March 4, 2024
7 mins

How to incorporate market research into your marketing strategy

Insight into how market research can be used to better understand your customers, track competitors, and find gaps in the market.

In the beginning, there was darkness.

Then a bunch of people said, “Lo, let there be research! Let there be light!”

(Citation unknown.)

Anyway, that’s my convoluted way of saying that without market research, your marketing strategy becomes an exercise in fumbling in the dark. 

Or that “market research comes before anything,” as Content and Product Marketer Ehtisham Hussain puts it. 

With insights from Hussain and CEO at research software company Maru/HUB Gary Topiol, I’ll talk about the following in this piece:

• What sort of data points market research can yield
• How to conduct market research for strategic purposes
• How to incorporate research insights into your marketing strategy

But wait! What if you’re too cash-strapped to do research?

You’re not. Trust me. Or trust Hussain.

Conducting research often gives organizations pause, perhaps due to a perceived lack of resources. But it can end up costing brands a lot more to have unrealistic goals and expectations, says Hussain. The market is more competitive than ever before. Research insights are crucial to making informed marketing decisions that don’t bleed your budget away for nothing.

Market research (what is it good for)

Absolutely everything–but more specifically:

Identifying and understanding your customers

Shifting demographics make a tricky business out of understanding your target audience. Research tools like surveys and focus groups let you zero in on just who’s potentially interested in your offerings, their pain points and preferences, and where to reach them. 

Hussain is excited about AI-powered data mining’s potential in this regard. 

"A lot of big companies have trained their own AI models to identify their target audience personas and then find data from their target audience across platforms. The AI scours social media platforms and gathers publicly available activity on individuals that fall within the brand’s target personas. Say your target persona is software product managers–AI tools can track them everywhere, so you have a lot of data about their behavior outside of the brand’s interaction with them,” he says. “That really helps companies understand their consumers better, so they can make more personalized decisions.”

This is also something Topiol highlights as something on the horizon for researchers:

The debate on the effectiveness of synthetic data will continue, while improvements in the underlying models offer exciting opportunities to improve research products with multi-modal inputs and outputs.
Gary Topiol, CEO at Maru/HUB

Seeing what your competitors are up to

Competitor analysis lets you refine your strategic planning with regards to things like product differentiation, positioning, and pricing strategy. Hussain recommends tools like SimilarWeb, SpyFu, SEMrush and Ahrefs to analyze competitors’ online presence and keyword trends. 

Identify the major players in the industry, he says, and learn how much web traffic they get, how they market themselves on paid search vs. social media, whether they get most of their leads from email marketing or referrals. 

“Just study all of their [the competitors’] strategies. Read case studies about them. You even sign up for their services, purchase their services, and experience how they onboard you as a customer—how people from their sales department reach out to you.

“Then use that to develop your own marketing strategy, positioning, and pricing. You’ll see how you stack next to them, how to get some percentage of that market share away from them and towards you.”

You can also use brand tracking software like QuestBrand for this, which will not only enable you with real-time insights on your own brand’s equity, but also your competitors’.

Finding opportunities and gaps in the market

“These days, pretty much every market has either been disrupted or already has two or three big players,” says Hussain. “Unless you can create a new market, like ChatGPT did with generative AI, you’re either trying to follow in the footsteps [of the disruptor] or carving a niche for yourself.” 

Research can help you determine what new features or products to present to your audience. Competitor analysis can shine a light on untapped niches and underserved customer groups. Customer feedback and surveys offer insights into areas that need improvement or innovation. Purchase patterns and behavioral data can uncover brand affinities and help you fill gaps in a product line through complementary products. 

An actionable step-by-step for conducting market research

1) Define your research interest

Do you want to improve shopping cart abandonment on an e-commerce platform? Understand what kind of content will resonate with your target audience? Anticipate seasonal shifts in consumer preferences? Specify your research topic in clear terms. 

2) Determine where you’d find the answers to your question

Perhaps you need to delve into your website analytics to see where you lose potential customers in the shopping process. Or into engagement metrics on social media platforms for insights into the type of content that generates the most interaction. Or you’ll need to directly engage with consumers through surveys to understand seasonal preferences (like Stagwell Marketing Cloud’s recent survey on American attitudes to pumpkin spice in the fall.)

3) Choose a research method to collect the data

What research method you select–quantitative, qualitative, or mixed–depends on your research interest and the kind of data that you’ll need to answer your question. Maybe you utilize large customer datasets from CRM systems, social listening, or structured surveys for insights into preferences and trends. Or test reactions to new product features through focus groups. Or complement survey data with interviews. 

4) Analyze the research results

AI will be your best friend here. Generative AI research analysis tools like QuestAI can ingest focus group data or open end responses and provide researchers with top line takeaways and summaries from the  data sets. 

“You can use AI for tonality and the words [participants] are using to understand what the sentiment is. You start to put a quantified picture together of the keywords or the brands or the questions that invoked emotional responses,” Xander Jefferson, a product manager on QuestAI says.

Whether you’re working with qualitative or quantitative survey results, it’s essential to clean the data to remove errors or inconsistencies—tools like Alteryx help here when dealing with large datasets. Then look for patterns, correlations, and trends within the results–there’s plenty of tools that create visual representations like charts and infographics to illustrate findings. The point is to connect the analyzed data to the initial research questions. 

Implementing research findings into your market strategy

How you integrate research within your market strategy depends on your objectives, says Hussain. But ideally, get all the market research out of the way before you start execution on the strategy. By which he means, don’t let new research interrupt an existing campaign. 

“You have to let your strategy campaigns run their course. Say the research has led you to using Instagram and PPC channels, and you’ve started executing your campaign. Then you get new information that your competitors are using TikTok. And then someone in management says we have to do campaigns on TikTok. But to do that, you’d have to divert resources away from what you initially decided. You’d have to invest resources in creating a whole TikTok channel, as opposed to the resources that would have been spent on PPC.”

What you should do is hit the channels your research unearthed and keep monitoring campaign performance. And based on performance, you keep tweaking the campaign and improving your messaging.
- Ehtisham Hussain, Content and Product Marketer

“You go back to market research only if it turns out a big chunk of your strategy is not working, like if your campaigns have decisively failed.”

Other considerations when aiding strategy through research include ensuring accurate and reliable data. Biased research will only too easily undermine the effectiveness of your marketing strategy. And of course, it’s imperative to budget your strategy within your means. 

According to Hussain, “The biggest challenge that most companies face [in research implementation] is resources. If the research tells a small business to take a page from BuzzFeed's playbook and start publishing fun quizzes to collect leads and build their subscriber base, their biggest challenge would be to create all those quizzes. They’ll need dedicated marketing resources just to get up to 100 or 200 quizzes and then start marketing them, which also needs money!”

For Topiol, it’s important to make sure that your research strategy doesn’t fall victim to the new technology hype cycle. “We need to think about how we use new technology to do more efficient, insightful, high-quality research,” he says. “There’s a lot of noise, and there’s a lot of potential, but if I’m going to use these tools today, how can I use them to really improve what I am currently doing?”

In summary: Research before campaign execution, and keep quality and value top of mind when conducting any kind of research. 

About QuestDIY

QuestDIY enables creating, targeting, and deploying surveys at speed, enabling brands and other marketing organizations to capture feedback from customers and audiences faster than ever, and to leverage generative AI to build surveys in line with industry best practices. Visit here to learn more.

Manal Yousuf

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How to incorporate market research into your marketing strategy
Insight into how market research can be used to better understand your customers, track competitors, and find gaps in the market.