What is your market? It’s the area or sector you work in. It also includes the people you’re trying to reach and the products or services you’re trying to give them.

Knowing your market is key to success. It starts with finding out what your audience really wants. You can then use that to improve your service to meet their needs. Also look at how your competitors work. Once you’ve done this, you can find ways to make your products better and give you an advantage.

In this lesson, we’ll look at the different types of market research you can do and how they can help you.


  • What market awareness is
  • The types of research you can carry out
  • Survey creation and research methods

Read time:

9 mins

Chapter 1

How to become market aware

Read time:

2 mins

Introducing market awareness

What is market awareness? Think of it as learning more about your sector or industry.

Doing research on your market will help you to grow your market awareness. You’ll be able to create effective adverts and find new ideas for your products. It will also help you get to know who you’re competing with. This in turn helps you gain an advantage.


You can gain market awareness through:

  • Online research
  • Reading newspapers, journals and trade magazines
  • Speaking to friends and colleagues
  • Talking with your customers/users
  • Checking out your competitors
  • Analysing sales
  • Noting trends in your organisation


Improving your market awareness

Let’s look at different aspects of market awareness.


Understand your customers / users


Understand your market


Understand your competitors

Understand your customers/users

To know what users want, you need to collect all the relevant information you can. You can do this by phone, email or face-to-face chats. There are data protection laws about making unsolicited calls, so make sure you’re not breaking them; check out the Information Commissioner's Office for more information.


Understand your market

You need to know how others in your sector work. How they sell and deliver products, and what discounts and credit arrangements they offer.


Understand your competitors

  • Look at trade websites or sites such as InYourArea
  • Read journals, trade magazines and the business pages of local papers
  • Check out trade listings and note any changes
  • Try out their services as a mystery shopper
  • Chat with your competitors. Although they're your rivals, they’re also your peers
  • Find out more about them on Companies House

Chapter 2

Informal research

Read time:

4 mins

Why do informal research?

This is a great way to keep things fresh. It’s when you gather facts and ideas through conversation, surveys or simple research methods. So, you might read a book about your market. Or send a survey to users every so often, to get their feedback.


Carl used informal research to set up 'The Badger' – a wine bar and craft ale house. He used Facebook to gain feedback. This showed a gap in the market, so he built his business to fill that gap.

How to do informal research

We’ve put together a few ideas and tips on how to get started.


Collect feedback and run surveys

Talk with your users at the right times to ask them gently for feedback. Chat with retailers and suppliers. Make sure you note down your feedback. Doing this helps you work out how to improve your services.

Even if your organisation is growing fast, you should always keep in touch with users yourself. This helps you know if you’re still meeting their needs. Free online tools like SurveyMonkey and Google Forms are a great way to collect feedback.

If you take customers' email addresses at the point of sale, this may help. You can then ask them for their views every so often. Keep your surveys short and anonymous. You could even offer prizes, to encourage people to take part. Note that if you collect this type of data, you must keep to government rules. Check the GOV.UK site for more information.


Be on the look-out for issues

Watch for even the smallest signs of unhappiness. People will often stop buying from you, rather than complain. Try asking people what their ideal would be. Ask them 'If you could change one thing about our products/services, what would it be?' Then work towards meeting it.


Track sales records and look at your data

Look at your accounts. Compare year on year, month on month. What are the seasonal trends? Is there a product in long-term decline? If so, why do you think that is?

Review what you've learnt at a fixed time each month. Discuss it with your team and see if you can draw conclusions and agree on what to do next.


Use customer feedback

We share feedback all the time, everywhere. It might be on social media, through review sites, or by adding comments to your own website. People do look at those reviews when they decide what and where to buy. A bad review might make them go elsewhere.

Feedback can help you see gaps in your service and improve what you do. But it only takes a few harmful comments to start putting people off your brand completely.

Not all negative feedback is fair, but removing it isn't really an option. This makes it look like you’ve got something to hide. At the same time, if you only have hundreds of 5-star reviews, people will become suspicious. If someone is constantly leaving you unfair feedback on a review site, most review sites will allow you to submit a report. Check on their sites and contact them to find our more.


Search for and deal with reviews

The way you handle one complaint can show everyone what your organisation is like. If you don’t address criticism, it looks like you have no answer, or don't care. Tackle comments head on, express regret, and state what you’ve done to put things right. Regularly check in on sites with reviews. This will show that you reply promptly to issues and work to resolve them.

When you connect online, a little authenticity goes a long way. Start by showing you care about the person making the complaint. Make a connection with them, show your personality, and add a touch of humour if appropriate. When we're tapping away at a device, it's easy to forget this is just two people talking to each other.

Remember, when you talk to someone, you speak for your organisation too. Everything you say or do will reflect on how people see your organisation. So be warm and friendly, yet professional. Posts on social media are more relaxed, but do avoid gossip, slang and over-familiarity.


Turning a negative into a positive

It’s no fun reading criticism of your hard work, but there are lots of ways you can turn negative comments into a positive. You can use comments to improve your profile. Those who complain but had their comments handled well could turn out to be your best supporters.

Chapter 3

Formal research

Read time:

2 mins

Why do formal research?

Writing a proposal? Maybe you have an idea for a new product or service? Think about doing some formal market research or paying a research expert to do it for you.

This type of research needs careful planning. You can carry this out to support a key project or decision.


When you ask someone to do this for you, make sure they know:

  • What you want to find out
  • What your research budget is
  • How long they have to complete and present their research


Some of the top things you might want to think about in your research:

The economy

The population

Other research

The economy

This kind of research can help you allow for a slump or boom in the future. Try to focus on trends in your sector. Doing this, you’ll see results that are tailored to the type of work your organisation does.


The population

Data on spending and consumer trends might help you to pin down the areas of your market to target.


Other research

Try to find what others have researched in your sector. So, if you sell tools for the building trade, compare them to industry standards. Or if you run a pub, look at stats on hospitality trends.

Test your knowledge

Answer the following question by selecting one answer from the three possible options given.

That's not quite right!

Hint: this type of research often involves conversations or surveys.

That's right!

Asking users for feedback through conversations or surveys is a great way to check that you're meeting their needs.


Please bear in mind your duties under competition laws when comparing yourself to others. For further information, see these websites: the Financial Conduct Authority | FCA and the Competition and Markets Authority.


Bank of Scotland Academy is committed to providing information in a way that is accessible and useful for our users. This information, however, is not in any way intended to amount to authority or advice on which reliance should be placed. You should seek professional advice as appropriate and required. Any sites, products or services named in this module are just examples of what's available. Bank of Scotland does not endorse the services they provide. The information in this module was last updated on 14th March 2023.