There are many ways to conduct marketing research both for established companies and entrepreneurial ventures. When market research is brought up, the practice of distributing surveys is usually what comes to mind. Anyone who has any experience in marketing research understands that one of the biggest limiting factors of conducting surveys is that they are limited in the amount of useful information they can provide. Researchers understand that participants only have so much patience when it comes to answering questions, which means that they must limit their surveys to the most important questions.
But there is another reason why new ventures will have a hard time understanding their target market through conducting surveys alone. Surveys are most useful for companies looking for feedback on products that their target customers have already experienced. It is possible to use surveys to develop an understanding of how customers are going to feel about future products. The problem is that this feedback is going to be based off of the assumptions customers have preconceived. Positive feedback based off of misconceptions is going to be of little use if the actual product doesn’t match these expectations.
Even if respondents do have experience with the products they are reviewing, they still may not give reliable feedback. Since the respondents are only answering a handful of the most important questions, they cannot give market researchers a detailed description of how they feel or what they are looking for. Researchers may make inaccurate assumptions about which features are the most important and waste their time structuring the survey around those assumptions. Another problem that even the most careful market researcher cannot get around is that the respondents can only answer the questions according to how they have been structured. Multiple choice questions may not do much more than confirm what the researchers already know.
The major appeal of focus groups for companies is that they allow participants to give more detailed responses. But an overlooked benefit of focus groups for new ventures planning on introducing new products is that they allow researchers to receive quality feedback on an actual product, rather than a set of assumptions based off of a hypothetical product. Focus group participants can experience the product first hand and base their feedback off of the actual experience, as opposed to describing their expectations.
The challenge of conducting a focus group is that market researchers must work with a much smaller group of participants than they would have access to if they focused on conducting a study through surveys. The most important objective is to make sure that the participants are representative of the target population. One strategy is to identify potential participants for a focus group by first having them participate in a survey. This approach allows them to screen out candidates who will not provide feedback that will be consistent with the perceptions and expectations of the target market the researchers are trying to reach.
In a market research campaign, quality of information often trumps quantity. Focus groups can be a great source of marketing information for both large companies and new ventures, provided they are made up of the right participants.
Last Updated (10 August 2010)
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