Market research is the structured effort to collect information about consumers and target markets: learn about them, beginning with who they are. It’s a key ingredient in maintaining competitive advantage and a vital element of business strategy. Market research has the ability to aid businesses in providing goods and/or services that address identified needs; and in doing so, it helps create new opportunities for profit, enhance existing offerings, and bring about new innovations.

It takes a systematic approach to market research to effectively determine the answers to the questions posed by the study. The process starts by gathering qualitative data. From there, more quantitative data can be gathered. The goal of all of this is to provide the best analysis possible to answer the questions asked. Market research that focuses on identifying the “common market” or “base population” is often more effective than one that seeks to reach out to a more specialized audience. While market research that caters to a specific industry (such as cosmetics) will have a far greater chance of uncovering successful practices, it is not uncommon for the broader market to yield more common results.

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The market research objectives vary greatly. Some companies aim to simply find out what consumers think about their products and services. Others are more geared toward determining whether a product or service is more popular, has a higher perceived value, or is more appealing to a particular demographic. While face-to-face surveys allow a company to acquire valuable feedback from its own employees, surveys conducted over the telephone can yield even better results because they are more accurate, do not involve a high level of inconvenience, and provide a far greater range of consumers to survey.

Another key area of market research is understanding consumer perspective on technology. By observing consumer use of a particular application over a period of time, companies can focus groups in on areas where improvements can be made to make the process easier, more enjoyable, or more efficient. Sometimes the focus groups will also suggest improvements to existing applications. For example, one company conducted focus groups to determine whether users experience any difficulty in setting up email accounts or accessing applications that would normally be accessed through the desktop. By paying close attention to such observations, the developers were able to incorporate these suggestions into an online application that was faster, easier to set up, and offered a greater degree of flexibility.

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There are many benefits to conducting focus groups and observing consumer use. While most companies can conduct market research surveys over the phone or the Internet, the real value comes from having an actual person observe your business operation in action. In addition to having insight into what consumers are thinking, the person conducting the survey can also provide insights into how they might conduct your business in the future.

Whether conducting market research over the telephone or in person, it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of the exercise is for your company to better understand current and future market trends. Taking the time to understand these market trends is not only important for improving your business operations; it is also a key element in helping you build new business opportunities. If you fail to take the time to understand what your customers want, how they are feeling about your product or service, and what changes they need, you may be running the risk of seeing your business hit a plateau or even fall flat. Taking the time to properly research your target market, listen to your customers, and address their needs can make all the difference in the world when it comes to building new business opportunities.

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