What is Market Research? Free Tools for Marketing Research in the Digital Era

Marketing is an endeavor that requires “intelligence.” Like the military spies that penetrate behind enemy lines, or the code sleuths who decode enemy messages, or to be less militaristic, the meteorologists that use theories and facts to predict the weather, smart marketers need to do research on their products or services, the trends in the market, what prospective customers want or need, and even the competitive landscape. Fortunately, the Internet is awash in free tools for marketing research. Here are some concepts and tools.

First, what is market research or marketing research? Wikipedia defines market research as –

any organized effort to gather information about target markets or customers. It is a very important component of business strategy.[1] The term is commonly interchanged with marketing research; however, expert practitioners may wish to draw a distinction, in that marketing research is concerned specifically about marketing processes, while market research is concerned specifically with markets. Market research is one of the key factors used in maintaining competitiveness over competitors. Market research provides important information to identify and analyze the market need, market size and competition. Market-research techniques encompass both qualitative techniques such as focus groups, in-depth interviews, and ethnography, as well as quantitative techniques such as customer surveys, and analysis of secondary data. Market research, which includes social and opinion research, is the systematic gathering and interpretation of information about individuals or organizations using statistical and analytical methods and techniques of the applied social sciences to gain insight or support decision making.

Second, market research is a task that’s not “one and done.” Rather it needs to be done in an on-going basis. It can be done systematically up to and including written reports, and it can also be done in a more “seat of the pants” methodology, meaning just staying tuned in to what your customers want, what your competitors are doing, and how well your own products or services are addresses the needs of customers.

What is Market Research?

Photo credit: Јerry via Foter.com / CC BY

Tools for Market Research

The Internet is awash in tools that can help with market research. Here are some of my favorite strategies and tools.

Customer Segments. You need to know who your (potential) customers are and how they break down into key segments. One way to do this is to pay attention to the keywords used as to clues to customer groupings. Use the Google AdWords Keyword Planner (under the “wrench” icon) in AdWords to look for keyword ideas, volumes, and values. Pay attention to how Google suggests AdWords Groups as these are groups of like-minded customers (more or less). Another free tool or strategy is to use Facebook and (pretend to) advertise. Type in a keyword and Facebook will show you groups of similar things people “like” or “follow.” Closely related to customer segment research is researching the “pain points” or “desires” of your customers. Again, keywords are a good surrogate here. Use a tool like the SERPS.com keyword research tool to discover keywords that reflect customer segments. Also pay attention to Google autocomplete by typing your keywords, or check out Ubersuggest. Finally, don’t miss or forget the “real world.” As you serve customers, pay attention to key shared demographic, psychographic, situational, or economic characteristics that they share. Note them down.

Another way to get at what customers want is to see what’s being shared on social media around relevant keywords. Use a tool like Buzzsumo (paid only) or Hashtagify.me to see what’s trending and infer why. People talk about what irks them (pain points) and what they want (desires), both of which are good ways to do market research on potential customer trends. Twitter advanced search is another free tool to discover what people are talking about – good, bad, ugly, painful, desired, or anything else for that matter.

Competitor Research. What do your competitors offer in terms of products and services? To what groups do they cater their marketing messages? Here’s an obvious tip for marketing research. Take some relevant keywords that reflect how potential customers might search for your product or service. Do the searches on Google, and click over to the top-ranking ads and organic results. Then browse their websites for ideas about what they offer, how it’s positioned, and (implicitly) what customer segments its offered to. This will also help you brainstorm how your company, product, and/or service and (and should be) different than that of competitors. It’s a great technique for brainstorming what’s unique about your Unique Selling Proposition or product positioning.  Another way to research competitors is to use Keyword Spy. Even for free, this tool will allow you to take keywords and see competitors ads that run on Google. Then “reverse engineer” these vis-a-vis the product or service offered, the (implicit) customer segment, and the unique selling proposition that they offer.

Customer Surveys. If you’re an existing business, or if you have an ad budget, consider setting up a survey. A “crazy” idea – ASK your customers or potential customers questions about what they want in a product or service, what characteristics they share (e.g., customer segments) and how they might react to various unique selling propositions.  Survey Monkey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/ and Google surveys both have low cost or even free options.

Customer Behavior. What do potential customers “do?” Meaning how do they come to your website, and why do they “bounce” or “become a sale?” The grandpappy of all free web metrics programs of course is Google Analytics. (Google even has a free Google Analytics Academy to learn how to use this not-easy-to-use tool). You can slice and dice your website data and thus learn through inference what’s going on as prospects become customers down the so-called “sales funnel.” If you’re advertising on AdWords, you can even chart this back to keywords.

These are just a few tools and techniques on marketing research. But as we conclude, let me share with you one of my favorite “top secret” market research tools. (Prepare to get out your pen and pencil to write this website down). It’s called Google. If you formulate a question, you can just Google it to find the latest in trends, third-party market research, government websites, and statistics. All you have to do is formulate the question and then Google it. Then pay attention to the answers given by Google and the drill downs that often occur in the “People also ask” (PAA) boxes. For example:

The point in market research is to formulate the marketing questions that you want answered, and then look to the free cornucopia that is available on the Internet to answer your questions. As always, be a critical reader. Not everything you read on the Internet is true or accurate, but today as marketers we have “free tools” for market research that our peers from the pre-Internet dark ages of the 1980s, 1970s, or 1960s could only dream of.

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Jason McDonald

About Jason McDonald

Jason McDonald is a top-rated San Francisco SEO Consultant. His consulting services include search engine optimization consulting, social media marketing consulting, and Google AdWords consulting. Jason's motto as a consultant is that he doesn't do SEO 'for you' but rather he does SEO 'with you.' That goes as well for his social media marketing consultant activities and Google AdWords consultant services. Besides serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jason consults with clients in Silicon Valley (San Jose), Oakland and other cities throughout the Bay Area. Beyond the Bay Area, Jason is available as an SEO consultant, Social Media Consultant, and as an expert witness in litigation involving social media marketing, search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising.