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Agile market research for SMEs

Strategic Planning Director Frank Albrecht advises companies, particularly SMEs, about the most important questions concerning market research, freely accessible tools and the option of launching their own studies.

Market research tools – for small companies, too

It used to be that clients knew their buyers best. Today, with digitalisation, it’s no longer as simple. SMEs want to learn more about their target groups, which are becoming increasingly hidden, but these companies do not have the funds for traditional market research. A resource like the GfK market research institute would truly be far too expensive. But luckily, agencies have long since developed intelligent market research tools. They can put SMEs in the position to launch and immediately evaluate their own smaller studies. An ever-increasing number of SME agencies can provide a large portion of the necessary research themselves.

In this case, most people think of tools that can be used to develop, programme, implement and evaluate quantitative online surveys. But there are also helpful qualitative tools for things like online focus groups. In addition to the actual tools, there has also been progress in target group accessibility. A “metapanel” like CINT provides international access to many preselected target groups in just seconds.

Agency and market analysis company research

We at Bloom advertising agency do not have a fixed range of “market research” services. Instead, we always provide our customers the research that they actually need. This ranges from online communication tests to in-depth interviews and focus groups, through to employee surveys and target group segmentation. We have developed a fixed set of tools for our brand projects, which we usually handle completely in-house. For everything beyond that scope, we develop ad hoc solutions. We work with different partners to do this. Depending on the task, we cooperate with analysis companies, test studios and often with online panels, but never with advising institutions.

One example: For one international innovation project, we created a multi-step programme out of qualitative and quantitative steps. As the window between workshops is too short for traditional measures, we prepare everything with our partners, so the steps can be ready at the press of a button, and the results of one step can be used as input for the next step. It’s a fast, iterative approach.

We all tend to equate “agility” with “technology”. But it’s actually the framework conditions that tip the scales.

By the way: Larger research companies also offer interesting services for SMEs. For example, most institutions offer quite streamlined copy tests or participation in omnibus surveys. Furthermore, it is possible to buy into various panels and other market surveys.

Freely accessible tools for customer and market insights

There is already a large number of tools that can be helpful during creation and evaluation of quantitative measures. SurveyMonkey is very accessible, easy to use and has a very good range of services. But not everything is easy here: The servers they use are located in the USA. For many companies, this presents a problem. On the other hand, LimeSurvey requires experience and practice, but gives you the option of processing information on your own or the customer’s server. Tools like Netigate and especially quantilope are very well-developed and already offer a comprehensive set of proven tools with more complex evaluation options. I think these tools and methods are too expensive for anyone who does not need prefabricated tools or methods. Because, in general, they lack something: a good solution for the issue of open questions. In the qualitative area, for example, online focus groups are a good option (Innolytics, QuestionPro and others).

Initiate your own studies

Our experience has shown that smaller companies have a deficit when it comes to verified knowledge. So taking measures to fill these knowledge gaps initially seems like a smart step. But emphasis needs to be placed on the word “verified”. Every company needs to first ask itself what kind of findings they can actually verify if they perform a survey themselves.

A solid, successful first step can be to take internal polls or collect internal information. In these cases, the periphery and background are clear, the terminology for surveys isn’t too complex and the results are still highly relevant and generate interest within the company. Serious considerations have to be made when taking these types of steps. Because if something goes wrong, this self-initiated market research could leave a sour taste for a long time.

And care needs to be taken elsewhere, too. One thing has not changed, despite new digital methods, and it never will: without true expertise when creating and interpreting surveys, there is a real risk of misinterpretation or companies reading their own interpretations into the results. Many people have come to place too much faith in technology of late. One example is that many people have thought in terms of clicks for a long time.
But there are also solutions for smaller companies here. For example, they can consult an independent market researcher.

Combine creativity and technology

Especially when it comes to creativity, the new options are ideal. I can quickly test ideas internally or externally, get qualitative input or suggestions for improvements, and go right to the next step. I can immediately interrupt the process and initiate the next steps if I see that’s where things are heading. I can quickly and easily monitor, channel and add to creative processes this way. And all participants are state of the art at all times.

The only problem is that most companies are not at all familiar with this agile work method. Agile market research methods also naturally help companies the most when they are set up for it. Agencies have less of a problem with this because they tend to be used to quickly reacting to impulses. Other companies have to first create the framework for things like internal coordination, documentation, reaction times and many other things.

Do’s & don’ts for efficiently gathering information that is as reliable as possible

  • Don’t try to learn everything at once. Instead, concentrate on the most important questions. Otherwise it’s easy to spread resources too thin.
  • Formulate clear goals and regularly inform all interest groups This creates a consensus and all stakeholders feel involved.
  • Do not place more importance on cost savings than on quality. Quality has its price in digitally-supported market research, too. The right methods have to be used for things like formulating questions if you want to generate reliable information. Otherwise it has no value. It is also possible to take measures like calling in expertise from another source.
  • Collect and update insights. Don’t view research as a single activity. Instead, see it as steps in a constant process. The focus is to augment knowledge, and this doesn’t happen if we throw it away as soon as we present the results.
  • To avoid pitfalls, it is important to make sure that we separate confirmed sources from unconfirmed sources.
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