In-depth Research to Find out Insights and USPs

Conducting In-depth research to gather insights and potential sales messages

Two people listening to a customer

Listening is essential for in-depth research

If your micro-business wants more customers, you have to discover what prospects are really looking for. In-depth research is an important tool in doing this so this article shows you how to do it.

General surveys as outlined in Market Research Surveys are useful for providing an overview of what customers and prospects do and think – but they can’t tell you why they feel that way. In-depth research is needed to explain why people do what they do and it’s also useful for highlighting things that you didn’t even know existed.

There are two main types of in-depth research:

  • Individual one-to-one interviews of one to two hours duration where you probe, question and discuss areas of interest with the participant.
  • Focus Groups with a number of people in a room discussing areas of interest with a moderator, i.e. someone who can manage the conversation and ensure it stays on track whilst allowing it to explore previously undiscovered aspects.

The big advantage of focus groups is that people tend to feed off each other which keeps the conversation going and highlights new points. Discussing a topic can create new streams of thought or you can assess general levels of interest. The main disadvantage is that they can be overtaken by opinionated individuals dominating proceedings and not allowing a free exchange of ideas, or be dominated by ‘group-think’. Individual in-depth interviews get round this but you need to conduct more of them to build a picture and draw out the key insights.

How many people?

Not many, interviewing 5-10 individuals and two-three focus groups with 6-10 people in each is likely to give you excellent insights. The views tend to quite repetitive once you move above these volumes, meaning that you are not getting any extra value from it.

Your own customer database is a good starting point for who to involve in an in-depth research exercise. Most people will be willing to give you an hour or so of their time to help you out. You could look at an incentive though, perhaps paying for their time or making a donation to charity.

Market research agencies can be useful for investigating larger groups, or where you do not have a suitable customer base (such as a start-up micro-business) or if you don’t have the time or expertise to do it yourself.


Create a framework that covers the areas you want to investigate but then allow the respondents to talk freely, so that they tell you things you never even considered. If they say something worthy of further investigation, probe further by asking additional questions.

You can be creative with the techniques used, for example:

  • Say to the group; “if this product were a car (or food, or a famous brand), which would it be?” You’ll then know if it has a low cost image, or high quality, or a good all-round, reliable offering. Or even something completely unexpected.
  • Give the participants a collection of photographs and ask them to choose which they think most closely represents the benefits offered by your product or micro-business. Respondents might choose pictures of people relaxing on holiday, for example, meaning they found it something pleasant to relax with. Or, if they choose busy people in an office looking confused, they might think the product is also confusing or not simple to use.

Mystery Shopping

Arranging for other people to mystery shop your own organisation is a great tool for getting a clear picture of how your customers feel about you. To work effectively, it has to be someone you don’t know so that they get the true experience. If you are the owner and sole employee of your micro-business, then ask a family member or a trusted customer to send someone you don’t know to your micro-business and purchase products or make an enquiry.

If you have employees then ask someone you trust but who is unbiased to contact the organisation at a time when you are not there. Then your staff will not be influenced by your presence, giving you a more accurate picture.

Provide a list of things that you would like your mystery shopper to consider but allow them the flexibility to treat it like a real situation, so that they identify things that you never thought of. Don’t give them a script as it will give the game away when they arrive. Instead, have some key topics that you want them to observe or assess and leave the rest to them.

Have a meeting with them afterwards so that they can talk through what they came up with and you can ask about specific aspects, rather than having an emailed report. You might also want different people doing it on separate occasions so you get a wider picture.

Legal requirements

As with all research, your state or country is likely to have legal requirements that all research must comply with. In the UK, the regulatory body is the Market Research Society  with ESOMAR covering Europe and the rest of the world. They can also provide you with details of how to conduct in-depth research most effectively and have directories of market research agencies.

As well as in-depth research, there are also other forms of research available which are explored in Market Research Surveys and Publicly-Available Research.