I wrote about market research in a previous blog. Since then, we’ve run a presentation to small businesses entitled ‘Market Research – it’s easier than you think to ask your customers what they want’.  You can view this presentation for yourself at Hixsons on Youtube here:


This generated interesting comments and feedback, and as market research is such a huge topic I’ve returned to it to share a few more thoughts and tips here.

It is really important to approach any market research with a healthy dose of common sense.

Simple, you say, but from personal experience I know how easy it is to get swept up in a sea of fascinating statistical results to research without standing back and being objective about it.  If everyone acted on everything that market research said the world would be a very different place!

The example I gave in the presentation was a real one. Some years ago I managed the launch of a new membership scheme. We put it into research asking whether the target audience would be prepared to pay £40 per year. The response was a resounding ‘no’. Concerned, (as this was what we wanted to launch it at) we stopped and considered. Instead of just shelving the project, we put it back into research asking whether they would be prepared to join for £3.50 per month. A much more positive result followed this time, with many more saying yes. The numerically minded amongst you will have worked out that 12 times £3.50 is actually more than £40 per year! So a lot of it is down to how you ask the question. (And by the way, we launched it at £3.50 per month and it worked – we recruited 20,000 of them!).

In questionnaires, whether sent by post or email, use a ‘please reply by’ date for response. This can be set for your convenience. It adds some urgency to the recipient to encourage response, and rather than filing it away (or perhaps in the bin) will encourage people to respond.

If you are using a range of tick boxes to measure a rating, for example ‘please rate the service you received on a scale of 1 – 6, with 1 being poor and 6 being excellent’ always have an even number of boxes. If you use an odd number people will more often than not opt for the middle box. All that tells you is that you are average. If you have 6 boxes, at least they can opt for the 3rd or 4th box which will tell you more, either that they’re a bit less than happy or a bit more than happy!

Be wary of using incentives to encourage response. Yes, using them (for example a free shopping voucher, free box of chocolates etc. on return of the questionnaire) will improve response, but there are many people who will do it just to get something for nothing. Their responses are therefore likely to be less accurate, and will sway the overall results of the research. It will also cost you more money to buy the incentives. So if possible, steer away or seek professional advice first.

Lastly, a relatively quick, cheap and easy way to do some research is to conduct a ‘mystery shopping’ exercise. Referred to in the last blog when we talked about customer care and telephone service levels, it involves someone calling in to your business anonymously (so make sure that the voice can’t be recognised) posing as a potential customer with a query. It will give you first-hand experience of what it feels like to be a potential client of your business, and flag up areas where service levels can be improved, for example how long did you have to wait before your call was answered? Were you passed around the organisation? Did you get a satisfactory response? Were staff courteous and helpful?

Doing this can let you address areas for improvement, flag up training needs, and create a culture of continuous improvement. Share the findings back with staff and make them aware of mystery shopping – it will improve the way they deal with clients’ calls.

I hope that you have found some of this helpful and can use it in your business.

If you would like to talk to us about how you can improve your marketing strategy or for any business advice or accountancy requirements, contact us on office@hixsons.co.uk