can be fantastic to start defining your market and make some hypotheses around behaviour, it doesn’t bring that rich analysis that quantitative research does, nor the in-depth understanding that comes with qualitative research.
Why not a mix?
Each type of research has its place, and there’s no rule that says you can only pick one. In fact, a mix of different methods is often the best way to get the whole picture. Quantitative can give you the numbers, qualitative can lend the context, and empirical can help you formulate a strategy when you don’t yet have enough to go on. When deciding your research strategy, don’t forget to also factor in how much time and money you have to get it done with. It’s important to balance the potential benefits of the research against the resources required to conduct it.
Overall, market research is a critical part of developing any kind of business strategy. If you don’t understand who your market is and why they do what they do, you’re simply spinning your wheels. Of course, you don’t have to go at this alone—at BottomLine, we specialize in a research-first approach and can do the heavy lifting for you. Get in touch with us today for your free consultation and rest easy knowing that you’re in good hands.