Your product team builds a flashy new offering, and you’re excited to see a flood of new engagement. Yet days, weeks, months, and years follow with a trickle of users or purchases. Eventually, it becomes clear your team has made a crucial error: They’ve tried to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. The damage has been done. Your team has been shouting into the void. But there’s something to be learned from all those content crickets, and that’s the importance of market research.

At its core, market research is any effort that helps you better understand your potential customers—their preferences and behaviors.

We’ve assembled a list of the best market research tools (both free market research tools and premium tools) for every step of the process:

  • Focus Groups: Bringing together groups of potential or current customers to gather insights into their preferences, behaviors, and purchasing patterns
  • Interviewing: One-on-one research sessions to dig deeper into consumer’s psychology
  • Observational Research: Studying the behavior of consumers in real-world settings
  • Survey Tools: Short or long questionnaires that can be completed on participant’s own time
  • User-Behavior Tools: Tools for studying how users interact with your products or wares
  • Market Research Data & Statistics Analysis Tools: Rich databases that can give you broader insights into market trends

TOOLS FOR FOCUS GROUPS

As opposed to more “hands-off” observational research, there’s plenty of information to be gleaned from specifically bringing people together to share their insights on your product(s) and the broader market. Focus groups—typically composed of 6-10 current or potential customers—offer the opportunity to capture insights from many people at once.

1. CALENDLY

Calendly is a free calendar tool that enables users to indicate their availability for future meetings. Users can select several start times that work for them, all of which sync with the calendar of the person setting the meeting.

  • Market Research Takeaway: Finding a time that works for all focus group participants can be difficult, so using a calendaring tool like Calendly frees researchers to hone their questions and their overall approach to the sessions

2. BREATHER

Breather is an app that allows you to book space in conference rooms and other locations (think Airbnb for short-term office space) for your focus groups or other meetings. Breather’s spaces are comfortable, spacious, and impeccably decorated, adding credibility and flair to your research session.

  • Market Research Takeaway: The success of focus groups hinges on just that—the group’s ability to focus and share their insights in a comfortable setting. Cramming participants together in a small room can lead to disengagement.

3. REV

Rev offers a fast and reliable transcription service for audio and video content. Rev’s transcripts capture exchanges among numerous speakers, even when there’s cross talk and interruptions, so it’s perfect for recordings where there’s a lot of banter among participants.

  • Market Research Takeaway: Recording focus groups or interviews for later transcription frees researchers from capturing direct quotes in the moment and feverishly taking notes.

Tools for interviewing

The energy and spontaneity of focus groups can take your research in unexpected directions, but when you’ve got a pointed series of questions that you need answered, it’s best to interact with customers one-on-one. It’s crucial, however, that you recruit interviewees who will give you a full picture of your customer base.

4. HUBSPOT’s “MAKE MY PERSONA” TOOL

Make My Persona is a simple online tool for creating detailed profiles of customers to help identify their unique likes, dislikes, and behaviors. HubSpot’s pointed questions help you quickly flesh out your customer profiles. This tool is best suited for researchers who already have a good sense of their target market but want to ensure that they’re addressing all of their customers effectively.

  • Market Research Takeaway: When recruiting for research studies and interviews, you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting a healthy representation of your customer base.

5. USERFORGE

Userforge’s software is designed to help you organize your research, create user personas, and study the relationships between them. The platform has a social media feel, producing profiles that can help your team visualize your customers and bring life to your market discussions. Once created, user personas can be used across a number of different projects and grouped under larger “Archetypes” that highlight connections and overlap between user types.

  • Market Research Takeaway: Creating user personas in advance can help you craft questions that dig below the surface and engender insights into consumer psychology.

6. ZENDESK SELL

Zendesk Sell (formerly Base CRM) is a customer relationship management tool that enables you to track your interactions with customers and prospects. Primarily developed for sales teams, Sell is also a useful tool for storing information about individual customers and research participants. Sell can capture a wide range of customer interactions, from phone calls to email campaigns, and its data visualizations help make your presentations compelling.

  • Market Research Takeaway: Communication is key to effectively coordinating interviews and research activities, and it becomes more difficult as the number of participants increases—use Sell or another CRM to track your outreach and ongoing connections.

7. ZOOM

Zoom is an audio- and video-conferencing tool that works across a wide range of platforms and devices, from desktop to mobile. The clean user interface and high-definition connection make remote interviews a breeze, so you’re not married to recruiting subjects locally. Zoom enables you to share your screen, view the screen of your connected parties, and record the meetings for further review and/or transcription.

  • Market Research Takeaway: Disruptions during an interview can distract participants and make it difficult for them to effectively engage with you during your time together. Zoom’s reliable servers and clean interface help you build trust by make your participants feel your presence more deeply.

8. Rev’s Call Recorder

Rev also offers an app for recording and transcribing interviews. The app is currently only available for iPhone users, but enables simple recording and in-app transcription. Teams can quickly share recordings and transcripts with one another via Dropbox and other sharing tools. Another alternative from Rev is their Voice Recorder app, though it’s more appropriate for dictation and sharing general audio notes with other team members.

  • Market Research Takeaway: When videoconferencing isn’t feasible, recording phone conversations can adequately capture interviewing insights. Transcription of interviews makes reviewing their contents far more efficient, freeing team members to search directly for the information that they’re seeking.

Observational research

There’s no real substitute for watching customers “in the wild.” Whether you’re visiting a retail location or studying online behavior, direct observation of current and potential customers can help you better understand how they’ll interact with your offerings in the future.

9. ENJOYHQ

EnjoyHQ is a cloud-based “research repository” that stores research insights that allow you to study deeply and share with your team. All market research tools generate a wealth of data, so it’s important to have a centralized place for your findings to help identify patterns and connections.

  • Market Research Takeaway: Combing through your research notes for particular terms and/or themes can be incredibly time-consuming, so it’s helpful to store them in a database with quick, effective search functionality

10. Brickstream

Brickstream’s 3D sensors monitor the movements of customers in and outside of retail locations. Although consumers may think they have a good sense of how they move around a retail location, they’re often distracted by the products on offer. “People counters” like Brickstream help get a true sense for customers’ movement patterns, and store traffic in general.

  • Market Research Takeaway: When customers are considering your product, it’s rarely in isolation. Factors like product placement and packaging can have a major impact on who interacts with your offerings, so tools like Brickstream tracking technology can give you a sense for where customers’ senses are leading them as they move through a store

11. Shopify’s behavior reports

Shopify is one of the most popular e-commerce platforms, and their Behavior Reports provide rich insights about the actions users take (or don’t take) when completing a purchase online. For $29/month, Shopify users can access a full-fledged site management tool that tracks users’ interactions with your brand from the very first click.

  • Market Research Takeaway: When customers interact with your brand online, there are countless small interactions they make when moving toward purchase. Understanding the role and relative influence of supporting content, like reviews and associated products, can help you tailor a more effective purchasing flow and boost conversions

12. Invision

InVision is a design platform for creating beautiful, interactive prototypes of new products. It’s best for teams wanting to quickly build minimum viable products without leaning too heavily on their company’s development resources. One of the tool’s biggest strengths is its version-control features: Users can create several “branched” versions of a prototype without worrying about losing their changes.

  • Market Research Takeaway: Watching customers interact with your digital products—even in prototype form—can provide valuable insights into what’s working and what isn’t

13. JustInMind

JustInMind is a desktop design tool for creating site and application mock-ups. Unlike InVision, JustInMind enables designers and researchers to create conditional prototypes that incorporate user responses to fields and forms.

  • Market Research Takeaway: Observing users’ unmediated interactions with your product can provide surprising insights about common sticking points and more popular features

14. Wistia’s soapbox

Wistia’s Soapbox tool is a screen-recording tool for Google’s Chrome browser that also allows you to capture video and audio of the person interacting with your site or product.Soapbox simultaneously records user’s on-screen actions and their facial expressions and body language.

  • Market Research Takeaway: Studying the faces of research participants gives another layer of insight into the emotions elicited by your product and online offerings. For an even better sense of your users’ experience, consider asking participants to share their thoughts aloud when interacting with your wares.

Survey Tools

Focus groups and interviews are extremely effective and revealing, but surveys enable researchers to connect with a broader customer base.

15. SURVEYMONKEY

SurveyMonkey enables you to create surveys to share with interviewees and other research participants. Surveys are a great way to get participants thinking about your areas of research in advance and can also provide useful follow-up to any issues or concerns that arise during your interview(s). Basic versions of SurveyMonkey are free; the paid version supports complex, branching surveys that adapt to user responses.

  • Market Research Takeaway: Many useful research subjects aren’t comfortable in groups or one-on-one interview settings, so creating sharable surveys allows you to connect with participants on their terms.

16. Qualtrics

Qualtrics offers access to a database of millions of potential interview and survey subjects.Qualtrics tracks a large number of factors for individuals, ranging from income information to preferred brands to purchasing patterns. Researchers can use the data that Qualtrics has gathered to help shape their understanding of the broader market and recruit potential respondents.

  • Market Research Takeaway: You don’t have to rely on word of mouth or “gig” sites like Craigslist to find research participants. There’s a huge number of people who are willing to share their insights (and their demographic information). Breadth can be just as important as depth, so take advantage of Qualtrics’ herculean efforts in curating their database

17. TEMPER

Temper is a lightweight add-on that helps you create one-question survey pop-ups on your website. Some survey respondents will balk at a lengthy questionnaire but happily answer one-off questions as they navigate your site. Users can even respond with an emoji, if they’re more comfortable expressing themselves that way.

  • Market Research Takeaway: You don’t always need in-depth responses to get deep insights into your potential customers. Querying users when they’re currently in or around your product is a good way to gauge their mind-set when they interact with your brand.

User-Behavior Tools

What consumers say about their preferences is one thing; sometimes it’s best to study what they do when interacting with your product. User-behavior research is focused on just that—how consumers interact with your offerings.

As mentioned in the Observational Research section, there are a number of tools, such as footfall counters and checkout scanners, to help you study in-store and off-line behaviors. Online and software applications, however, provide the unique opportunity to study the most minute elements of user behavior, from slight movements of a mouse to length of time spent with a given segment of content.

18. CRAZY EGG

Crazy Egg tracks a user’s interactions with a website, from cursor movements to clicks. The software is free and, thankfully, crazy simple to implement via a small snippet of code. Recording users’ on-screen behavior via video tools like Zoom is helpful, but researchers then have to manually code the interactions to identify patterns and sticking points. Crazy Egg compiles all of that data for you, making it simple to compare different users and identify what’s working on your site.

  • Market Research Takeaway: Your designers may think they’ve built a simple, effective site or product, but there’s no substitute for watching people try to navigate it on their own.

19. HOTJAR

Hotjar records user behavior across all sections of your site or product. Hotjar’s “heat maps” of individual pages help you understand where users’ cursors—and therefore their attention—go as the users interact with your brand. You can also create short pop-up surveys and questionnaires that are triggered in response to specific user actions. Hotjar makes it easy to identify “drop-off” points, where users abandon the paths set for them by designers, whether in completing a purchase or submitting a form.

  • Market Research Takeaway: Survey questions, even if it’s a simple emoji selector, can be even more powerful when surfaced in the context of users’ actual engagement with your products. It’s crucial to have an understanding of how visitors are interacting with your site to identify opportunities for pop-ups or other calls to action.

Data & Stats Analysis Tools

Every research method here provides a wealth of data for decision-making, but there are a number of existing repositories that do the hard work of data gathering for you.

20. CLARITAS

Claritas—a Nielsen product—is a massive database of consumer information ranging from purchasing patterns to political preferences. Claritas’ original research and the work of over 40 of their research partners yield an incredibly detailed collection of consumer insights. Their segmentation tools identify unexpected habits and connections between user groups.

  • Market Research Takeaway: Creating user personas on your own is extremely useful, but it’s also important to look at real data to get a sense for all of the factors that make up your consumers’ unique personalities

21. Pew ResearcH Center

Pew offers downloadable collections of consumer research. It conducts a wide range of research on topics ranging from societal trends to consumers’ media-consumption habits, all of which is free to access. Researchers can use Pew’s data to enrich their conception of potential customer groups by understanding their lives more deeply. Pew frequently queries respondents about the major issues of the day, giving researchers a current snapshot into the ideas and attitudes of their customer base.

  • Conducting Market Research Takeaway: Creating user personas on your own is extremely useful, but it’s also important to look at real data to get a sense for all of the factors that make up your consumers’ unique personalities

22. Google Trends

Google remains the web’s most popular search engine, and their Trends toolprovides insights on popular local search patterns, both recent and historic. Trends allows users to segment their search by time frame to study the changes in interest for particular topics over time.

  • Market Research Takeaway: When consumers are searching for information on the web, Google is usually their first stop. How consumers phrase their queries can be extremely revealing because it helps you understand what they think they’re looking for, and how they go about trying to find it.

23. Google’s Adwords

AdWords is Google’s largest paid-advertising platform. Advertisers can target certain search terms and phrases and serve their ads on search-results pages. Running a small ad campaign with a low budget can still provide valuable insights on consumer response to your messaging and their willingness to engage with your products and content. You can drill down deeply into your specific targets and test marketing or product messaging in a real-world setting.

  • Market Research Takeaway: Creating sample ads requires researchers to bring all of their findings to bear and to then gauge their hypothesis about what resonates most deeply with potential customers.

24. Hootsuite

Hootsuite tracks social media activity around certain topics, themes, and keywords. Social media conversations are a window into consumers’ minds—ranging from their likes and dislikes to the issues that get them inspired and, occasionally, enraged. Hootsuite enables you to track topics across a number of different platforms, from Facebook to Twitter, and sends optional alerts whenever your research subject or brand is mentioned.

  • Market Research Takeaway: Social media banter offers a real-time snapshot of global trends and consumer attitudes. Influencers—users with huge followings—have become major gatekeepers for new products and services, so it’s useful to study their posts and see how their followers respond to them.

Market research tools lead to better products

Market researchers have more tools at their disposal than ever before, so there’s no excuse for building a product that doesn’t solve users’ problems. Companies and individuals can save countless hours of development time by studying user desires and behaviors in real time, whether it’s from macro, trend level or on a more individual basis. A healthy mix of the different approaches provided above should suffice, but anything that helps you learn more about your potential customers is worthy of investment.