Steps of Market Research Process

With constant change being the norm in market, end consumer, marketing and business, one thing remains the same is the need for market research.
Market research is a helpful tool for you to better identify market opportunities, marketing strategies, evaluate business decisions and better understand your customers needs and expectations using data. Just as you would not go on vacation without making any plans, you should not make business decisions or design your marketing strategies without backing them with research. In short, the market research process is the backbone of informed business and marketing decisions. 
Though it is not necessary that all research processes would invariably follow a given sequence, yet market research often follows a generalized pattern which can be broken down and studied as sequential stages. The various stages or steps in the marketing research process are discussed below:

  • Step 1

    Identification and Defining the Problem or Opportunity

    Perhaps the most important step in the market research process is defining the problem.   There is typically a key business problem or opportunity that needs to be acted upon, but there is a lack of information to make that decision comfortably; the ultimate goal of market research is support you with solid data to make an informed decision.  The clear-cut statement of problem may not be possible at the very outset of research process because often only the symptoms of the problems are apparent at this stage. Hence, several  exploratory discussions between the client and the researcher is crucial. Clear definition of the problem helps the researcher in all subsequent research efforts including setting of proper research objectives, the determination of the techniques to be used, and the extent of information to be collected. By understanding the business problem clearly, you’ll be able to keep your research focused and effective.   
  • Step 2

    Statement of Research Objective

    After identifying and defining the problem or opportunity, the researcher must take a formal statement of research objectives. Such objectives may be stated in qualitative or quantitative terms and expressed as research questions, statement, hypothesis or objective. Once the objectives or the hypotheses are developed, the researcher is ready to choose the research design.  
  • Step 3

    Determining the Research Design

    After defining the problem or opportunity and deciding the objectives, the research design must be developed. A research design is a master plan specifying the methodology, methods, approaches and techniques for collecting and processing data, geographical territory in which the study to be conducted and sampling. Sampling involves procedures that use a small number of items or parts of the Universe (total items) to make conclusion regarding the Universe. Important questions in this regard are: who is to be sampled as a rightly representative lot? Which is the target Sample? Which criteria to use to be in a position to identify the relevant Sample? What should be the Sample size—how large or how small? How to select the various units to make up the Sample? What would be structure and geographical spread of the Sample? At this stage, the researcher should also determine the timing and costs of the research. The objectives of the study are to be well-considered in the research design to ensure relevancy of the design to the objectives.  
  • Step 4

    Preparing Research Instruments

    In this step of the process, it is time to design the research tools and instruments.  If a survey is the most appropriate tool (as determined in step 2), it is required to begin by writing the questions and designing the questionnaire.  If a focus group is the relevant instrument of choice, preparing questions and materials for the moderator is essential. This is the part of the process execution of the research design starts. Within this step, testing the prepared research instruments with a small group prior to broad deployment, is included as well.  This enables early recognition of possible issues with the data structure and catching potential problems.  
  • Step 5

    Collecting Data

    This is the meat and potatoes of the research study; the time when the survey is being administrated, the focus groups are being moderated, the interviews conducted, the concept tests implemented, etc.  The answers, choices, and observations collected, are to be used to solve the problem. Therefore each nugget of data is precious and will be part of the masterful conclusions that will be drawn soon. When collecting data, it is crucial to ensure if the data is valid and unbiased.   
  • Step 6

    Processing and Analyzing Data

    Once data have been collected, these have to be converted into a format that will suggest answers to the initially identified and defined problem. Data processing begins with the editing of data and its coding. Editing involves inspecting the data-collection forms for omission, legibility, and consistency in classification. Before tabulation, responses need to be classified into meaningful categories. The rules for categorizing, recording and transferring the data to ‘data storage media’ are called codes. This coding process facilitates the tabulation. Now that the ground is ready, it is time to start the fun part: Analyzing the data! Analysis of data represents the application of logic to the understanding of data collected about the subject. In its simplest form analysis may involve determination of consistent patterns and summarizing of appropriate details in forms of tables, charts and graphs. The appropriate analytical techniques chosen would depend upon informational requirements of the problem, characteristics of the research designs and the nature of the data gathered. The statistical analysis may range from simple immediate analysis to very complex multivariate analysis. While data analysis, avoiding finding patterns based on the initial assumptions prior to research is a must.  
  • Step 7

    Visualizing the Results

    Spending hours pouring through raw data, building useful summary tables, charts and graphs, now is the time to compile the most meaningful takeaways into a digestible report or presentation.   This includes interpretation of data and drawing conclusion for use in managerial decision. The report should clearly and effectively communicate the research findings and is expected to be technically accurate, understandable and useful. And at the end of the research, Was Your Hypothesis Proven Wrong? Great! That is why we do research and do not run with assumptions when making decisions that could have a major impact on our organization. It is always better to take the results as they are than to twist the data to prove ourselves right!  
  • Step 8

    Put Research Into Action

    Often the management is not interested in details of research design and statistical analysis, but instead, in the concrete findings of the research. If need be, the researcher may bring out his appropriate recommendations or suggestions in the matter.  Of course, there is a lot more to the market research process than these eight core steps, but these are enough to get you started. Good luck!