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Market research in the marketing plan

Why read this? : We explore how to use market research in the marketing plan. Learn how it helps you make smarter choices in key areas like innovation and communications. Plus, we look at how to turn your insights into actions that drive marketing results. Read this to learn how to master using market research in the marketing plan.

Market research in the marketing plan

Table of Contents


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Market research and the brand development process

The first step in the brand development process is market analysis. You use market research and competitor analysis to identify opportunities and issues in the market. This helps you better understand customers and work out what’s going on in your category. 

This analysis drives key decisions in subsequent steps. e.g. your brand strategy, brand identity, marketing plan and brand activation.

It means you make better decisions driven by what customers need and want. 

Market analysis

Market analysis starts with reviewing your existing marketing data and insights. You identify what you already know and write research questions for what you don’t.

These questions drive secondary, qualitative and quantitative research to fill in your knowledge gaps. You gather new data and build your insights into what customers think, feel and do. You ask questions and find out what’s going on with customers.

For example, what are customers talking about the most? What new trends are there? Which events and influencers are having the most impact? Which competitors are winning and which aren’t?

Flow diagram showing the 5 steps of the brand development process - analyse your market, build your brand goal, segment, target and position, build your brand identity, brand activation

Summarise key insights and learnings

Your next goal is to organise and summarise all these insights and learnings you’ve gathered. For each one, you ask yourself, “So what?”. The bigger the so what, the bigger its priority in your plan.  

You want a summary of where the business is right now. And what’s important in the market.

There’s no single best format for this. But in most cases, it’s 1-2 PowerPoint pages with a 2-column table.

Insight and learning in the left column. And implication / “so what?” in the right. 

Person holding glasses in front of them against a blurry street background

Many find it hard to keep this concise. It’s tempting to include all your market research. Everything “interesting”. But, you risk confusing people if you share too much detail. So only include the insights which drive decisions and actions. 

Keep the “interesting, but don’t know what to do with it” stuff for the appendix, if you feel the need. 

The 3 key areas to cover are :-

  • competitors and the category.
  • how customers perceive your brand (your brand identity).
  • the impact of your previous marketing activity. 

Competitors and the category

A competitor and category review summarises what’s going on with competitors and in the wider category.

You list key changes and the impact they’re likely to have on customers and your brand.

Competitor examples include : –

Man's hand holding a camera lens in front of a lake with mountains and blue skies in the background

Category examples cover changes in retail and distribution channels. For example, new retailers in the market or new channels like e-Commerce. Category also covers new legal requirements and changes in social and cultural factors. These can all impact customers and your brand. This review is also a good place to check whether your positioningcompetitive strategy and competitive advantage are all still doing their job.

Brand perception

Brand perception is how you track the quality of your interactions with customers. 

For example, you track measures from the brand choice funnel like awareness and consideration.

Plus, you track features, benefits and other attributes you want customers to associate with your brand. e.g. :- 

  • is good value.
  • is high quality.
  • is the most innovative brand.
  • is the most exciting brand. 
  • is the most reliable brand.
The brand choice funnel - trust - aware - consider - trial - loyalty - repeat purchase

You use these measures to evaluate your brand’s health. A decline in a measure is a sign that something’s not working. It triggers you to investigate what’s causing the issue. 

Diagnose results of previous marketing activity

Your previous marketing activity will have had some impact on brand perception. You use the data from those activities to diagnose which activities have the most impact on perception.

Take advertising evaluation, for example. For that, you analyse media data like the spend, the share of voice (how you spent versus competitors) and your reach and frequency numbers.

For a product launch review, you look at marketing data like the number of trialists and repeat buyers. You look at distribution data. For example, how many retailers stocked your product? And how did it perform in-store?

Young man standing in Times Square at night looking up the bright media advertising billboards

You compare the actual performance vs the objective for each activity. You’re looking for changes and correlations to rationalise why things happened the way they did. These point you towards what you should do next. 

The summary of all this market analysis sets you up for defining the brand goal which is the next stage of the planning process. However, we’ll skip that here as you don’t do any more research at that stage. However, you do potentially do more research when you move on to segmentation, targeting and positioning

Segmentation, targeting and positioning

You start by defining your “universe”. This is the total number of potential customers in the market. You then divide this into smaller distinct segments. These are groups of customers who share similar buying characteristics. 

Next, you review each segment’s attractiveness. This helps you decide which segment(s) to target. i.e. “who”  your marketing activity will focus on.

You finish by deciding how to position your brand. You outline what benefit you’ll offer and why customers should believe that you can deliver that benefit. 

Market research supports each of these steps.

3 steps of the process - Segmentation - divide the total marketing, targeting - pick the most attractive, positioning - build your brand

Segmentation research

For example, segmentation research identifies which variables best define segments, based on a mix of :-

  • demographics.
  • occasions.
  • attitudes.

Demographics such as age, gender and location make it easy to identify targets for media buying, for example. But, they’re not great for helping you understand what drives customer decision-making. 

Occasion-based information such as purchase location and time of day or day of the week also helps with media planning. It helps with key marketing decisions like where to focus sales promotions and when to carry out digital marketing activities. However, it’s less helpful in understanding differences in brand perception or underlying motivations.

Attitudinal information is the best for getting under the skin of customers. It helps you understand what drives their decisions and actions. (For more on this, see our behavioural science article). That helps when creating advertising messages and refining your brand identity. But, it doesn’t help you with where to find these types of people. It’s hard to place your media against “optimists” or “high-energy”, for example. 

So, in an ideal world, you use a mix of all 3. Your :-

  • demographic variables help you identify the people in the segments.
  • occasion variables help you work out where and when to connect with them.
  • attitudinal variables help you work out the best way to influence them. 

Sounds easy when we put it like that, right?

But anyone who’s worked on a segmentation project knows it’s not. You need strong analytics skills to work out which variables are the most relevant, based on clear correlations between the variables and sales numbers.

Targeting and positioning

With targeting and positioning, the focus here is on deciding where and how your brand will play in the market. 

Targeting uses lots of marketing data. This mostly comes from your market research. For example, you use quantitative research to evaluate the size and potential of your target audience.

From there, you craft your positioning. A statement of how you’ll compete in the market. You also research the choices you make here. Gathering facts about customers helps you make better decisions about how to win them over.

Archery target with arrows in bullseye to symbolise marketing targeting

Customer persona

A common and helpful output from the segmentation, targeting and positioning process is a customer persona. (Sometimes also called a customer profile). This brings to life the target customer and summarises your key insights

You create a single-page summary to describe the target customer; what they think, feel and do; and what’s most likely to influence them. 

This is used to brief your marketing agencies on new advertising and media campaigns. You also share it with your sales and customer service teams, so they know better understand customers. And it supports your marketing plan to make sure it stays customer-focused.

Customer Experience Personal Template Blank.001

Brand identity

The penultimate stage of the brand development process is creating your brand identity.

To do this, you create intangible and tangible assets which define who your brand is, and what it stands for.

Your brand identity drives how your brand works, and how you want to come across to customers. 

You use market research to validate the decisions which go into your brand identity.

For example, your essencevalues and personality should fit with what your target customers look for in brands. You also use market research to identify which features and benefits to focus on in your brand identity.

Brand identity asset classification examples

Brand perception then is what customers think of how your brand comes across. You can track this with continuous quantitative research. If customers don’t perceive your brand in the way you want, you’ve got a problem. 

You also use market research to optimise tangible assets like your logo, colours and typography. Qualitative research helps you come up with ideas. And quantitative research helps you validate them.

Where market research fits into the marketing plan

The final stage of the brand development process is writing your marketing plan. This covers what you plan to do for the next 12 months. (Note that some categories may focus only on the next 6 months, while others may go up to 18 months). It includes gathering market research so you can review the implications of what’s happened in the market.

Marketing plans vary greatly in terms of detail. However, they should use market research to help answer 3 key questions :-

  • where the business is now.
  • where it wants to be.
  • how you’re going to get there.

Where the business is now

You use market research to gather the data to do an up-to-date situation analysis i.e. what your business is now.

It’s an updated summary of what you did in the earlier market analysis stage. 

You include updates on new events or developments. You cut anything no longer relevant. 

The role of market research in the marketing plan here is to build a shared understanding of the category dynamics. Anyone who reads your situation analysis should be able to quickly grasp what’s going on with your business.

Close up of mans hand resting on a large tree

Your situation analysis should summarise key lessons and their implications. This usually covers a broad range of topics. So you need to organise the information into something like a SWOT analysis to make it easy to understand.

SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis captures key strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats on a single page.

Quantitative research is the source for most of the inputs and facts you include in your SWOT.

You analyse the results and decide which are most important to include. 

In this example, quantitative research generated most of the key insights.

“Brand X is x% ahead of Brand Y on, “Its staff provide the highest quality service”, for example. And “Those exposed 5X more likely to consider than those who have not seen any media”.

Table showing Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis for example brand X

Where does your business want to be? 

From the lessons and implications of your situation analysis, you move on to where you want your brand to be. What are your objectives for the 12 (+/- 6) months?

You normally start with your customer experience strategy. This summarises the work you did in the segmentation, targeting and positioning process.

It’ll include the customer profile you already created. It’ll also map out your ideal customer journey. 

Then you identify what you need to do about the key opportunities and challenges from the SWOT. That shapes your marketing mix and brand activation


For example, maybe you need more innovation to take on a competitor. Or you need to spend more on media to drive awareness. Or change your advertising message to improve consideration. You identify what’s needed to grow over the next 6-18 months. From there, you set objectives and action plans to deliver them. All these decisions are validated by the market research that goes into the marketing plan.

Demand measurement and forecasting

You also use market research to help set and track SMART objectives for your marketing activities. SMART objectives are specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and timely.

Market research results can give you competitor benchmarks. They can also give you benchmarks against previous activities you did. These help you set your new objectives. 

So, for each marketing activity, you can identify a ‘size of prize’. How much demand / sales will the activity generate? You then divide this forecast by the cost to work out the return on investment target for each activity.

This helps you decide if activities are worth doing. This helps with the business case and profit and loss calculations you may need to secure the budget for them. Basing your marketing plan on direct customer feedback means your activities are more likely to drive sales. It helps build confidence in your plans.

This is why demand measurement and forecasting is such a common way to use market research in the marketing plan.

How will your brand get there - marketing mix and activities

The final step of the marketing plan is to decide on the marketing mix. You use this to create specific action plans. 

See our marketing plan guide for more on the marketing mix. Or check out this example of a marketing mix in action.

But, when it comes to market research in the marketing plan, it’s used to :-

  • prioritise which areas of the mix to focus on
  • provide evidence for recommendations
  • establish measures to track.

Let’s look at some examples of key elements in the marketing plan which depend on market research.

Examples of the marketing mix 4Ps and 7Ps - product, price, promotion, place, people, process, physical location

Marketing innovation

With marketing innovation, market research helps you identify how to take advantage of opportunities.

This could be completely new products or services. Or updates to your existing offer. New packaging, for example. Or new customer experience improvements.

The ideas for these innovations can come from many sources. From R&D teams, supply chain teams and sales teams, for example.

But these ideas will only work if customers like them enough to buy them. So, you need market research with customers to validate the ideas. 

Marketing innovation normally applies to changes in the product or service. But the same concepts apply to changes in other parts of your marketing mix.

For example, market research can help you forecast the impact of price changes. Or changes in your place strategy – where and how you sell your products. Whatever your planned innovation, you’ll need market research to understand how customers will respond to your changes.

Marketing communications

Communication activities like advertising and media have the biggest reach of any of your marketing activities. They’re usually your biggest area of marketing spend. You can use market research in the marketing plan to help you make sure you spend this money wisely.

For example, you can use qualitative market research to help refine your advertising ideas. You can test adverts with quantitative research before you launch them, to check for impact and relevance.

Market research helps you improve your communications because it gives you direct feedback from customers.

Blank Billboard seen from the ground against a clear cloudy sky

Does your message work for the target audience? Does it stand out from competitors? Do they understand it? Will it motivate them to buy your brand? 

You can also use it to quantify the likely sales impact of these activities. This helps you work out how much you need to spend, and what the (sales) return on that spend will be. So, how many customers will like the advertising? How many will find it relevant? And how many will be motivated enough by it to buy your product? 

Once your comms activity goes live, you can then use continuous quantitative market research to track its impact. You can work out the advertising impact on your sales and profits

For longer-running campaigns, market research helps tell you when advertising starts to wear out. This is when customers have seen an advert so often that it starts to lose its impact.

Marketing performance measurement

For almost all marketing activities, market research helps you set objectives and track progress in how you’re performing against those objectives. 

Market research gives you rich data to diagnose what’s driving changes in brand perception and the impact of marketing activities.

So, for example, digital marketing data like website visitors and social media responses can help you understand how online factors impact on your performance.

Customer satisfaction surveys and feedback systems such as Net Promoter Score can help you track how you’re going with customers. (Check out our Customer Experience guide for more on these). 

Many businesses set up an ongoing performance dashboard to track key measures. Continuous market research is usually the main source of data for this.

How to present market research in the marketing plan

The final challenge is how you pull all this information and insights together into a compelling story. 

We’ve covered a lot of “what” you need to cover so far. But to drive actions you also need to play out “how” you’ll persuade the people in your business to follow your plans. 

As per our market research storytelling article, it’s helpful to plan out a clear story structure and story type.

It also helps to think of your internal audience and how much and what they’ll want to know. For this, you often need to create 3 versions of the market research story for your marketing plan.

Woman on stage holding a piece of paper presenting to an audience in an auditorium with a sign saying product school in the background

3 versions of your market research story for your marketing plan

First, there’s the elevator pitch version. A 30-second story which has anyone who hears it wanting to find out more. Think of it as the film trailer version of your story. 

Then the edited “just enough” version. This strikes a balance. Clear and easy to understand. But also shares enough detail to drive actions. As per our market research storytelling guide, we’re big fans of using the Business Model Canvas as a starting point for this. 

Lastly, the full, unedited version. This covers everything. It’s like the DVD extras when you buy the movie. Most people won’t even look at this. But some detail-driven people will. It makes sure you don’t miss or lose anything. 

Tell the right story to the right audience and you’ll have them hooked. That’s what gets you from market research insights to marketing plan actions. 

Conclusion - Market research in the marketing plan

Ideally, customer understanding drives all your marketing activity. That understanding comes from your market research. No market research, no marketing.

This is why you need market research in the marketing plan.

It improves the quality of the decisions you make about how to win customers. You make informed decisions based on what customers want and need.

This guide covered where market research fits into the brand development process and the marketing plan. How you gather data and insights to analyse the market. How you organise that data to help you make decisions. 

Question mark spray painted onto a tree trunk among a wood of trees

Then, we looked at how you use market research to inform where you are now, where you want to be in 6 to 18 months and how you’ll get there. We picked out key areas like marketing innovation, marketing communications and performance measurement where market research is vital. 

And then finally, we shared tips on how to talk about market research in the marketing plan. How to present the results in different contexts, so you tell a clear and memorable story. 

Because after all, a clear and memorable market research story is more likely to have a happy ending for your brand.  

Three-Brains and market research skills

We coach and consult to help businesses improve their market research skills. We can help you identify your research needs, manage the research process, and convert the results into stronger marketing actions.

Check out our other market research guides to learn more. Or get in touch if you need help to raise your game in getting the most out of market research.

Use this market research brief template when working with your market research agency to brief them on market research-related tasks.

3 pages including a blank template, a guide to completing each section and an example brief from the vegan ice cream case study in our secondary research skill guide.

Download it here or from our resources section. 

Powerpoint and Keynote versions of this document available on request. 

Market research brief template
Click to download the pdf

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