Consumer research: Understanding the behavior of your target market

Consumer research consists of market research methods that help you uncover the wants, attitudes, and buying behavior of your target market. It generates the information you need to improve consumer perception of your product and create buyer personas and market segments—which help you successfully market your product to different types of customers.

Consumer research can include both quantitative and qualitative studies. Quantitative studies focus on demographics or statistics and often ask close-ended questions that help your business generate numbers, averages, and percentages. Qualitative studies, on the other hand, ask open-ended questions that let you collect ideas and anecdotes from your target market.

Exploratory research looks for insights from participants who are familiar with your product or the problem your product solves. This type of research gathers ideas and impressions from respondents in an open-ended format. These qualitative responses can’t be quantified (except with a word cloud), but they can set a direction for more consumer behavior research.

Descriptive research gathers thoughts on your product from participants, so you can gain a clear and realistic understanding of the consumer perception of your business. This type of research collects both quantitative and qualitative data by asking multiple choice, rating scale, ranking, or demographic questions alongside open-ended questions.

Correlational research looks at whether one variable in your study, like age, correlates with another variable, like how likely a participant is to purchase a product. It uses data from close-ended questions to calculate the correlation coefficient between two variables. Your business can use correlational research to develop predictive models for consumer behavior.

Experimental research looks at how changing an independent variable, like price, affects a dependent variable, like the purchase intention of a participant. This type of consumer research lets your business test specific research questions and get answers with quantitative results.

Your business can approach exploratory, descriptive, correlational, and experimental research from a few different angles, which all have their own advantages.

  • Interviews help you dig deeper into qualitative research, since they let you read your participants’ reactions in real time and ask follow up questions based on previous answers.
  • Consumer focus groups are great for establishing consensus through discussion—and for understanding how people in your target market influence the consumer behavior of those around them.
  • Experiments, like online A/B testing or field tests at a business location, let you test how variables like price and packaging affect the consumer behavior of your target market.
  • Surveys make it possible to quickly collect both quantitative and qualitative data from a representative sample of your market, which leads to fast and accurate research iterations.

New advances in consumer research make it easy for your business to conduct its own market research, without having to hire outside researchers to run studies. By using agile market research, your business can iterate studies and adapt to changing consumer preferences.

Respond quickly to market shifts by using agile research methods like concept testing to monitor how consumers respond to ideas, products, and messaging in the current moment.

So what should you ask your target market? Here are a few ideas that will give you a basic sense of who your potential customers are and how your business can reach them.

  • How do you typically find out about brands in this product category?

This question helps you uncover the best ways to advertise your product to your target market. When you filter the answers by demographic, it can also reveal the most effective ways to reach specific market segments.

  • Which factors are important to you when you make the decision about which brands to purchase?

This question gives you insight into what influences purchase intention and buying behavior in your product category, and helps you measure your brand against the competition.

  • How often do you use this product category?

This question helps you estimate potential demand for your product. The answers can help you identify segments of your target market that have high demand for your product and come up with ways to improve the efficiency of your supply chain.

Demographic questions will also help you screen respondents, categorize answers, and identify the strongest segments of your target market. As long as you avoid double barrelled questions, you can collect data on many different demographic factors in one consumer behavior survey.

Consumer research takes many different forms in practice. For example, a business might use consumer market research to:

  • Develop case studies that illustrate buyer personas for CPG market research
  • Use customer satisfaction surveys to conduct online shopping research
  • Run field experiments at retail locations to learn about consumer behavior in store

Consumer market research methods vary, but the research process stays the same across most consumer research studies. All studies typically follow the same 6-step process:

Step 1: Set an intention for your study

What do you want to know about your target market? Whether the scope of your study is very narrow or pretty wide, setting a clear intention for your research will make the process a lot easier. If you can’t think of a specific intention, try running an exploratory study—like an open-ended interview with a customer—to uncover interesting research topics.

Step 2: Gather input on your intention

Once you have a research topic in mind, tap existing sources of information before diving into your own research. Previous studies, business analytics, and human resources can all add context and direction to your intention. These sources ground your study in previous experience and expertise—and generate hypotheses that you can test with consumer research methods.

Step 3: Choose a research method and study design

Decide which research method best fits your research question. For example, if you want to build case studies and dive into “big picture” aspects of consumer behavior, in-person interviews are often best. Surveys are a versatile way to tackle many different consumer behavior research topics, and often play a key role in other research methods like focus groups and experiments.

Step 4: Run your study

To get accurate results from your consumer research, your study should include a representative sample of your target market that consists of participants from every demographic group in the market. For example, if you’re running an experiment at your business locations, the locations should be a representative geographic sample.

If your study includes surveys, be sure to follow best practices for creating effective surveys.

Step 5: Check out your results

Once you have a statistically significant number of responses from participants, you can start sifting through your results. Look for patterns in your data, and be sure to compare your real results with any hypotheses about consumer behavior from the beginning of your study. There are a number of tools that can help you quickly identify insights in survey research data.

Step 6: Present your findings

What good is consumer research if it doesn’t inspire change at your business? Turn your results into accessible and actionable insights like buyer personas and market segments, which can be distributed to anyone at your organization. Tools like these help your business improve its products, create more convincing marketing materials, and provide better customer service.

Are you ready to get started? Jump start your consumer research with the customer behavior survey template.