Tenato logo


Market Research Methods

Which kind of market research do you need?

If you’ve run into a business decision for which you feel ill-equipped with information, you’ve no doubt thought about getting some market research.   But what sort of market research do you need?  Can you hit Google and search your answer this way, or are the answers you need likely hidden a little deeper within your clients, suppliers, employees, or other industry experts?   And, if one or more of these groups does have the answers you need, how should you go about getting it?  Here are some  basic kinds of market research, and the scenarios they commonly apply to.

A. Secondary Market Research

The first kind of research is “secondary” – i.e. like second-hand — this means that someone else has already tried to answer your question and there could be a blog, or a research report, or a study already done that you can access.  Always try secondary research FIRST because it is generally far less expensive to acquire – someone else has already done the legwork gathering it.

1. Existing Reports & Studies

These are the kinds of reports which you would typically find in your library – but are also available online.  Statistics Canada is a great resource for general market information.  There are many charts accessible online that could well contain the data you need.  If you need help figuring out how to use these resources, submit an information request, and their team will reply to you with helpful links to the right tables where your information is stored and accessible.  You can also pay a fee to have them create specific data sets for you (cost about $75-$100/h). Another great example for market research in Calgary is Community Profile Data from the City of Calgary — where you can lookup the demographic profiles of various communities…if you scroll down the page you’ll see all the communities listed there — and a specific demographic profile on each.  You can also access Academic Databases if you subscribe or are a member of a library.

2. Online Research

There are many kinds of online research – Social Media Monitoring, Crowdsourcing, Data Poolers

Social Media Monitoring is a way of tracking mentions of various key words or phrases (such as your brand name, or product names, or competitors’ names) and checking for what is being mentioned.  Some social/media monitoring (these pool social comments PLUS things that pop up in the media, or that are posted online) tools also collate comments and keep a measure of positivity/negativity to help you protect your reputation (also called Reputation Monitoring).  Most tools cost in the range of $500 – $1000/month, but you do have to invest time in watching/monitoring and responding to things that the services identify.

Crowdsourcing provides a database of people, and solicits feedback on questions you with to ask their crowds.  Some are very quick/easy  – for example, if you’re trying to choose between two names or two logos, you can post both and see which one gets the better rating.   These can be quite cheap and fast (say $100 – $200 per question).  See this great list of Crowdsource resources for your business.

Data Poolers are services that take or sample data (such as online searches) and collate that information to tell you what people are doing online.   This is a great way to objectively see how you are ranking versus competitors, what keywords are popular, and so on.   Some of our favourite services here are SEMRush and GoogleKeyword Trends.  Here you can learn a ton about what people are searching for, and how you are performing within your industry.

B. Primary Market Research

Primary Market Research is a broad term referring to the kind of research you uncover directly from the source – i.e. asking your clients, suppliers, employees, industry experts, and anyone else who may have your answers.  It can also be observational – watching social media commenting,  gathering Google Analytics data, visiting competitors and more.  Here are some of the common kinds of primary market research.

1. Exploratory & Qualitative Research

Exploratory research is often done before surveys – or to answer a deeper set of questions from a smaller group.  When the questions are open ended (i.e. asking an opinion, opening a discussion, or asking WHY someone feels a certain way) these give richer answers, although they are a little more difficult to quantify.  Two key kinds are focus groups and depth interviews.

Focus Groups

Focus Groups are a great way to do a “show and tell” – i.e. show people an idea/brand/concept, and get their reaction to it.   It is important to carefully plan the presentation, questions, and composition of the group in order to avoid bias in the responses.    A qualified moderator is strongly recommended for this method.  Focus groups generally cost $4-$5K apiece including the preparation, facilitation, recruitment and moderation, and at least 2 – 3 are usually needed to ensure a check-balance of the responses from group to group.  The client may also need to provide incentives to get people to participate (such as small cash payments, restaurant gift cards, etc.)

Depth Interviews

Depth Interviews are the most “intimate” way to get inside a person’s head.  They are very useful for uncovering client opinions and allow a 1-to-1 opportunity to explore a given issue, usually over a phone discussion of 10 – 40 minutes.  Depending on the number and types of questions, they generally cost $500 – $900 apiece depending on the amount of questions, the nature of the situation being explored, and the quantity of people who need to be reached.

Feasibility Research

Looking to diversify with a new product line or target market?   Feasibility research can be done to pitch and test your idea.  This can be done one-on-one with prospective clients (by phone or in person, or using online tools) or in focus groups.  Key to the idea is to prepare your materials such that the research closely mirrors what the actual product will be.   Cost vary widely on the preparation and execution of the pitch (anywhere from $1000 – $3000/ea).

a man looking at a wall covered with diagrams and notes

2. Quantitative Methods

Quantitative methods “quantify” someone’s response – such as counting genders, income brackets, or scales of satisfaction.   Although surveys can also include open-ended (qualitative) questions such as “Is there anything you wish they did differently?”, they are most commonly used for quantitative (measurable) responses.


Surveys can be online (SurveyMonkey.com, SogoSurvey.com) or offline (such as shopping mall intercept, door to door, telephone, mail) but are primarily useful for measuring “how many people” would respond to a certain question in a certain way.  When done the same way year over year, they can be used to compare and find trends.   They are not generally useful for understanding “why” something is as it is.  Surveys can be “dedicated” i.e. you have say 10 questions, and therefore you need your own survey written, designed, executed and analyzed or “omnibus”, where questions are pooled in with other surveys.

Dedicated Market Research Surveys

Costs of a dedicated market research survey vary greatly ($5K – $100K) depending on the number/type of questions and the number of people to be included in a survey.  Statistical significance can technically be achieved with as low as N=30 respondents, but for reliability +/- 5% most surveys complete at least 100 – 200 responses.  If you have groupings within your total number that you want to compare, you will need greater numbers of respondents.

While it’s true you can design and execute your own survey through Survey Monkey and other online tools, you must be very careful about sampling error and question design. When the sample is NOT random, your numbers can give you completely false answers vs. what would represent your actual target customers.  So even for online surveys, it is generally wise to get the help of an expert in writing the survey and selecting/deploying the instrument itself.    There are also great variations in capabilities of online survey instruments – for example, some allow text selection, and some allow you to show visual/video or other interactive media to illustrate concepts and improve the completion rate.  (See Vision Critical for some examples.)

Omnibus Market Research Surveys

If you only have a couple of questions, they can be “tacked on” to an “omnibus” survey…these are large surveys conducted with large groups, and they take advantage of “pooling” various clients’ questions together to cover the survey cost.  It’s a less expensive way to get a couple of questions answered – for a quotation, visit the Ipsos Site and others that offer this service.  Generally in the range of $800 – $1500 per question (minimum 4 questions).

In Summing up..

In a nutshell we will say this: if you need to know…

General market data? Check Stats Canada, your city’s community profiles, Google Keyword Trends, and your industry associations for any current studies.  Academic databases can also be accessed via libraries.

How your brand is doing from year to year?  If you want to measure year over year, consistent surveying is very useful.   You can also check Data Pooling services to make comparisons to your competitors.

What your customers really think?  Usually depth/phone interviews will give you the richest responses, along with lot of ideas about how you can make improvements to your services.

To check a new idea?  Usually a Focus Group, Crowdsourcing, or checking Keyword Trending (especially to see what people are looking for).

Do you need more help on designing and acquiring Market Research?  Please contact us today!

Share this:

About the Author - Jacqueline Drew
Jacqueline M. Drew, BComm, MBA is founder and CEO of Tenato Strategy Inc., a marketing research and strategy firm with bases in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. With over 25 years' experience in all facets of marketing strategy, she is a business consultant, trainer and speaker who loves to use her superpowers "to help the good guys win."