Market Research 101: Develop the Research Plan

A focus group
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Good sampling strategies are critical to obtaining effective market research findings. You can be sure your market research results in actionable consumer insights by following the six steps in the market research process:

Here, we take a look at the second step in market research: developing the overall research plan. It's one of the more complex steps because it contains several distinct components.

One of the components of a research plan is deciding who can provide information that is most germane to the research questions and the alternate business decisions. This task includes the construction of a sampling plan that will ensure the data collected is representative of the overall target population.

The processes that are involved in identifying and obtaining a sample are known collectively as the sampling plan. A sample unit is the group of potential research participants or respondents from which the sampling frame will be developed and from which the sample will ultimately be selected.

Determine a Sampling Frame

The first decision that a market researcher must make is to determine the sampling frame. In order to accomplish this step, the market researcher must define the target population. They must answer the question: Who is going to participate in the research?

A sampling frame is developed from the sampling unit, the main purpose of which is to ensure that each member of the target population has an equal chance of being sampled. However, this consideration is not a stipulation for conducting qualitative research, because the "equal chance" parameter only applies to evidence-based research in which a hypothesis is being tested.

Establish a Sample Size

The second decision that the market researcher needs to make is related to the sample size. How many people will be participants in the research?

In quantitative research, the goal is to achieve a representative sample of the target population, and this can best be attained through consideration of sample size, levels of confidence, and confidence intervals.

Generally speaking, the larger the sample, the more reliable the research findings will be, and typically, the more the findings can be generalized to the target population in a quantitative research project. The rule of thumb is that a sample will provide good enough reliability when just less than one percent of the target population participates in a research study. The caveat is that the sampling procedure must be credible and rigorously executed.

Choose a Sampling Procedure

There are two fundamental types of sampling procedures: Probabilistic sampling and non-probabilistic sampling. As with qualitative research and quantitative research, there are proponents and critics of probability and non-probability sampling procedures.

For quantitative research, a researcher draws a probability sample from the target population in order to calculate certain statistical considerations. The probability sample reveals the confidence levels or confidence limits related to sampling error.

Probabilistic sampling can be a drain on resources—including time, money, and expertise—but it does allow a market researcher to measure sampling error. Non-probability sampling procedures can provide very useful data and, ultimately, market insights.

Different methods and techniques will produce different forms of data, and it is critical to ensure that the sampling procedures match the type of data that is needed to answer the research questions.

Get Participant Consent

Once market researchers develop a prospective sampling plan and establish the sampling frame, then they must figure out how to best contact and communicate with the participant group that appears to be the best match for the research project. The potential participants must first agree to participate in the study and, second, that agreement must be based on their comfort with the research conditions and their granting of informed consent.