March 8, 2021
While many marketers work from their gut instincts, at some point that is not enough. Perhaps you've hit a wall with your growth. Maybe you're not getting the return on investment (ROI) that you need. Or perhaps you're just getting started with your business's marketing. Whatever the reason that brought you to this point, you're ready to do some market research.
There are countless reasons for conducting marketing research, so the most appropriate resource for you may be different than for someone else. You can use your research data to identify customer segments, price, product strategy, forecast sales, and more.
I've put together this guide to help you find the resources you need for planning an effective marketing strategy. Marketing research can be a huge undertaking, but even small efforts can yield big results.
Before You Start
Before we talk about where and how to conduct your marketing research, make sure you know why you're doing it. Define the problem you are trying to solve and the information you'll need to solve it. Only then can you narrow down the appropriate tools for your research efforts.
Types of Research Sources
There are two types of data in marketing research: primary data and secondary data. Primary data is information that is collected through first-hand research, collected directly for a specific purpose. Secondary data is information that already exists and was created by others, from either internal or external sources.
Secondary Data Sources
Generally, you'll want to start with secondary sources for marketing research because it's less costly — it already exists. Secondary data can come from external or internal sources.
Internal sources of secondary marketing research data
Past marketing plans. Scour through your own or your predecessor's marketing documentation for information on what worked, what didn't, and why.
Call reports from sales and/or customer support reps. You can learn a lot from the pain points your customers relay to your employees. If you have a good CRM in place, it may be easy to access this information. If not, you can schedule time with your employees to hear their feedback and the information they've heard from customers.
Transaction reports. Looking at your own sales is a great way to find out what people are buying and can help you forecast future products/services.
Website and visit information. Your Google / Adobe website analytics can tell you a lot about your business and the customer journey. If you're not an expert at these platforms, you can hire one to generate a website audit report to give you valuable insights. For brick and mortar businesses, you can generate visit information through your sales data, entry tickers, and other technologies.
External sources of secondary marketing research data
Government publications. The U.S. government (and others globally) collect massive amounts of data relevant to marketers through surveys like the census, tax collection, and other activities. Here are some sources for you:
U.S. Census Bureau
Small Business Administration
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
U.S. Government Bookstore
Your local chamber of commerce
Studies and statistical reports. There are several portals and companies that perform market research that's relevant to a wide variety of businesses. Here are some of the best ones:
Pew Research Center
Trade associations and their publications. It's likely that your field has an association of professionals like you who need information on their market performance and customer base. From agricultural associations to graphic design associations to nonprofit groups, check within your industry to see what's available.
Wikipedia has an excellent list of trade associations across a plethora of industries to get you started.
Academic publications. There are many academic studies and articles on market trends and consumer behavior. I've grabbed a few of the most well-known and comprehensive sources for you here.
Harvard Business Review
Academy of Marketing Science
University of Chicago Press Journals
Public Opinion Quarterly (Oxford)
Journal of Advertising Research
Corporate reports. If you need information about your competition, annual reports, FCC filings, patent filings, and other public documents are excellent resources for your marketing research. Often companies reveal a great deal about their goals, forecasts, and target customers in these documents.
Primary Data Sources
Primary data for marketing research is typically much more expensive than leveraging existing secondary data sources. This information can be much more useful for established businesses in particular, as they can reach out to existing or identified potential customers to further their business knowledge. It is also helpful when addressing very specific problems with your marketing -- customer reactions to your branding or advertising, for example.
One of the most common primary data sources for marketing research is the survey. Most of us have received a request to fill out a survey on a receipt or via email. However, there are many other ways we can collect primary market research data — some with less margin for error than surveys.
Each of these areas of research can be conducted by you or by any one of many large companies offering these services. From a simple SurveyMonkey survey to full-blown lab experiments, you'll have to determine what's right for your marketing problem in question and the type of product/service you have.