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The target audience for market research marketing

Surgeon wearing a head covering and mask making an incision while a colleague holds a suction tube

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Why read this? : We look at how well market research meets the needs of its marketing target audience. Learn from how keyword research what people want to know about market research. And learn from our experiences where market researchers get it right, and where they get it wrong. Read this for ideas on how to make market research connect better with marketing. 

Marketing always starts with the customer. 9 times out of 10 that means market research. It’s how you understand customers. 

In fact, market research skills was the first section we wrote when we started this website. Our first blog article was on the importance of market research.

We did these first because customer understanding is where marketing starts. It’s that important. If you don’t understand customers and what they need, you can’t do marketing. 

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

For example, you need to do segmentation research to understand the total market. And then focus on a target audience and research their needs.

However, when we were doing our research to write about market research, we noticed a strange thing. 

Despite most marketers we know “saying” market research is important, it seems very few keep up with what’s happening in the market research world. Not many marketers talking about the impact Covid-19 will have on market research, for example. 

Market research keywords

We worked this out from looking at market research keywords using Google Ads Keyword planner. 

This was part of our secondary research process, looking at keywords for inspiration to write the market research content we have on the site. 

Very few people search on content about market research. Which seemed strange to us. We expected to see much higher search numbers. 

Google Ads Keywords tool

It made us wonder. Is the market research industry marketing itself well?  Yes, there are some searches for keywords around market research. But really, the numbers are small.

Really small.

Now, we filter our keyword search on Australia only. This will reduce the amount of searches. But for most terms we looked at, we saw less than 100 searches a month.

And in fact, many market research terms were less than 10 searches a month. 

So, with over 2.3m businesses in Australia and the Australian market research industry employing around 10,000 full-time equivalent people, why is it that less than 100 people a month search for terms like market research advice, market research plan or market research proposal?

For an industry that’s the start point for marketing itself, it makes you wonder what’s driving that behaviour. Or to be more accurate, that non-behaviour. Is market research marketing itself well to its own target audience? Why aren’t people searching more to find out about it?

Here’s some thoughts.

Great marketing - more than market research expertise

Market research is one of the more technical and process-oriented parts of marketing. In fact, until the recent rise in importance of marketing technology (where you need to understand IT and systems), market research was the destination for marketers with a more detail and process-centric mind. 

(though digital data and behavioural science now offer other ways for marketers to get into detail too). 

And that’s fine.

There’s clearly a need for market research to have standards in areas like sampling, questionnaire design and respondent privacy for example. Because you make important marketing decisions based on the research outcomes. It needs to be valid and free from bias. You also need to protect the respondent’s personal data.

There’s a skill set and a way of working behind these requirements which suits certain types of people.

We get it.

But here’s the thing.

Remember what we said earlier. Understanding your target audience is the start point for marketing. But it’s not the end point. Long-term sales from loyal customers is the end point.

This is something we think a lot of those smart people who work in market research often forget. It can drive you crazy sometimes. 

The end point is a strong connection between the brand and its target audience.

That’s not really down to the market researcher to drive. It’s usually down to the marketing team who make the key marketing decisions.

That’s usually a marketing (or brand) manager. Or, it’s a business owner wanting to know which marketing activities drive sales.

The insights you generate need to lead to brand activation that makes customers want to buy you. 

An old pocket watch dangling hypnosis style in front of a leather chair with a speech bubble saying "Buy me..."

Target audience for market researchers

Those types of people are the target audience for market researchers. But do market researchers really know what this target audience wants?

Do they want clear actionable answers to their research questions? Simple explanations of why previous campaigns or initiatives did or didn’t work? 

Obviously, they do.

So why do we end up with 100+ page Powerpoint decks instead? Full of complicated charts and p values. And a 20 minute recap of the research methodology we already approved in the proposal. (and which it’s too late to do anything about by the time of the debrief).

Only market researchers care about how to do market research

The market researcher and marketing manager / business owner relationship is a little like the anaesthetist and surgeon relationship. 

If the market research does their job properly, they set the marketing manager up to have a much better chance of success.

But like the surgeon, the marketing manager or business owner won’t care too much HOW the patient got knocked out. Just that they are knocked out, so they can carry on and get the job done. 

Surgeon wearing a head covering and mask making an incision while a colleague holds a suction tube

The hard work of market research for marketing

And let’s face it, there are elements of market research that are just hard work. That you’d really want someone else to worry about. 

Setting up and running focus groups for example. Unsociable hours, lots of hard work, and lots of questions about how valid qualitative results are when you present them. 

Then there’s the statistical process behind calculating sample size requirements and confidence intervals in quantitative research. Mind-numbingly tedious to do.

We freely admit that despite having worked in and with market research for decades, we always need to refer back to our notes every time we go through the sampling process. Even with three brains, we struggle to make the maths stick in our heads.

And if that’s from our experienced point of view, put yourself in the shoes of the new brand manager or new business owner. Who’s more worried about sales targets, and invoicing and customer deadlines. How interesting is a confidence level really? How much brain space do they have for degrees of freedom?

That’s why market research is essentially an outsourced skill for marketers and business owners. The technical aspects of market research don’t satisfy their need for actions and results. So they’re happy to outsource it.

And happy to outsource it to those who’ve shown themselves willing and capable of covering off the technical skills of market research.

Is market research marketing keeping up with digital?

Our final thought is that even in our recent experience, most market research is still done in much the same way as it was 20 or 30 years ago.

Qualitative, quantitative and secondary research form the bulk of the work done in market research. And yes, marketing technology might help some of these processes become more efficient these days.

Online samples for quant research (see for example our article on using Photoshop for marketing). Then there’s the vast library of secondary research available through Google.

Scrabble tiles spelling out Digital Marketing laid out on a wooden table

Market researchers should be embracing these opportunities. And yet, our perception is market researchers are on the whole a conservative bunch. They stick to what they know. When we wrote our article on digital evangelists, deniers and decathleters, many researchers would sit in the deniers camp. 

If we look at the training topics on the Australian Research society’s events calendar for example, the topics heavily focus on market research processes and techniques.

We don’t doubt that Sense-making, Scenario Thinking and Semiotics in Digital Media Analytics are interesting topics for market researchers.

But for the target audience of market researchers – remember, marketing managers and business owners – we’d struggle to see how these topics would convert into activity that’ll hit next month’s sales targets. 

Read through the rest of the list of topics all the way up to end of the year. There’s a common thread on how to “do” market research better.

But we struggled to find any topics, which covered how to “market” market research better.

It’s a very inward-looking list. 

Conclusion - market research marketing

We know and work with many market researchers. It’s not the first time we’ve banged the drum about the way they drive you crazy. And let’s face it, marketing managers and business owners are far from perfect either. 

But we believe market research is just too important, not to push market researchers to continually raise their game.

We’ve previously recommended Big Data* by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger as a must-read for anyone who works with or in market research.  

Man with hands behind head and a frustrated look on his face

The opportunities for market research and its ability to influence the chance of your business success has never been higher.

We have a tsunami of digital data about customers and what they want and do flowing through our digital ecosystems. We’ve got all the exciting new learnings from behavioural science to test out. 

And yet, here in 2020, we’re still making marketing decisions based on watching random focus groups. Just like we did in the last century. 

We want more than that from market research. More confidence in what they tell us. Better stories to bring the customer to life. And more actionable insights to make our marketing plans sing. 

We hope all those smart market research people can put their brains together and do these things. Because that’ll lead to better ways of market research marketing in the future.

We’re speaking as their target audience. Because that’s wha the audience for market research really wants isn’t it? If marketing’s about the customer, market research has to understand what it’s own customers really want too. 

Check out our guides to market research to find out more. Or contact us if you need expert advice in how to source and use market research for your business. 

* As Amazon Affiliates, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Photo Credit

Surgery photo by Olga Guryanova on Unsplash

Glasses : Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

Hypnosis Pocket Watch (adapted) : Photo by MK Hamilton on Unsplash

Digital Marketing : Photo by Diggity Marketing on Unsplash

Frustrated Man : Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash

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