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Market research: what it is and how to recruit & retain better participants

By Laura Ojeda Melchor|7 min read|Updated Feb 16, 2024

An incentive and a survey.

When you come up with an exciting new idea for a product, it’s tempting to believe everyone else will love it too. Especially if your friends, family, and coworkers seem to adore the idea right along with you. 

Why not just create this cool new thing and push it to market? 

Back in the 1970s, Gerber did just that. The baby food company looked at its bestselling glass jars of mush and thought hmm, I bet college students and broke young adults would love this too!

So it created a new product line of baby food, but for grown-ups. Beef burgundy puree, anyone? What about a mushy dose of ham casserole? Gerber Singles is here to deliver! 

As you might expect (but apparently, they didn’t), the product flopped hard. Gerber discontinued its Singles line within a year. 

Your story doesn’t have to end the same way. With market research, you can find out if there’s an audience for your product before you actually make and sell it. 

Businesses can also learn a lot about customer needs and behaviors to stay competitive and make better-informed decisions. With a more thorough understanding of new or changing demographics and geographies, you’re better positioned to manage risk and measure the success of current product offerings. 

In other words, it increases the likelihood that your product or service will be successful.  

What is market research?

Market research is the stage of product development where you learn everything you can about your target audience. 

The first step is to find out who’s in that audience of ideal buyers. There are billions of people in the world. Which ones need what you’re selling? 

Let’s say you work at Gerber. Your cool new idea is stain-resistant Gerber-branded clothing for toddlers. Kids need clothes, Gerber is a trusted name, and your trademark product inevitably falls on clothes. At face value, it seems like a safe idea. 

After the Singles debacle, you decide you still need to verify whether anyone would actually buy the product.

Here’s a quick overview of how to launch a market research campaign for your idea. 

Find your target audience

Market researchers always start by defining who is in their target audience. Your goal here is to ask yourself several key questions: 

  • Who would buy this product? 

  • What interests does this group of people have? 

  • What are their demographics? 

  • What problem of theirs can my product solve?

  • Where do they usually spend their money? 

You can poke around for insights from secondary sources, like third-party research firms and news articles. These secondary sources can give you sense of who you’re actually looking for, what they’re interested in, and some of their common habits and problems. 

Validate your idea

Now that you’ve gathered some information about your target audience, it’s time for some idea validation. This can be a nerve-wracking step: you’re about to find out if your target audience has any interest in your product or service. 

But remember, you haven’t spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this idea yet. You’re in the early stages. The stakes are relatively low. You can still adjust your product idea without wasting too much time and money.

Idea validation takes your product concept to a group of people in your target audience and asks them one simple question: would you buy this product?

The easiest way to do this is to run a survey on a tool like Qualtrics or Typeform. These tools let you gather a custom target audience and ask them important questions about your product idea. More information on that below. 

For example, you could ask a question like, “Would you buy stain-resistant clothing?” to an audience of parents with children under a certain age. 

You can incentivize your respondents with a reward to get high-quality, honest responses. 

Then, you can use the responses to guide your next steps. For example, let’s say your survey respondents express a cautious interest in your idea. Their main concerns are: 

  • Price: Why wouldn’t I just buy cheaper no-name brand clothes, since kids will just grow?

  • Quality: Gerber makes baby food. How does that qualify them to make well-designed toddler clothes?

  • Differentiation: This offering already exists, from a million other brands. Why should I choose yours?

You and your team could take this feedback and go back to the drawing board to figure out how to solve these problems. 

Run a focus group 

A focus group is a valuable market research tool. Focus groups are usually guided by moderators and recorded by observers—usually a product development or market research team. 

Think of a focus group as a safe place for your product’s warts and wrinkles to show themselves. Even though you’ve invested time and money into the focus group, the stakes are still relatively low. 

Some organizations use focus groups earlier in the process—before a prototype is ready. Others like to run focus groups when they have a working prototype for their target customers to test out. Many run focus groups throughout the product development process. 

Either way, the goal is to gather a small group of people to share their honest feedback on your product. In return, they receive compensation or a reward from your organization.

Size up your competitors 

Competitors are, well, competition. But they're also excellent teachers

Gather as much information as you reasonably can about your competitors': 

  • Strengths and weaknesses

  • Marketing and branding strategies

  • Cool new product lines or services

  • Web traffic and social media engagement

  • Customer reviews

Your organization can gather inspiration from their efforts—and learn from their shortcomings. You can also discover what sets your product apart. 

For example, let’s go back to our plan to launch Gerber-branded clothes for young children.

There are already plenty of clothing brands out there, and they make perfectly acceptable sweatpants and t-shirts. But do those brands have the sheer amount of name recognition and associated trust as Gerber? Are they truly stain-resistant? Maybe, but maybe not.

That means your idea may have some footing among the competition. 

Analyze your data

By now, you’ve got lots of qualitative and quantitative data to work through. This step of a market researcher’s job involves getting all of it organized. That way, you can use the information to guide the rest of your marketing journey. 

This step is where you sort out the qualitative responses you got during your surveys and focus groups. Group them into themes and categories. 

Use visual tools like word clouds, graphs, and charts to help identify themes in your research. Do the same with your quantitative data—the measurable metrics you've collected, like demographic data about your target audience. 

These insights will help you figure out the direction your product should go. They’ll also guide your outreach efforts as you connect with your target customers and spread the word about your new product.

For example, in your research, you may find words like “trust” and “comfort’ bubble up to the surface as a consistent pattern in your word cloud. This gives you an indication that you should lean into trust in your marketing materials, and comfort in your product design. 

Why is market research important? 

Market research helps you understand your customers. Dedicated market researchers care about their customers’ needs. They want to create products and services that hit the spot. 

Imagine Gerber had done some in-depth market research in the 1970s before it released baby food for adults. Would the product developers have discovered that adults didn’t want to eat room-temperature ham casserole mush? (We’re 99.99% sure they would’ve.) 

Would they have leaned into the company’s fruity flavors and created mini smoothies-in-a-jar instead? Would their ads have pivoted away from reminding customers how lonely they were and touted the benefits of a ready-made fruit puree snack instead?

It’s likely. They would’ve spent a comparatively small amount of money on research to avoid the direct losses they incurred from launching a product the market had little interest in. And they would’ve reaped the profits of a more suitable opportunity the market actually wanted. 

When to do market research 

Even though it’s particularly important during the early stages of product development, market research is something to do all the time. It keeps you informed about your customers and helps you stay on top of any trends. 

That said, market researchers pay special attention to periods of change. It’s always a good time for a fresh round of market research when you’re: 

  • Creating a new product or service

  • Expanding your product line

  • Trying to understand why sales have plummeted—or risen exponentially. 

Change can be hard on a business. Market research is a trusty tool to help you navigate those natural yet nerve-wracking ups and downs. 

Participant recruitment: Attracting and retaining study participants

Earlier, we said we’d talk about how to attract participants for things like surveys and focus groups. But what drives someone to say yes to taking time out of their busy life to help you launch a new product? 

Rewards and incentives. 

It’s that simple. 

Sure, it would be nice if we were all motivated by our innate helpfulness and curiosity. But that just isn’t the reality, and that’s OK. Many people do appreciate the opportunity to participate in an interview, survey, or focus group. But when there’s a meaningful reward to earn, they feel like their time is valued and respected and are more likely to give their attention.

How to recruit participants

The key to finding and attracting participants is to have the reward part figured out beforehand. People are more likely to join a study if they know upfront what they'll receive in return. 

Even better if you offer a small incentive when a person signs up and a larger one when they complete the study. 

This insight comes from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). 

In a joint effort, researchers from these organizations mailed 175,000 surveys to mortgage owners between 2014 and 2021.

During this time, they experimented with various incentive structures. After analyzing the results of their studies, they found that people responded best to a $5 or $10 pre-survey payment, along with $20 after completing survey.

With an incentive in hand, you can reach out to: 

  • Social media connections

  • Facebook and LinkedIn groups

  • Professional organizations

  • Universities and trade schools

  • Family and friends

Back to our earlier example: if we wanted to gather survey respondents in our target audience—parents of young children—we could advertise the opportunity in a parenting Facebook group or Reddit forum. 

We could also take out ads in parenting newsletters or online magazines. 

Determining how much to pay participants 

The team at Tremendous has conducted a lot of research on what participants are looking for when they sign up for a survey. We’ve discovered several things about incentives for market research. 

People generally want at least $48 if a market research survey or interview takes 30 minutes to complete. Delivery method matters, too—people want cash or gift cards to a retailer of their choice that they can use right away. 

But there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the payment amount for a survey, focus group, or interview. 

You have to take your organization’s financial constraints into account and balance those out with your participants’ needs. 

Use the research incentive calculator foran estimate for what your participants might expect. 

Key takeaways

Market research can help you avoid expensive snafus, like Gerber's adult baby food venture. 

And a big part of market research involves putting your ideas out there and getting feedback from your target audience. 

Remember these key points: 

  • Market research is best done continually. From validating new ideas and testing prototypes to finding the right customers and creating ads, market research is an ongoing cycle. 

  • Participants are everywhere. From Facebook groups to local libraries to professional organizations, you can find potential research participants anywhere. 

  • Meaningful incentives matter. There are plenty of people who want to help you do market research—they just need the right incentive, delivered in the right way.

With Tremendous, you can send research participants incentives that make their time worthwhile. Our digital rewards platform makes sending and receiving rewards fast, easy, and frustration-free. Sign up now or take a demo with us to see how it works.

Published February 16, 2024

Updated February 16, 2024

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