We often get asked about why it’s important to have hypotheses in market research. Why can’t we just go out and collect information and then look at it and come up with theories? Doesn’t it limit us if we narrow down to testing certain options before doing the research?
As market researchers like to say, there’s a difference between interesting data and important data. When you don’t form hypotheses to test in the research, you run the risk of ending up with lots of interesting information but no clear answers about what to do next.
When you create hypotheses, however, you end up with the hypotheses proved or disproved, so you’re further ahead than you were before you started the research.
Aside from that general explanation for why hypotheses are important, here are some more specific reasons it’s essential to have hypotheses in natural products market research.
1. To get the most out of your research
When you want to do market research, you might think you’re just doing it to gather information. However, under that general desire for market knowledge, there may well be some additional goals that could be turned into hypotheses.
Why do you want to do research in the first place? Is it because you don’t know what direction to go in next or which participants to target? Is it because you’re thinking of doing something new but you aren’t sure if you should do it?
With market research, it’s important to be clear about your needs. Here are some examples of needs that we’ve explored for our clients in the natural products industry:
- Not sure how to expand into mass/drug/club. Hypothesis wondered how well the brand’s natural message would translate. The answer greatly influenced the packaging design.
- Wanting to make changes but not sure which direction to take. Hypthosesis assumed acceptance of product line extension. Results provided greater confidence in brand’s direction.
- Wondering which segment to target. The hypothesis focused on whether the core buyer was more “alternative.” Turned out that was not the case.
- Wondering what market space you can own among your competitors. Once we identified the “white space” within the natural supplement market, we tested messaging to see how well that brand position resonated with key segments. Results showed that the brand could own that space with the right positioning.
If you’re able to think more about your brand’s needs and really clarify what you are hoping to get out of the research, then the market research can do more for you.
The beginning stages are important since they lay the foundation for the rest of the research, and it’s hard to save a project at later stages if it was not defined well from the start.
2. To avoid déjà vu at the end of the research
There should be a name for it: that thing that can happen in market research where you look at the final presentation and realize you aren’t really much further along after the research than before you began it. The added information may just add a layer of complexity to the same questions and uncertainties you had when you started.
Formulating hypotheses beforehand and making sure you set up the research to get clarity on them helps to ensure that at least you’ll have answers (yes, no, or very obviously uncertain) about the key questions.
There is always the possibility you will find something else in the research that was unexpected, which is always interesting. Testing specific hypotheses doesn’t preclude that. But by having hypotheses, you know you’ll at least get what you came for and not end up at square one with compelling but unactionable data.
3. To have a framework for creating and evaluating survey questions.
Too often, people argue extensively over survey questions — which ones to have and how to word them. It’s hard to say what’s makes for “good” questions without the framework of knowing what hypotheses you are testing.
Survey questions exist in the service of answering the hypotheses. If you look at it that way, it’s much easier to decide whether to include a particular question or how to word it.
Another side benefit of hypotheses is that they help to keep surveys short and targeted. As Kipp Bodnar, vice president of marketing at HubSpot, says in “How Long Should a Marketing Survey Be Online,” “The best way to ensure that you get the most completed surveys is to make sure that you aren’t asking for anything extra” — in particular, that you aren’t asking unnecessary questions with the reasoning that you might as well include them since you’re doing a survey anyway. If you’re clear on the hypotheses you need to test with the survey, you can “get in and get out” and find the answers you need without the data quality suffering.
4. To have a framework for evaluating the results
If you start research with hypotheses, then you know in advance what the research presentation will be about: evaluating the hypotheses.
You can be ready to discuss what the research showed about the hypotheses and talk about next steps based on those results.
5. Because market research is research
It’s not called “market procrastination.” It’s not called “market putting off decisions.” It’s not called “market divination.” It’s not called “market trawling for information.”
It’s called “market research” because it’s research, and the format of most research is gathering data to test hypotheses.
You can use observation first to come up with the hypotheses, but then you do research to test the hypotheses.
This research can be done for many reasons: to reduce risk around a decision, to help push things to one side when you can’t decide between options, to help answer questions that are holding you back in your marketing and branding. But no matter what your goal, you can get more out of research by using hypotheses.
So in the end, what makes for a good hypothesis? How do you come up with one in the first place? Good questions, and we’ll answer those in a later post.