Consumer research is an essential tool for any business that sells to the public. It’s used to improve market share, increase the bottom line or help you stay ahead of the competition, notes Resolution Research. There are two basic kinds of consumer research. Quantitative research defines your business by measuring something, such as consumer satisfaction. Qualitative research helps explain why the statistical finding is what it is and why customers think and feel as they do.

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research determines a statistical or “factual” sense of how well your business is doing. For example, you can measure the percentage of consumers who like your new product and the percentage who do not.

Quantitative research is accomplished by surveying a scientific sampling of your customer base. Surveys can be conducted by phone, mail or online.

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research delivers a deeper understanding or analysis of the statistical findings of your quantitative research. For example, it can help you determine why half your consumers don’t like your new product.

The most popular form of qualitative research is the focus group. A focus group consists of a scientifically selected sampling of from six to 12 consumers who are prompted and managed by a professional facilitator. In carefully controlled conversations that are typically videotaped from behind a two-way mirror, the facilitator encourages consumers to express their deepest thoughts and feelings about a product, service or company. Participants are usually paid $25 to $100 for their time.

Focus groups are usually done in a series – locally, regionally or nationally, depending on the scope of your business. A typical series might include anywhere from a few focus groups for a small local enterprise to hundreds held all over the country for a Fortune 500 company.

One-Two Punch

A combination of quantitative and qualitative research will allow you to learn the most about your customers or consumers in general. You can use that comprehensive base of knowledge to benchmark your business against competitors, based on consumer feedback.

The Real World

In the age of the Internet, a new and powerful force has emerged in the arena of consumer research. And that is something you have no control over – what consumers are saying about you online, in forums or at review sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor. Those kinds of peer-to-peer consumer communication have become vitally important to understanding your position in your market.

Consumer feedback online should be carefully and constantly monitored. Whenever possible, try to engage unhappy customers – and thank happy ones. In the era of social networking, success in business is increasingly about engaging consumers in every possible way.