Is market research really reflective of the real world?

Paul Stallard - Tuesday November 19th 2019

Market research is designed to answer questions about the real world by taking a small sample of people and extrapolating their answers to the population as a whole. How reflective of the real world that market research is depends on a number of things: What sample you take, what population you are hoping to represent, what you are asking, and how you ask it.

Let’s unpack that a little.

Market research sample and population

If you want to represent a large population, such as ‘all UK adults’, and you want to be 95% sure that your survey answers are within 5% of what you would get if you asked everyone then, statistically, you only need a sample of around 400 people to achieve that level of confidence.

This level of confidence and margin of error is typical for market research surveys, so you can see that whilst it won’t give you an exact result, for most types of research, it will give you a very good indication of how the wider population thinks or behaves.

Market research methods

There are a variety of market research methods available. In general they are categorised as quantitative research, such as online surveys or telephone interviews, or qualitative research such as focus groups or personal in-depth interviews.

People who take part in research typically do so willingly; sometime they do it to be paid a small incentive, but usually, people tend to want to give their opinions and to do so as accurately and truthfully as they can. Good research providers take pains to ensure data quality, by removing duplicate respondents, or non-human ‘bot’ respondents in online surveys, for example. Where you do have to take care is when asking sensitive questions. If you ask someone how much they drink in a face-to-face personal interview they may give you a different answer than in an anonymous online survey.

How to get the most accurate market research

Market researchers will work with their clients to recommend the right methods and sample structure, and design questionnaires that reduce bias and increase accuracy. To ensure that your research is as reflective of the real world as possible, the best approach is to consult a professional market research supplier.

People who take part in research typically do so willingly; sometime they do it to be paid a small incentive, but usually, people tend to want to give their opinions and to do so as accurately and truthfully as they can

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