Primary market research

Primary research is original information gathered through your own efforts (or on your behalf by a hired research firm) to respond to a specific question or set of questions. This information is normally gathered through surveys, observation, or experimentation.

The following are examples of questions that can be addressed through primary research:

  • Who are my customers and how can I reach them?
  • Customer profiles
  • Prospective business locations
  • Marketing strategies
  • Which products and services do buyers need or want?
  • What factors influence the buying decisions of my customers?
  • Price, service, convenience, branding, etc.
  • What prices should I set for my products and services?
  • Customer expectations
  • Who are my competitors, how do they operate and what are their strengths and weaknesses?

Some drawbacks of primary research are that it can be time consuming and expensive if not performed yourself, and the results are not available immediately.

The benefits of this type of research are that you can specifically target desired groups (such as your customers or the geographic market for your business) and can tailor your research instrument to answer specific questions. In addition to keeping the costs down, an added benefit of doing the research on your own is that you will get to know the market for your business better.

Surveys are the most common way to gather primary research. Surveys can be conducted:

Through direct mail

Hand out at the place of business or mail out with survey returned in person or via mail
Questionable effectiveness; follow-up reminders necessary

Over the telephone

Can be difficult to reach participants
Little appetite in the public for telephone interruptions

On the web or via email

Allows participants to complete the survey on their own time with little effort

In person

Personal interviews or focus groups
Can introduce follow-up questions or change the focus of the survey on the spot
Can be difficult to recruit participants

When designing your own research questionnaire, be sure to:

  • Keep it as short and simple as possible
  • Make sure it is visually appealing and easy to read
  • Move from general questions to more specific questions
  • Make sure questions are brief and easily understood
  • Avoid leading questions, questions with ambiguous words, questions that are too difficult to answer (due to recall problems, etc.)
  • Make sure any response scales used are logical with categories that are mutually exclusive
  • Always pre-test your questionnaire to identify potential problems

The web is a good resource for sample questionnaire questions that can be adapted to answer your suit your particular research needs. There are also a number of companies that allow you to create and conduct surveys online.

Some business owners are reluctant to ask their customers to complete a questionnaire for fear that their customers will be made to feel uncomfortable or annoyed at the inconvenience. A good way to reduce any awkwardness is to offer your customers an incentive to fill out a questionnaire. You might reward them with coupons or hold a prize drawing for customers that turn in a completed questionnaire.

Good information on your customers can often be obtained without engaging them directly. Interviewing your employees can provide excellent insight, as they are in constant contact with your customers and can provide information on:

  • Customer profiles
  • Goods and services that customers demand
  • Satisfaction with price levels and quality of service
  • Experiences with your competitors