Stories about companies failing to do market research are all too common. For instance, the 1990s saw the introduction of a soft drink with little balls of gelatin floating in it. Sounds appetizing – not! Called Orbitz, the product reportedly tasted terrible too. It launched with an incoherent marketing campaign about coming from another planet. Not surprisingly, the product was a bust.
Marketing professionals study such failures and try to learn from them. The point of many lessons is: if only the company had done its market research. Perhaps held some focus groups or blind taste testings. Then the company could have saved its money.
Conducting market research is just a good business move. Research minimizes risk and positions businesses to use precious resources wisely. And picking the right market research tools saves time and money for startups and small businesses. A good market research tool makes it much easier to gather critical information for decisions such as estimating the size of the market opportunity, how to price products and services, which brand name to use, or which advertising messages resonate with customers.
Choosing the Right Market Research Tools: Our Methodology
In the fast-paced world of small business and entrepreneurship, staying ahead of the competition requires more than just instinct—it demands data-driven decisions. That’s where market research tools come into play, providing the insights needed to make informed choices. We’ve ranked these criteria on a scale of importance, using a 1-10 rating scale, with 10 being the highest importance and 1 being the lowest:
- Research Depth and Breadth (Rating: 10/10): The tool should offer a wide range of research options, from industry trends to competitor analysis and consumer behavior insights.
- Data Accuracy (Rating: 9/10): Accurate data is paramount for making informed decisions. Look for tools that provide reliable and up-to-date information.
- User-Friendly Interface (Rating: 9/10): A user-friendly and intuitive platform makes it easier for small business owners to navigate and extract valuable insights.
- Customization Options (Rating: 8/10): Tools that allow users to tailor research parameters to their specific needs and industry niches offer a more personalized experience.
- Cost-Effectiveness (Rating: 8/10): Evaluate the pricing structure and ensure it aligns with your budget while still delivering in-depth research capabilities.
- Competitor Analysis (Rating: 7/10): The ability to analyze competitors’ strategies, market positioning, and performance can be crucial for staying competitive.
- Industry-Specific Insights (Rating: 7/10): Consider tools that specialize in your industry, as they may provide more relevant data and insights.
- Integration with Other Tools (Rating: 6/10): Compatibility with your existing business software, such as CRM systems or analytics platforms, can streamline workflow.
- Customer Support (Rating: 6/10): Accessible and responsive customer support can be invaluable when encountering issues or needing assistance with the tool.
- Data Visualization (Rating: 5/10): Tools that offer data visualization features can make complex research findings easier to understand and share with stakeholders.
- Real-Time Updates (Rating: 5/10): For industries with rapidly changing trends, real-time data updates can provide a competitive advantage.
- Security Measures (Rating: 4/10): Ensure the tool has robust security measures in place to protect sensitive market data.
Best Market Research Tools
Here are the best market research tools to consider.
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1. Pew Research Center
The Pew Research Center has copious data on social trends, technology usage, science and many other current topics. Register and you can get access to datasets and reports with excellent charts. Pew does a great job explaining the methodology behind its studies, with good demographic breakdowns helpful to marketing teams. Pew data can help you identify new opportunities and understand your target market.
2. Living Facts
Living Facts is a sister site to the Pew Research Center that can provide information to help you market to potential customers. The site says it “is about Americans today — who we are and how we live.” The site has colorful image infographics, videos, and quizzes and is easy to use. Get a snapshot of consumer trends, demographics, faith, health, work and other topics about American life for your marketing plan or campaign.
3. U.S. Census Business Data
The U.S. Census is a top market research tool. Census Business Builder is a source for conducting market research targeting a single geography. Explore Census Data is helpful for segmenting customers by demographics. The U.S. Census Bureau also provides Data Gems, a collection of videos to better explain how to access census data for your business. Other tools for market research from the U.S. government include:
- Economic indicators: See the Consumer Price Index and Bureau of Economic Analysis for additional economic figures.
- Income statistics: Find market rates of pay and similar data. Earnings by Occupation and Education and Income Statistics.
- Money statistics: Find Money Statistics from the Federal Reserve Banks.
- NAICS Codes: Look up industries by the North American Industry Classification System or NAICS system.
- Employment statistics: See various Employment and Unemployment Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
4. Survey Monkey
To poll people for information or gather customer feedback, one of your best bets is conducting surveys. Survey Monkey is one of the most well-known tools. It’s been around since 1999 and the product is mature and robust. The Basic plan is available at no charge, providing you 10 questions per survey, with up to 40 responses per survey. If you need more, you can upgrade to a paid plan.
Price: Free and Paid Plans from $32 / month
5. Zoho Survey
Zoho Survey is a relative newcomer to the survey software industry, but has quickly ramped up to match rivals. Zoho Survey has a free version which allows you to do 10 questions and receive up to 100 responses, per survey. Zoho has over 250 professional templates. You may need a paid version to give you the flexibility and features you need. Added plus: a full version of Zoho Survey is included at no additional charge in Zoho One subscriptions.
Price: Free and Paid Plans from $20 / month.
6. Keyword Surfer
The Keyword Surfer Extension from Surfer SEO is a great tool for content marketing. You install this cool tool on your Chrome browser, and then when you search in Google you can see the volume of monthly searches for various keywords. The information is right there — no need to do keyword research using another tool. Keyword Surfer helps you see what terms your target audience might be searching for, so you can tailor your website pages to meet the expectations of customers.
SEMrush is an SEO (search engine optimization) tool. There are many SEO tools, but SEMRush is popular with marketers and content creators, not just SEO professionals. Its Keyword Magic tool is a powerful way to analyze a broad topic and identify niche subtopics. This helps you analyze your online presence. You can also do a gap analysis showing what keywords your main competitors are getting search rankings for and how you compare. SEMrush is a bit pricey, but extremely helpful for researching your digital presence.
Price: Starts at $99.95 / month
8. Google Trends
Google Trends gives a picture of what people are searching for on the web. It’s one of the best tools to research market trends, and track the volume of searches on products or services over time and by geographic location. You can also gain insight into related topics and related search queries, to spot patterns and identify the terminology the user is most likely to use.
Social media is another important place to do marketing research. Hootsuite has a reputation as a social scheduling tool. But the tool also functions as a way to track social mention activity of your brand and various search terms on channels like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. The free plan is very limited with 3 social profiles and 30 scheduled messages. Most small businesses and marketers serious about social media will need a paid plan.
Price: Starts at $29 / month
10. Facebook Audience Insights
If you use Facebook for marketing purposes, Facebook Audience Insights is one of the best market research tools. Use it to track engagement with your content. You can learn about the demographics and behaviors of your social media fans, or those of any other Facebook page by using. Insights gives you a run down of the page views on your Facebook page, post reach, page likes, actions taken on the page and more. You can also use the “Pages to Watch” feature to identify and compare your page’s performance with others in a similar niche.
If you want a tool to track your social mention and engagement activity specifically on Twitter, try Twitonomy. You can also research activity involving other users and hashtags. You simply sign in for the basic service for free through connecting your Twitter account. Of course, Twitter also provides analytics tools for your own account. So if you don’t want to authorize another app, you can always try Twitter Analytics for social media research.
Price: Free and Paid Plans starting at $20 / month
12. Job Report Sites
Need to track small business hiring and employment? Two tools are helpful for market research by brands offering employment related products and services.
- Paychex Small Business Employment Watch is a monthly report of job and wage data covering businesses with fewer than 50 workers. The reports break down the data by region, state, metro area and industry. The Paychex report can also be used by small businesses to benchmark worker earnings and hours by industry.
- ADP Employment Report offers a national employment report on changes in all U.S. non-farm private sector employment. ADP breaks out specific monthly reports on small business employment and franchise employment, by industry.
13. NFIB Economic Trends
Each month, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) issues the Small Business Economic Trends report. The report identifies trends and plans for spending by small businesses. The Small Business Optimism Index is part of the report and measures owner optimism. So it can be a great resource of market research for B2B companies that sell to small businesses. Small business owners can use it to gain a sense of how their peers are thinking.
You may think of Yelp as the place to visit for reviews about your own business. But it can also be one your top tools to research competitors. Find out what other customers like about your competitors — for example, to identify products or services you might want to add to your lineup. And just as importantly, find out what customers do not like about your competitors and make changes to avoid similar problems.
TripAdvisor is the key review site for the tourism industry. If your small business is a tourist destination, this is the site for tracking reviews of your own business. You also can do market research on competitors. You can also research similar businesses similar to yours even in other cities and even other countries. Study these reviews to figure out elements you could add to please customers who are attracted to businesses similar to yours. Or, if your business is connected to the hospitality industry, use this site to conduct market research about what’s important to people in destinations and travel, or identify potential partners who cater to an audience similar to yours.
16. Software Review Sites
If you’re launching or produce a software product or service, there are a number of sites that host reviews about competitors.
- Capterra probably features the broadest array of software categories across industries.
- G2 emphasizes that its reviews are always verified.
- TrustRadius returns vendor listings, reviews and comparisons with other software on software searches.
It’s a great idea to look at what people are saying about your competitors — not just about what customers are saying about you. You’ll get the widest range of opinions by checking all the websites. Vendors can pay for premium services, but you don’t need that to do basic market research.
17. Export Information
To take advantage of export opportunities for your small business, see Export Solutions from the International Trade Association. Sections include information on learning how to export, researching foreign markets, finding potential customers and partners and more.
18. International Franchise Association
For small business owners who operate a franchise — or small businesses serving franchise owners — the International Franchise Association maintains a Franchise Industry Research section. Use this tool to do market research on different aspects of the franchise industry.
19. National Retail Federation
For research on the retail industry, the National Retail Federation is excellent. The Research section includes a monthly economic review with a consumer confidence index. The NRF also has a section called Retail’s Impact with retail stats broken down by state.
20. Small Business Statistics
The Small Business Statistics center of Small Business Trends is an essential resource to understand smaller enterprises. It has statistics on the number of small business broken down by state. It also includes information on the percentage of businesses that are small, how many people they employ, the average number of people in a small business, and statistics by industries and demographics.
21. Pick FU
Need to get fast feedback on a new product name or some marketing copy? Then PickFu is for you. PickFu says it matches you with U.S.-based consumers who share valuable feedback on your business ideas, product photos, marketing copy and more. PickFU does not have a free version, but it allows you to poll an audience by either asking for their opinion about something, or by asking them to vote for their favorite option. There are also many different demographic variables you can select, so you can reach almost any target consumer audience that is a match for your product or service.
Price: Starts at $50
Maximizing Your Market Research Efforts
Market research is a potent tool, but to truly harness its potential, you need a strategic approach. Here’s how to maximize your market research efforts:
- Define Clear Objectives: Start by setting specific research goals. What questions do you need answers to? What are your objectives for this research?
- Target Audience Identification: Know your audience inside out. Who are your ideal customers? What are their demographics, preferences, and pain points?
- Choose the Right Tools: Utilize the market research tools that align best with your objectives. Each tool has its strengths; select the ones that suit your needs.
- Data Collection Strategy: Plan how you’ll gather data. Will it be through surveys, interviews, online research, or a combination? Ensure your data collection methods are unbiased.
- Analyze Thoroughly: Once you have data, don’t stop there. Dive deep into the findings. Look for patterns, trends, and outliers that can inform your decisions.
- Stay Updated: Market conditions change. Make market research an ongoing process, not a one-time event. Regularly revisit your data and adjust your strategy accordingly.
- Competitive Intelligence: Keep a watchful eye on your competitors. What are they doing? Are there opportunities to differentiate your business?
- Feedback Integration: Customer feedback is gold. Use it to refine your products, services, and customer experience continually.
- Collaborate Internally: Share your research findings with your team. Collective insights often lead to innovative solutions.
- Act Decisively: Finally, don’t let your research gather dust. Implement the insights you’ve gained into your business strategy and watch your business thrive.
|Define Clear Objectives
|Set specific research goals and identify the questions you need answers to.
|Target Audience Identification
|Understand your ideal customers, including their demographics, preferences, and pain points.
|Choose the Right Tools
|Select market research tools that align with your objectives and leverage their strengths.
|Data Collection Strategy
|Plan unbiased data collection methods, such as surveys, interviews, or online research.
|Dive deep into collected data, identifying patterns, trends, and outliers to inform your decisions.
|Recognize that market conditions change, making ongoing research essential for adapting your strategy.
|Keep a watchful eye on competitors' actions and explore opportunities to differentiate your business.
|Use customer feedback to continually improve your products, services, and overall customer experience.
|Share research findings with your team to harness collective insights and drive innovation.
|Implement the insights gained from research into your business strategy for tangible results.
We hope you find this list of market research tools helpful. It has never been easier to conduct competitive intelligence or collect market research. As you can see, today much of it can be done online.