The 10 steps to successful online market research

Mark Simon, managing director of DIY survey provider TolunaQuick, explains how to use online research to connect with your potential customers and clients.

The web is a paradigm-shattering communication system. New products and tools on the internet allow us to easily talk to family and friends in ways we never could before, unless we were in the same room. From a business perspective, the internet has transformed the way we communicate with and understand our customers and clients.
Combining the interactive and communicative abilities of the internet with effective market research techniques allows businesses to understand their customers and clients in a more in-depth way than ever before. For example, you can determine the market need for your products or services, determine a product’s likelihood to sell under different marketplace situations, determine your target-market demographics, and figure out desirable store locations. All of this can be done quicker, cheaper, and more effectively than ever before.
Research enables decision-making
Simply put, market research is a prelude to the sale. It gives you the information you need to make the business decisions necessary to successfully achieve your objectives. It teaches you a great deal about what you will need to know to develop and refine your offering for the market. In fact, it can even help you decide whether your offering is even worth developing. Understanding how to successfully conduct meaningful research enables businesses to make that most critical of decisions: Should I spend the next several years of my life on this business?
Define what you want to know
The first step in conducting effective research is to define what you want to find out and from whom. This maxim sounds obvious but it is much more difficult than one would think. It all boils down to finding a) what is the critical question facing your business and b) defining the target audience. For example: Is there market interest in your type of product from your target market? Or are potential customers dissatisfied with current solutions to a specific problem?  Knowing what it is you want to know allows you effectively design a survey to get to that information.
Some survey creation tips:
  1. Write clear, precise and short questions. A sure-fire way to bore your respondents is to write expansive questions that require a great deal of reading. You also run the risk of biasing their answer or, at the very least, confusing them. Make vocabulary precise and unambiguous, and certain avoid basic traps such as double negatives.
  2. Focus the questions so that each asks for just one piece of information.
  3. Beware of bias! By bias we mean that the wording of your question points to a preference for a certain answer. Survey respondents will invariably want to please you, and will be more than happy to follow your lead, effectively squashing the value of your results. So edit your questions carefully for bias. Here’s a couple of examples:
    1. Avoid Yes/No questions where possible. For example, if you are looking to talk to people who are looking to purchase a laptop in the next three months, don’t ask: ‘will you buy a laptop in the next 3 months?’ but do ask ‘which of the following products are you considering purchasing in the next three months: mobile phone, printer, laptop, scanner, tablet etc?’
    2. Randomise answer lists: If you have a list of answers that are non-sequential (such as a list of brands, names or locations) then make sure your survey tool has a feature that allows you to randomise your responses. This means that the first answer won’t always appear at the top, reducing a natural human bias to give more attention to the answers coming higher up the list. It doesn’t make sense to randomise sequential answers though, such as age bands – 16-24, 25-44, 45-54 etc…
  4. Vary your question types frequently, because an unending string of similar question types will almost always lead to a string of similar answers.
  5. Beware open-ended questions:Positioned correctly and used sparingly, open text questions are a great source of insight. However don’t put them at the start of your survey and limit them to two or three per survey maximum.
  6. Give the respondent a chance to opt out: Make sure there is a ‘don’t know’ option where relevant rather than forcing a respondent to answer incorrectly.
  7. Use video and images to stimulate and engage your audience
  8. Always test your survey for logic and spelling: I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve seen surveys with incorrect logic. A recent classic: ‘Are you male or female – male’, ‘Are you married – yes,’ and ‘How old is your husband?’ Equally spelling mistakes show you lack care and attention and may pay the same level of respect to your respondent’s answers.
  9. Be short:
    1. Answers: Don’t give a list of 50 possible answers.
    2. Survey length: Make sure anyone taking the survey can feasibly complete it within 10 minutes. If it takes longer than 10 minutes, you run the risk of respondents losing patience and giving any answer to simply finish the survey.
  10. Get your audience right:
    1. Your own customer lists for client service and satisfaction work
    2. Forums or special-interest groups for niche or job-specific audiences
    3. Online access panels for broad and targeted consumer samples who may know nothing about your company – great for concept testing, market sizing and competitor evaluation.
DIY market Research
You can spend a lot of money to get professional help in the area of market research surveys, but if your budgets are limited, don’t worry. It’s easier than ever to design conduct survey research relying only on yourself.  In order to do this effectively, DIY tools must combine the ability to create different types of survey questions with the availability of ample surveys and they must offer all of this for an affordable price. Luckily DIY tools such as Survey Monkey and Toluna QuickSurveys can be used to gather useful information effectively, flexibly, and affordably.
To learn more, contact Mark Simon on mark.simon@toluna.com or follow on Twitter at @tolunaquick. Visit Toluna QuickSurveys at www.tolunaquick.com.

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