In my role as a market research consultant I do, from time to time, attend local networking meetings with other owners of SMEs across a wide variety of sectors. As we introduce ourselves to each other I often, frustratingly, find myself explaining what market research is in basic terms rather than promoting my business.

As an industry market research has historically been fairly poor at promoting itself to the wider business community. Although many large companies have specialist market research departments they often struggle to get heard internally despite holding the key to a vast amount of information that should help shape all areas of the business. Amongst SMEs specialist market research knowledge is rare with even those heavily involved in sales and marketing typically only having a vague idea of how market research can be used to help them.

This feeling of frustration has prompted me to write this blog in the hope that, in some small way, I can help promote the market research industry and its benefits. Below are listed 5 ways in which market research can help any organisation, regardless of size or sector, to do better, more profitable business.

1. Validate your target market and get to know it better

Research can tell you if your products and services are targeted at the right people and, if they are, it can tell you more about them so that you can better market to them. For example, if you want to advertise to you target market how best can you do this? What TV programmes do they watch? What newspapers do they read? Do they take any notice of email marketing? Market research can give you the answers.

2. Help to make sure new product and service developments are successful

If you have an idea about a new product or service, market research can help you develop this idea by testing it at various stages of development. From verifying that your initial ideas are something that your target audience wants through to checking that full blown prototypes are well received by potential customers, market research should be a fundamental part of the process to ensure that you are not wasting time and money on developing unprofitable ideas.

3. Check that your business is working

Are your customers satisfied with what you do? What do they think you can do better and what do your competitors do better? Do your customers think of your brand in the same way as you do? Regular customer satisfaction research identifies any weaknesses in your offering as they occur so that you can rectify them in a timely fashion in order to minimise the impact on your business.

4. Make your marketing as effective as possible

Good marketing is obviously critical for a successful business. A lot of business owners just keep trying different methods in the hope that something will work. Research can help you decide what elements of the marketing mix will work best for your target market, refine communication ideas during the design process and evaluate the underlying reasons for the success or otherwise of your campaigns, giving you the information to make future marketing even more effective.

5. Use market research as a sales aid

UK readers may remember the successful cat food ad with the strapline “8 out of 10 owners prefer Whiskas”. Here is a high profile example of a brand using independent market research to validate their claims about a product. Imagine how impactful your sales pitch would be if it included research that backs up your claims that your product or service is the quickest, most cost effective, most reliable etc. This kind of independent validation means that you are presenting new clients with evidence rather than rhetoric, a far more powerful way to sell.

Independent market research can also be a fantastic source for PR. Journalists seem to love writing about surveys (you are unlikely to go through a daily national newspaper without finding a story based on the findings of some survey or other) and press releases based on research findings can be a great way of boosting the profile of your business.

I hope this gives you some food for thought. Unfortunately, a lot of business owners don’t see the need for an independent third party to carry out market research as “they are always talking to their customers and know what they want”. It is true that they may be continually talking to their customers but it is likely that they are being told what the customers think they want to hear. Generally people do not like to criticize others face to face and it’s less confrontational to say everything’s OK. Also, business owners will only get answers to the questions they ask. People tend to ask questions that are unlikely to elicit a negative response. Using a good quality independent research agency means that the right questions get asked of the right people and that they get answered honestly providing feedback that businesses can act on.