Research - fast track to profit

Knowledge base article to help you get started with market research

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Market Research - take the fast track to profitability

article author

By: Tim Bowerbank
Role: Marketing Consultant

A Marketing Cornwall Knowledge Base Article

Article level - Introduction
Time to read - 5 minutes

simple infographic of market research process

There’s one important task that you need to do to become more profitable. You need to learn as much as you can about your customers. And that’s why market research is the fast track option for your business to profitability.

Research is going to to help you get closer to your customers. Your customers are going to tell you what direction your business should take. Research is going to help you make better and less risky decisions.

As a marketing consultant, I understand that you may shudder at the thought of research. You may already find it tough to find time to focus on core activities. 

But, what is the cost of failed marketing campaigns? Or even worse, what is the cost of a new product or service failing to win customers. It could cost everything.

[dramatic pause…]

So, with my marketing consultant hat on…. I recommend the use of market research, check out the tips below.

Tips for finding out more about your customers…

It doesn’t need to be a huge investment for your business. But you need to do it well. Ensuring that you get answers that represent the views of all your customers. It’s too easy to react in a knee-jerk way to the opinions of a few customers.

Do it yourself…

Build your sample

Your sample is the group of customers that you want to find out more about. Use our article on segmentation to help build exactly who you’re going to survey or interview. This will help you target them. You need to ensure that you have enough participants in your survey so that you’ll be confident in the results. 

For example, if I was targeting marine business of Cornwall, of which there are an estimated 800.  And if I wanted to be 95% confident in my findings. Then I should ensure I have approx 120 participants in my research (with a confidence interval of 8).

Use this calculator to help you identify how big your sample size should be.

Printed or digital survey

Think about the data that you need. You need data that will help you become more profitable. Any survey should focus on your customers’ needs as well as finding out more about them.

TIP - You could also use the 7Ps as a way of guiding your thoughts.  Write questions focused on product, price, place, promotion, people, physical evidence and process.

Here are 6 tips for writing survey questions.  

  • Keep the questions as short and as simple as possible
  • Be very specific with the questions
  • Don’t use jargon and any acronyms that are difficult to understand
  • Use response bands for sensitive questions, e.g. questions that focus on turnover.
  • Add an ‘other’ section when you have questions with a fixed number of responses
  • Ensure the answers to questions don’t overlap with each other

You can print and hand out surveys or use digital services to run them. Survey Monkey is a good example of a digital survey tool. Whatever you use, make sure the survey is easy to complete. Digital surveys are my favourite as they are quicker and easier.

Finally before launching your survey…

  • Consider adding an incentive and write an enticing introduction for it. As long as the participants give you honest data.
  • Assure respondents that their questions will be confidential. I recommend that the final report gives anonymous results.
  • Proof read the survey
  • Try it out with a small sample of the businesses. This will ensure there is no confusion over questions. It will also test whether it is easy to collect answers. 
  • Choose a time to send it when you know that your respondents will be open to your approach.

Informal interviews

Meet up for lunch with customers and interview them. I would recommend using this approach after a general survey. Use any interview to drill-down further into the survey’s answers.

Formal interviews

Telephone or face-to-face interviews with your customers.


This is suitable when you can watch the behaviour of your customers. I once worked with a visitor attraction in Cornwall. They wanted to change one zone of their attraction. They didn’t know which exhibits to shelve and which to keep. I suggested to observe the customers as they passed through the zone. This would allow the observer to check how customers reacted to each exhibit.

Use other peoples…

Search engines

Search Google for the answers you seek. Add keywords like “research report”, or “whitepaper”, or “statistics” to your search query. This will help guide Google so it gives you more focused results. E.g. scholar articles, reports. Also, check out the Google books channel which could contain facts that you’re after. As a marketing consultant this is often the first place I look.

Government and Industry sector reports

There are plenty of reports compiled by various industry organisations. If you’re targeting watersport enthusiasts then the Royal Yachting Association publish participation reports. A very useful report that gives you region-by-region statistics.

The Government also publish reports. Their Small Business Survey report is very useful if you’re targeting this segment.

Buy reports

Businesses like Mintel sell market reports. Depending on the nature of the research they can cost upwards of £500. It’s worth checking to see if they have a report that can help.

The Census

I have used the Census to estimate the size of market segments. For example, I used the Census to find out the number of teenagers based in various towns in Cornwall. Combined with our response rate data it allowed us to calculate anticipated responses.

Hope you found that a useful introduction to market research.

Get in contact if you need help with finding out more about your customers. We’re based in Cornwall but happy to work with you wherever you may be.