It seems like unless you're part of the largest companies in the world market research is at best underfunded and at worst neglected. I think it's probably the hardest thing to get funding for in most marketing budgets in today's ROI centric marketing world. It certainly doesn't help when a lot of research efforts fail due to gaps in strategic intent, poor survey design, low response and engagement rates and the lack of actionable analytics. All this doesn't remove the need for good market research, which at its best can give you the kind of insight and foresight your business needs to serve the current and future market.
If you really feel the need to conduct market research and don't have the funds to do it the full-blow academic way here are a few ideas:
- The Internet - yeah, I know this is a no-duh statement but I think the thing people miss is (1) there is a chance someone has done a survey about your market space, which can get you most of the way there for a fraction of what you would spend to do it, or (2) triangulating several surveys or research articles together to create a relateable survey for your needs. Regardless, figure out if you can get what you need without the cost and effort of building the machine to get there.
- Google Surveys - not many people know about this but you can leverage the power of Google's dominance for market research. Through their analytics solutions group, you can choose your target audience, type your questions, and watch the results roll in within hours. It can be as sophisticated as you want it to be and it's a great way to get real-time input at a fraction of the traditional cost of market research.
- Social media - there is no better way to get what people think about your business than social media. Facebook and Twitter simple survey tools although the quantitative part of what you can do is limited. There are some sites that will help you post surveys to LinkedIn to connect with your network (I'm surprised they don't do more in this area). However, as we all know there is little filter for those who use social media to offer their opinions. The challenge with social media is targeting the people you want to hear from and relevant chatter that will come your way.
- Your sales team - salespeople are always looking for new and different ways to connect with their customers. If you can design a survey that gets you what you need with little fanfare and can make it inviting for the sales force to engage with their customers about it you can get quality results without having to track down participants and stage the logistics for a survey.
- Peer review - in marketing we all have a lot of connections and what better way to find out what your company may look like than asking the marketing colleagues you respect. I love this idea for branding, messaging and position as well as any time you need an outside perspective on your company or the market.
With as many information sources as there are today no one should be lacking for information - the challenge is getting the right information and making it relevant and actionable for your business. If you begin with the end in mind - what you really need to get out of market research and how you can apply it - there are several ways to get you what you need.