Market Research Research Methods

7 Ways to Ensure Your Research Is Reliable

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Kristy Roldan

Director, Account Service

As markets change and consumer tastes evolve, your brand must stay flexible in order to remain relevant. Falling out of touch with your target audience can quickly lead to loss of market share that, if left unattended, can position you behind your competitors in a surprisingly short period of time.

However, your research studies must provide information you can trust to reveal accurate answers to the business challenges you are trying to solve. If you’re starting to see signs that it’s time to conduct brand research, here are seven ways to ensure your market research methods yield results you can rely on.

  1. Make sure your sample plan accurately represents your target (or growth) audience.

The people you ask to respond to your survey – called the “sample plan” – must accurately reflect the audience you are trying to reach. This means making sure your group of respondents is appropriately large. 350 results in a statistical significance of ± 5% and should be the bare minimum for any quantitative survey. If you’d like to see the difference between specific populations, each cell should contain at least 350 respondents.

It’s also important to meet demographic or psychographic quotas to make sure you’re not over- (or under-) capturing a single part of the population. For national surveys, you may set quotas based on the census (which are the standard for omnibus surveys).

  1. Assure a high-quality sample by screening out fraudulent respondents.

The quantity of your sampling is rendered irrelevant if the quality of respondents doesn’t measure up. This problem is particularly challenging among b2b respondents, where the incentives are often higher. However, ensuring the authenticity of survey results should be top of mind for studies in all sectors.

“Speeders” are survey respondents who appear to complete a survey in an impossibly short period of time. This indicates that they are likely not closely reading survey questions and not dedicating enough thought to their answer. Their input can skew survey results or place undue emphasis on an outlier perspective. Meanwhile, “bots” aren’t even real people – they are computer programs designed to respond to surveys automatically. Again, these responses can throw off the entire takeaway from your study.

Your survey platform will likely have some level of built-in protection, as will your sample provider. Some ways to eliminate false responses are using CAPTCHA challenge-response test before participants start the survey or inserting a simple question in the middle of the survey that requires a typed response. Closely scrutinize any respondents who stumble on these easy tasks. Their responses are likely candidates for elimination.

  1. Create a seamless user experience for respondents.

“Survey fatigue” is a proven phenomenon that can have disastrous results on your survey.

Making the process easy (or even fun) for your respondents goes a long way toward obtaining quality results. Make sure your survey is mobile-optimized, write clear questions with clearly-differentiated responses and pay attention to survey length.

Offer creative ways to answer questions, such as with sliders or emojis. Mixing up the types of questions you ask, as well as the ways to respond, creates an engaging experience that keeps your respondents mentally involved throughout the duration of the survey.

This intellectual stimulation helps to ensure respondents are offering their true feelings and perceptions, not rote responses.

  1. Work with a market research partner who doesn’t sugarcoat the results.

If your research partner is afraid to give you the full scope of their findings, your research will not be a trustworthy source of business intelligence. Half-answers, scrubbed results and vague insights do not provide any true value to your business.

No matter which market research methods you use, you must feel comfortable having frank discussions with your research partner about what your survey results are indicating. Keep communication lines open so you can ask questions during the synthesis phase. Your probing may reveal a more accurate perspective on the information coming back from your study.

  1. Create a tight screener.

Though hyper-focused screeners are important for all market research methods, this is particularly applicable to qualitative studies. Showing up in the field and discovering that your respondent doesn’t fit the study criteria is disappointing and wastes time and resources.

If you are outsourcing recruiting, closely manage their results to make sure they are supplying you with appropriate respondents, particularly in the case of difficult recruits. If your recruiting partner is having trouble filling interview slots, it may be time to adjust the schedule and/or your recruiting methods.

Before launching your study, make sure your moderators are well-versed in asking questions about influence and that they understand exactly what business question you are looking to answer. This in-depth understanding will enable them to probe or pivot where necessary to generate useful survey results, not just re-tread the same topics.

  1. Discuss your business challenge openly with your research partner.

Be clear and honest about the business question you are trying to solve. Think about (and discuss) your challenge from many angles that relate to various departments. Understanding exactly what you are trying to achieve will provide your research partner with the appropriate foundation to develop screening criteria, discussion guides, and conclusions that apply directly to the issue at hand.

When the whole team possesses a true understanding of exactly what you are trying to uncover, your research partner can set up your survey for success, making sure the study tracks closely with your objectives during every step of the process.

  1. Make sure you use the right methodologies.

Not all methodologies are ideal to uncover every type of insight.

For example, Implicit Association tests measure the speed of respondents’ reactions or association of attributes for a particular brand. This methodology works great for brands that people care about. For commodity-type brands (some CPG goods, for example), lack of emotional connection to the brand makes this exercise difficult to complete and can yield distorted results.

The best way to confirm the ideal methodologies are to speak with your market research provider. They have a full suite of techniques at their disposal and will help determine which approach will generate the most useful business intelligence.

  1. If your data doesn’t align with the trends, it’s a sign to keep probing.

The results you achieve from your research study should generally reflect the broad strokes of the trends occurring among consumers in your sector. If not, it’s a signal to dig deeper to discover why trend data isn’t continuing in the manner expected.

Unexpected results are likely due to poor survey flow or a series of vague or poorly-worded questions that lead to ambiguous responses.

If your survey results are wildly incongruent with the current conventional wisdom on a target market or industry trend, focus your efforts on revising your screener and/or guide to discover where you can clarify, simplify, or redirect your line of questioning.

The quality of your research results should never be taken for granted. Obtaining trustworthy information that can be used to generate usable insights is the primary objective of any market research study. The methods above have been proven to assist in identifying the good data and expunging the bad. Remain vigilant about who you survey and how you conduct research to achieve the best chance of obtaining reliable results.


Make sure your methodologies will generate a clear path to usable insights. Our experienced market research analysts can help. Contact us today for a proposal.

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