How to Write a Market Research Plan

market research strategy chartIn the past, we BUDGETED for market research.  This usually included our annual customer satisfaction survey and then we simply looked at our marketing plan an set aside a budget for the new product research we were going to do in the next year.

These days things are a little different.  I find myself recommending a market research plan over and over to small businesses and that means that I had better start explaining what a market research plan looks like.

Why You Need a Research Plan NOW – When You Didn’t Need One in the Past?

The short answer is that it’s a response to several trends that are going on in our lives today – that weren’t there in the past:

  • Social Media – The ability to use social media as a tool to collect feedback and analyze text and chatter from your marketplace about your company and your brand is a relatively new phenomenon.  The challenge is that if left unmanaged and under-leveraged, it goes to waste as a resource of valuable market research information.
  • Time Slicing – This is an interesting behavioral trend among all of us.  You can easily compare it to multi-tasking.   Time slicing, however is more like inserting short tasks in between larger tasks.  Such as checking emails on your mobile device while waiting in line.
  • Mobile Devices – The use of mobile devices as computers and communication tools and quite literally “time killers” opens up a new way to reach our respondents when they have just a few minutes to spare.

The Market Research Plan Outline

  1. Set Goals:  I think it’s important to set a general goal or direction about what decisions you’re going to be making over the course of the year.  For the sake of this outline, I’m treating goals as more general statements such as “Start marketing products online.”  The benefit of making a general goal statement is that it gets your mind focused in a particular direction and allows for some flexibility – which you’re going to need as you start strategizing around the information and feedback that you’re planning on collecting.
  2. Set objectives:  Every research project has objectives and every marketing plan has objectives.  So it stands to reason that your research plan will too.  In this case your objectives around the research plan might include the decisions that you are trying to make right now around that general goal of “marketing products online”.  Some possible objectives might include understanding who our customers would be online, or how our target customer shops online or to what degree do they use mobile devices to shop or research products and services.
  3. Lay out your collection channels. You’ve heard the term distribution channel, well in research I call it the collection channel.  This involves listing all the possible ways that you can collect feedback and information from your target audience.  These might include online surveys, MicroPoll, IdeaScale (Crowd sourcing), mobile device surveys, social media, and some others.
  4. Brainstorm a list of questions.  Now you can start brainstorming questions that will help you make your decisions.  I like brainstorming questions first because it focuses your mind on exactly what you want to know and why you want to know it.  We can always edit the questions later based on what collection channel is best suited for the question.
  5. Assign questions to the collection channels. Again none of this is cast in stone.  But it helps you get your mind around how to best leverage the collection tools that are available to you.  Start assigning your questions to the channels that will provide the best information.  For example – treat your social media channels as you might a focus group. Start conversations with your Facebook Fans and ask questions.  LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are all ideal channels for getting your target audience involved in helping you develop more specific questions around the issues that your customers care most about.  Not only are you getting input into how to frame questions and what to focus on – you’re getting some additional marketing and PR buzz about your mission and vision about what you’re developing.
  6. Use crowd sourcing tools like IdeaScale to prioritize suggestions.  Now that you’ve gotten ideas from social media conversations – create an IdeaScale space and seed the space with the feedback you’ve learned.  Then launch that page to your social media community and ask them to vote and continue the feedback on this space.  Don’t forget to visit the space and offer feedback to the community on how your development is going.  Again – this is more marketing and PR.
  7. Start putting your online surveys together. Now you might be ready to put some online marketing surveys together.  Keep in mind that NONE of your respondents want to spend more than 5 minutes on a survey.  Just like online videos. their attention span is about 2-3 minutes at best.  After that they are bored and tired and leave.  If your survey takes longer than 5 minutes – you will need to look for alternative ways to ask those questions.
  8. Use MicroPoll to supplement your online survey. MicroPoll is underutilized as a survey instrument.  People LOVE polls because they are short and they offer immediate feedback.  If your online survey takes longer than 5 minutes.  Take a look at which questions you can transfer to MicroPoll.  You can launch a new MicroPoll every week.  This will keep your audience engaged and involved in what you’re up to.  (I think that’s more marketing and PR – while doing research – that’s what I call leverage and multi-tasking)
  9. Can you take it viral? Another important question to ask yourself is if you can take your online survey viral in order to collect feedback from a broader market segment than you are able to reach.  One word of warning.  Viral surveys are most successful when you are asking very broad and socially relevant questions.  In other words – questions around topics that people in a broader community can answer.  NOT technically sophisticated questions or questions that contain customer or sensitive information.  A good question for a viral survey might be “What percentage or sales do you spend on market research?”  This is a general enough question anyone can answer AND the answers across industry segments would be valuable.

Last Minute Tips for Successful Market Research Plans

  • Keep it short and simple.  No more than 5 pages.
  • Leverage the free and low cost tools that are available
  • Brainstorm great questions.  This is the key.  No respondent wants to answer bad questions.

In future posts – I will break some of these down into more focused practical how-to’s.  In the meantime — do YOU currently do a market research plan?  What are your tips, Do’s and Don’ts?

Related posts:

  1. 6 DIY Marketing Research Trends You Can Put in Your Marketing Plan
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About IvanaTaylor

Ivana Taylor is the publisher of DIYMarketers, an online publication for small business owners who wear both the sales and marketing hat. You can find her at http://diymarketers.com.