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How to start a market research project

08 Feb 2022
Businessman looking at a wall with diagrams showing considerations for market research project

Every business wants insight into the markets where it operates, and that’s where market research comes in. Market research is the process of collecting and analysing information to improve the process of marketing, for example to understand the needs and desires of your target customers when developing a new product, testing the appeal of different messages for a new marketing campaign, or finding out how your brand is viewed relative to your competitors’ brands. Starting a market research programme can be a challenge; this blog provides a step-by-step guide on the types of research, the processes involved and how to make your research budget go as far as possible.

Market research can take various forms from asking an individual customer or a group of people about their opinions and experiences, to conducting online surveys and undertaking sophisticated statistical analysis of the responses.

Before beginning any market research project it’s vital to decide on the questions that you are trying to answer. Unless you can identify and articulate the issues or knowledge gaps that need to be addressed then research and analysis will serve little purpose.

Ask yourself what information would be needed if someone in your organisation was trying to address these issues today? Consider asking experts from within your company or from your customers or suppliers. If you are planning to undertake consumer research, you may also want to conduct a few pilot interviews or a small focus group with existing or potential customers to test out your ideas before embarking on a larger project. What are they looking for? What solutions do they think will work best? Talk through the main points with them and see if they can help you form an opinion about what information would be most valuable in addressing their concerns.

Once you have a firm understanding of what you need to know, then you can plan your research to collect the information in an efficient manner, ultimately helping you to grow your business by generating more sales and greater profits for your business.

Deciding between quantitative and qualitative research

After deciding on objectives, the next key decision is whether qualitative or quantitative research (or a combination of both) is the best way to collect your information.

Qualitative research is a method of inquiry that aims to uncover insights into people’s views and motivations, i.e. to find the way that people think and feel about a product or service.

Qualitative methods include interviews and focus groups with open-ended questions, online bulletin boards and observations described with words.

Quantitative research is a research method that is used to generate numerical data and insights via statistical, logical and mathematical techniques.

Quantitative methods include online, telephone and face-to-face surveys with closed-ended questions, and experiments and observations that yield numerical results.

How long should you expect the project to last?

Market research periods are tailored to the audience, budget and study objective. Determine how much time you have for the project and how much money you're willing to spend on it. Think about whether a short-term project (usually less than a month), a longer-term project with multiple phases over several months, or ongoing market research (e.g. twice a year for the foreseeable future) is best suited to your needs.

What are the three main types of market research?


Surveys allow researchers to collect a large amount of data in a relatively short period. As a result, surveys are less expensive than many other data collection techniques. In addition, they can collect numerical information on a broad range of topics, including personal or societal facts, attitudes, past behaviours, and opinions.

“When conducting surveys, we always say it’s optimal for the majority of questions to be in a closed format” – Philip Bates, Market Research Director

Interviews and focus groups

An interview is a conversation for gathering information. A research interview involves an interviewer, who coordinates the process of the conversation and asks questions, and an interviewee, who responds to those questions. There are two ways interviews are conducted:

  • Structured interviews - Where the moderator works through a script
  • Unstructured interviews - Where a moderator works from a guide to the topics that should be covered but is free to explore different angles depending on the interviewee’s answers.

A focus group is a special type of unstructured interview where a moderator facilitates a group discussion with several interviewees about their views and experiences of a topic. Focus group interviewing is more commonly used in consumer research and is particularly suited for obtaining several perspectives about the topic under discussion and then testing the consensus around these perspectives.

Customer observation / Ethnographic

Observation market research or ethnographic research is a technique that involves directly observing consumers or other audiences in their natural environment – for instance, watching how customers react to different types of beverages in a tasting room.

The market research process

The typical market research process involves the following steps:

  1. Identify and define the challenges – Identify the primary issues that you want to address. If there are lots of issues, then keep things simple by focusing on the top two or three challenges
  2. Develop the approach – This step can be formal or informal depending on the size of your organisation
  3. Design the research – In this stage, you will develop the design of your study. This includes deciding what type of market research to do (survey, focus groups, depth interviews etc.) and designing the study (who, what, when, where, why etc.)
  4. Collect the data – Here you will collect your data whether it is through surveys or interviews
  5. Analyse the data – Having collected the data, you need to analyse it to determine what it means and how to utilise it. This also includes putting into context any findings from focus groups or depth interviews
  6. Report, present and take action – Finally you need to present your findings to others in your organisation so they can determine how best to proceed. At this point with our clients, we ask them to decide on their next steps based on their analysis of the data and what they concluded.

How to budget for market research?

Whether you're a newbie or an old hand at market research, it's often hard to know exactly how much you'll have to budget for a project.

You will find that there are basically two types of costs associated with market research. The first is the cost of the actual data collection process, including but not limited to: recruiting respondents (quota sampling), incentives or payments (if applicable), and costs for other services such as moderation, translation or transcriptions. The second type of cost is incidental expenses, such as facility charges, travel and administrative costs and so on.

The key drivers of cost for both quantitative and qualitative research are:

  • Sample size: The number of people that you want to hear from
  • Incidence rate: How challenging it is to find these people
  • Incentives/honoraria: How much of their time you need and what value they place on their time.

Quantitative research is typically carried out with a pre-recruited panel of volunteers - these may be your customers or they may come from a third-party panel, in which case you would normally be charged a fixed cost per interview (CPI) which includes a payment to the panel owner and a payment to the respondent. Qualitative research may also start with a panel but the target profiles tend to be more specific and niche, so it often involves finding fresh volunteers. This, together with the fact that qualitative research tends to involve a larger time commitment on the part of the respondents means that the average CPI for qualitative research tends to be higher and it’s common to split out the recruitment fees and the incentives.

How to start a successful market research project

To ensure your market research project is successful, you need to carefully plan each step of the research process. If you’re not sure about how to begin creating a market research programme and what questions to ask, reach out to our expert team who have delivered hundreds of programmes for clients around the globe.

Start your market research project by connecting with the right partner. Get in touch with the FieldworkHub team.

To book a free consultation with the FieldworkHub team, email [email protected] or give us a call on +44 20 7458 4950.

FieldworkHub is an agile, knowledgeable market research fieldwork agency providing high-quality focus group recruitment as part of our full range of qualitative and quantitative fieldwork services.
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