Market research in the marketing plan
You do market research to learn more about customers, but it’s pointless unless you can then use that knowledge to grow your business. So, you need to use that customer knowledge throughout the brand development process. And, you need to use market research in the marketing plan, to map out what you’re going to do to meet customer needs.
This guide shows you where market research fits in brand development and the marketing plan. You’ll learn how to use market research in key areas like innovation, communications and performance management. And we’ll finish with tips on how to be concise and impactful when you present market research in the marketing plan.
Table of Contents
Market research and the brand development process
Market research helps you understand customers.
So, the end of the market research process, is really the start of the brand development process.
These two processes need to connect as two strong links in your overall marketing chain of activities.
It outlines where your business is now, where it wants to be in 6 to 18 months time, and how it’s going to get there.
Analyse your market
The process itself starts with an analysis of the market. Gather and review your marketing data, and existing research you have. Organise what you know, and work out research questions for what you don’t.
Then plan out the secondary, qualitative and quantitative research you need to fill in the knowledge gaps. This research and analysis needs to answe key questions about what’s going on with customers.
So, what’s actually happening in the market? Who’s winning and who’s losing? What are customers talking about and what new trends have appeared since the last time you did research? What events and influences are having the most impact on customers?
For this situation analysis, you need to create a short list of these events and influences. Prioritise them on how big an impact they have on your business. For each event and influence you list, question it with a “so what?”. If you can’t answer the “so what?”, then it’s probably not that impactful.
You go through this, so you can get a sense check of how confident you feel to make decisions about what to do to win customers over the next 6 to 18 months.
Some businesses have well-established continuous quantitative research systems like brand health tracking, which help with their analysis. Others might have regular “voice of the consumer” systems, where customer experience processes make sure your regularly capture customer feedback. If you do have these sorts of systems, you want to make sure that your trend data is as up to date as possible.
But often you won’t have these systems, or you’re expanding into new areas. So, you’ll identify gaps in your understanding about customers. This usually triggers the need for new market research to fill in the gaps.
Summarise key insights and learnings
So when you’ve collated existing relevant research and added any new research, your next aim is to organise and summarise all these insights and learnings.
You want a succinct summary of facts about where the business is right now, and what it means.
There’s no single best format for this summary, but we’re used to it being one or two Powerpoint pages, usually as a two column table.
Insight and learning on the left column. And implication / “so what?” in the right column.
What most marketers find difficult here is being choiceful and concise. There’s a huge temptation to regurgitate all the market research you have. To include things that are “interesting”.
But, as we already said, only include the events and influences that have an impact on your business. Only include the ones that can drive decisions and actions.
Keep the “interesting, but don’t know what to do with it” stuff for the appendices, if you really feel the need.
The 3 key areas you need to review here are competitors and the category, how customers perceive your brand (your brand identity) and 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.
So, this could be competitor new product launches or new advertising campaigns, for example.
It could be price changes or changes in their brand identity.
Try to summarise the impact those have on customers, and your brand.
From a category point of view, this could be changes in retail and distribution channels, say new retailers or changes in e-Commerce, for example.
Brand perception is a set of measures you use to track the quality of your interactions with customers.
They can be based on measures in the brand choice funnel like awareness and consideration.
Or, they can be more features, benefits and other attributes you want customers to associate with your brand.
These could be statements like, “is good value”, “is high quality”, “is the most innovative brand”, “is the most exciting brand” and so on.
You use these measures as a way of measuring the health or strength of your brand. When a measure starts to drop, that’s a sign or symptom that something’s not working. And for that, you need to dig a little deeper.
Diagnose results of previous marketing activity
Your previous marketing activity drives changes in brand perception. But, you’ll have more data about these activities activity you can use to diagnose why brand perceptions changed the way they did.
So for example, if you’re looking at how your advertising performed, you can look at media data like the level of investment, the share of voice (how you spent versus competitors) and the reach and frequency numbers.
For a product launch review, you can look at marketing data like the number of trialists and repeat buyers. You can look at distribution data. How many retailers stocked your product, and how did it perform in-store, for example?
Each previous marketing activity you review, you should compare the actual performance vs the objective set out before you did that activity. You want to try and explore any differences, and rationalise why they happened. This gives you direction on what to do next.
This summary of competitors and category, brand perception and your previous marketing activity helps you set up the next stage of the brand development process. That next stage is where you define the brand goal.
But, you’ll also find this summary can be used in other parts of your planning process. So, you can easily drop it in as a summary at the front of your marketing plan, for example. The situation analysis summary sets a context for everything that comes afterwards.
It’s a quick way to bring everyone up to speed with what’s going on in the market.
Segmentation, targeting and positioning
We cover brand goal setting in some depth in our guide to the brand development process, so we won’t spend much time on it here. Market research provides context for setting the goal, but it’s a different skill to actually set the goal.
We do, however, want to look at segmentation, targeting and positioning as market research plays a significant role there.
You start this process by defining the total number of potential customers in the market. You then break down this total number into smaller distinct segments who share similar characteristics.
After a review of the attractiveness of each segment, you decide which segments or segments to focus on. You target those segments specifically with your marketing activity. (and choose not to target other parts of the market)
You then finish the process, by deciding how you want to position your brand with those target customers. What’s your key benefit for those customers, and how and why should they believe you?
At each of these stages, market research plays a role.
So, for example, you need segmentation research to identity customers at a total market level. This goes on to identify which variables to use to break the total market into smaller, more meaningful segments.
Characteristics of “good” segmentations
The best way to segment a market depends on the characteristics of that market. So, there’s no single best way to do it for every type of market.
However, there are some criteria you can use to help judge if your segmentation is a “good” one when you do it.
So, for example, the segmentation needs to be easy to understand and explain.
It needs to give you clear recommendations that you can turn into actions in your marketing plan. The segments themselves need to be easy to measure and track.
We go into more detail on the pros and cons of demographic, occasion-based and attitudinal variables in our full guide to segmentation, targeting and positioning. But, the short answer is that you ideally need a mix of all three types of variable for a really good segmentation.
Demographic, occasion and attitudinal variables
Demographics such as age, gender and location make it easy to identify specific groups of people for media buying for example. But, on their own they’re not that helpful to understand decision-making and brand choice.
Occasion-based information such as time of day, day of week, and location of purchase also help with media planning. They can also help with specific marketing decisions like where to focus sales promotions and when to carry out digital marketing activities. But they’re not that helpful to understand differences in brand perception, or underlying motivations.
Attitudinal information on the other hand, really lets you get under the skin of customers. It helps you understand their motivations and psychological drivers. (For more on this, see our article on behavioural science). This is great for creating advertising messages and refining your brand identity. But, it doesn’t help you with where to find these types of people. Let’s say your target audience are “optimists” or “high-energy”, it’s going to be hard to find those specific segments.
So, in an ideal world, 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 gone through a big segmentation project knows you need a lot of good analytics skills to work out which demographic, occasion-based and attitudinal variables actually impact brand choice. You need to look for strong correlations between variables and actual sales numbers.
And then, as we said, make those easy to explain, make sure they give you clear recommendations and be able to track and measure them easily.
Targeting and positioning
Again, you can read in much more detail about targeting and positioning in our separate guide.
The main focus of these stages is to make decisions on where and how your brand will play in the market.
Market research feeds information into these decisions. And with more information, you make better decisions.
In particular, you use a lot of quantitative research in these stages. These are validated facts about customers and improve the effectiveness of your decision-making.
You use research facts to identify the segments with the best opportunities, for example. You use research facts to validate your positioning choices. Market research helps you make better decisions.
During the segmentation, targeting and positioning process, it’s good practice to create a visual summary of your key segments.
This is done with a template called a customer persona. (sometimes also called a customer profile)
This is a one page summary that brings the target segment to life. You summarise key facts from the market research on that segment.
These facts help you describe who the target customer is, what they think and feel, and what influences them.
You can use this profile in briefs and at other times you need to describe the target customer.
Use it with your marketing agencies, for example when you need to create new advertising and media campaigns. Use it with your sales and customer experience teams, so they understand who the customer is, and what makes them tick.
Build it into your marketing plan, so everyone in your business has a clear picture of the target customer.
This is where you create a series of intangible and tangle assets that 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 can use market research to support many decisions when you create your brand identity.
For example, your essence, values and personality should fit with your target customers like and look for in brands.
You can identify desirable features, benefits and attributes from market research and include them in your brand identity.
Brand perception then is how customers view your brand identity. You can use continuous quantitative research to track this as we covered earlier. Do customers perceive your brand in the way you want it to come across? That’s important to know. Because, if they don’t then you’ve got problems.
It’s clear market research plays a key role at almost every stage of the brand development process. But once you’re clear on the market and your brand, you still need to pull that all together in your marketing plan.
Where market research fits into the marketing plan
The marketing plan comes towards the end of the brand development process. But, the marketing plan only covers a defined period of time. Most marketing plans cover 12 months, though we know some businesses focus only on the next 6 months, and others plan out to 18 months or more.
Before the end of that defined period, you’ll need to be working on the plan to cover the next time period. You’ll need to review and update it with details of any changes in market.
Marketing plans vary greatly in the level of detail they cover, but we believe all marketing plans need to answer as a minimum three key questions.
They need to cover where your business is now. They need to cover where it wants to be in 6 to 18 months time. And they need to cover, how you’re going to get there.
Market research plays a role in answering each of these questions.
Where the business is now
In terms of where the business is now, market research provides the data you use to create an up-to-date situation analysis for your brand and business.
This analysis needs to concisely share what’s going on in the market.
You can start with the situation analysis you created at the analyse your market stage of the brand development process. All you need to do, is review and update it with any recent changes.
That can include new information you’ve uncovered, or removing information that’s no longer relevant.
This information normally comes from hard facts and specific insights you find through quantitative research.
The role of market research in the marketing plan here is to describe the market. Anyone who reads your situation analysis should quickly be able to grasp what’s going on.
It’s about building a shared understanding.
Your situation analysis should summarise key learnings and facts, and then also identify implications. Because these learnings can cover a wide range of topics, you need to work out a way to organise the information to make it easier to understand. One of the most common ways to do this is with a SWOT analysis.
In a SWOT analysis, you capture key strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats on a single page. In most cases, these come from interpreting the results of your market research.
Market research identifies what you should include in your SWOT, and how important each one is. (Check out our marketing plan guide, for a fuller example of a SWOT analysis that you can use in the marketing plan.)
In particular, quantitative research is used a lot to fill out SWOT templates. In this example, key insights like “Brand X is x% ahead of Brand Y on “it’s staff provide the highest quality service” and “Those exposed 5X more likely to consider than those who have not seen any media” came from quantitative market research.
Where does your business want to be?
From the learnings and implications of your situation analysis, you’ll then move on to where you want your brand to be. What are your objectives for the next 6 to 18 months?
This normally cover three key areas – your customer experience strategy, your marketing mix and your key marketing activities.
It’ll include the customer profile you already created.
So, it could make recommendations about the need for marketing innovation to take on a competitor, for example.
These lead you to setting objectives, and then starting to outline action plans to deliver on each of those objectives. And here, again is another place where market research in the marketing plan plays a significant role.
Demand measurement and forecasting
So, for example you can use market research to help you set and track SMART objectives (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and timely) for your marketing activities.
Market research results can give you benchmarks against competitors. They can show you how previous activities drove a change in the measures.
So, for each marketing activity, you can identify a ‘size of prize’. What’s the level of demand (sales) the activity will generate? You can then take this forecast and divide it by the cost to create a return on investment target for each activity.
This helps you work out if that activity is a profitable way to spend your marketing dollars. This is helpful when you put together a business case and a profit and loss for external investors, or internal management.
Basing your marketing plan on direct customer feedback means your activities are much more likely to drive sales. And, this 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. And this mix leads you to then create specific action plans.
There’s more detail on the marketing mix in our guide to the marketing plan.
But, when it comes to market research in the marketing plan, it’s used to prioritise which areas of the mix to focus on, to provide evidence for recommendations and to establish measures to track.
Let’s look at some examples of key elements in the marketing plan where you need to use market research.
With marketing innovation, market research helps you identify opportunities and how to take advantage of them.
The ideas for these innovations can come from many sources. So, ideas can come from R&D teams, supply chain teams and sales teams for example.
But these ideas will only work if customers like them, and will buy them. So, you need market research with customers to validate the ideas.
Marketing innovation normally applies to changes in the product of 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 where and how you sell your products.
Whatever your planned marketing innovation, you need market research to understand how customers will respond to your changes.
Communication activities like advertising and media have the biggest reach of any of your marketing activities, and are 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 then 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.
Does your communication idea 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 consumers will like the advertising? How many will find it relevant? And how many will be motivated by the advertising to buy your product?
Once your communication activity goes live, you can then use continuous quantitative market research to track its impact over time. You can work out the advertising impact on your sales and profits.
For longer-running campaigns, market research can help tell you when advertising starts to wear out. This is when customers have seen an advert so often, it starts to have less and less 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 can give you richer levels of 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 guide to Customer Experience for more on these measures.
In many businesses, you would set a monthly performance dashboard with the key measures you want to track. Continuous market research is usually the main source of the data that goes into this dashboard.
How to present market research in the marketing plan
One of the most challenging aspects of market research is knowing how to turn the result into recommendations and actions. So, to finish off this guide, we’ll share some tips on the best ways to present market research in the marketing plan.
As we covered earlier, the marketing plan is not a place to dump all the details of your market research. It’s needs to be concise and focus on actions.
So, no need for your marketing plan to contain anything on your research methodology, for example. No need to have detailed answers to all research questions. And certainly no need to swamp people with too many pages of charts and data. No-one wants to know every detail.
Relevant data, information and insights
You need to focus it down to only the most relevant data, information and insights. These are the ones that help you tell the story of the marketing plan in the clearest way. Because your plan needs to tell a good story.
People often see the marketing plan as a long-winded dry summary of facts with too many powerpoint slides and too much detail. But that’s not what it’s supposed to be.
It’s supposed to be a story that convinces and persuade people to do what you need them to do. It should hook people in, so they want to support the plan. You can use many of the techniques we cover in our storytelling guide to help you do this.
So, for example, your situation analysis, your future ambition and your action plan forms a nice clear beginning, middle and end structure for your story.
If you think about what you want the audience to actually do with the marketing plan. this helps you prioritise and pick only the most relevant and important parts of the story. Be ruthless, and either cut things out that are less important, or banish them to the appendix.
You want your marketing plan story to be easy to understand and remember. It needs to get the audience to buy in to the objectives, and get them keen to help drive actions. And it needs to do all this in a concise and easy to understand way.
So, let’s look at a couple of ways you can do this.
The elevator pitch
One of the easiest ways to practice conciseness is to use the elevator pitch technique.
This is where you imagine you only have 30 seconds to tell the story of your marketing plan. So, if you had your audience in an elevator, what would you tell them in the time the elevator took to move between floors? (obviously, you don’t actually present in an elevator …)
When time is short, it forces you to only pick the most critical things to say.
You choose your words carefully. Every word has to count.
(by the way, you can do a similar exercise by trying to write a Tweet version of your plan, if digital’s more your thing)
It’s a great way to prepare for presenting market research in the marketing plan. It forces you to be concise and make choices. Use this technique to break specific recommendations into manageable chunks.
So this, for example, is our elevator pitch for our articles on market research :-
“We’ve found x% of businesses want to get better at market research, but find x% of existing websites focus on the technical side, and not on how to use it to grow sales. So we will build market research content that’s gives more practical advice on market research anyone can use.”
So, here we have a market research fact – X% of businesses want … – followed with the action we’ll take to fix it. (practical market research content) That’s an example of the right level of detail of market research in the marketing plan.
The presentation rule of three
You’ll have noticed that we like the number three. It’s in our name, but you’ll see when we give examples, or structure our guides and articles, we often group information into chunks of three.
This is not an accident.
In very simple terms, it taps into a psychological insight, that people find it easier remember things in groups of three.
Your brain organises complex data into groups of three when it needs to remember things.So, if you present things in groups of three, you make it easier to remember.
Think about how you remember your phone number, for example. Most people don’t remember it as one long string of 10 or 11 numbers. They group the number into three chunks.
Try it. Try it on other people, we bet you’ll hear the pause, when people stop between the groups of numbers.
“Oh four one four (pause) five five five (pause) five five five”.
Once you hear it, you can’t not notice it next time.
It’s why three is so common in storytelling. Think about it. Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end.
Think about it in jokes. An English man, a Scots man and an Irish man go into a bar.
Listen out for it. Three is everywhere!
Use the rule of three when you present
Use it when you want to present market research in the marketing plan. Pick out your top three insights to back up your main points. Make three key recommendations when you land an important insight. And give three examples when you want to bring a point to life.
Your audience won’t necessarily notice you’re doing it. But, they’ll be more likely to remember what you said. And more likely to buy into what you say.
Organising the story of your marketing plan
The elevator pitch is helpful to make you more concise. The rule of three helps you organise specific elements of your story to make them more memorable.
But, there’s still a job to do to pull the whole story together. It’s important to bear in mind when you present, that most people have a limited amount of time they can concentrate for.
In particular, in bigger businesses where there may be multiple marketing plans, your audience might be hearing 5 or 10 other marketing plans on the same day.
You need to organise your story, so that it “flows” and keeps people’s attention. It needs to have enough facts, so that it’s credible, but not so many facts that you bore people to death.
Marketing plans should not be boring
And when you use market research in the marketing plan, that should definitely not be boring, because it’s where the voice of your customers connects with your brand.
So, organise your presentation well. Think about how many slides you actually need. How long do you need to take? If it’s more than 20 to 30 slides and will take more than an hour to present, there’s a good chance, you’d done too much.
Can you send some of it before or afterwards, so people can read it separate to the presentation? In fact, can you summarise it down, so you’ve got a nice neat one page summary of the plan, including your research results?
Our favourite one page plan format is the business model canvas.
This neat and concise one page summary picks the key elements that you’d find in a marketing plan, and organises them in a way that’s easy to understand and explain. That includes any market research in the marketing plan.
It starts with a focus on the customer and what you want to do with them (the external analysis).
Then, it covers the internal resources you need to meet the needs of the customer.
It then pulls these together into your central value proposition and key business metrics.
And by the way, you’ll notice this story flow even has three distinct elements – external, internal and value proposition / metrics.
Told you, three is everywhere.
Conclusion - Market research in the marketing plan
Ideally, your understanding of customers drives each and every part of your marketing activity. And to understand customers, you need to do market research. No market research, no marketing.
So, it’s important to include a summary of the market research in the marketing plan.
It helps you test marketing innovation and make informed decision based on what people actually want and need.
In this guide, we’ve covered how market research plugs into the brand development process and the marketing plan. We’ve covered key topics you need to research like competitors, brand perception and the impact of your advertising.
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. We talked about how to be concise with an elevator pitch. We talked about how to use the rule of three to organise key facts and make them more memorable. And then, of course the value in organising your market research in your marketing plan into a clear and memorable story.
Because after all, if you can tell a good story from your market research, you’re more likely to have a happy ending.
Three-brains and market research skills
We coach and consult to help businesses improve their market research skills. We can identify your research needs, manage the research process to answer them, and help you convert the results into strong marketing plans and activity.
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.
Powerpoint and Keynote versions of this document available on request.
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