Market Research on a Limited Budget

Few programs have the luxury of conducting as much market research as they would like. Estimated 2002 cost ranges for focus groups, intercept interviews, and theater testing are provided in National Cancer Institute Pink Book ( starting on page 144. You get what you pay for (e.g., representativeness and a small margin of error from a professionally conducted random-digit-dial phone survey), but you can gather useful information even if you have a very limited research budget.

When faced with a limited budget:

  • Do the legwork yourself.
    • Train your own staff to moderate focus groups (e.g., using “Getting it in Focus: A Learner’s Kit for Focus Group Research” available from the AED library in Washington, D.C.)
    • Recruit research participants through partner organizations instead of through a contractor.
    • Do a windshield or venue intercept survey vs. RDD
  • Try to find secondary sources of information.
    • Can other studies provide the information you need?
    • Are there research designs and instruments you can use as models, thus saving design costs?
    • Can you get advice from managers of similar programs about how to best use the budget you have? For example, can they suggest aspects of best practices that are likely to require tailoring and that you should be sure to ask your audience about?
    • Can experts (e.g., commercial marketing/advertising or market research experts in your community, a CDC project officer or health communication staff) give you advice or refer you to other resources?

Be sure your program plan fully explains the need for market research and lays out a complete market research plan.

  • If you can’t get the funds you need this year, spend time now convincing the decision makers that investing in research next year is a good idea.
  • Make it clear that market research isn’t just nice to have but is a core component of effective social marketing.

Beware of too many shortcuts. You don’t have to invest in a lot of market research, but you do need to conduct enough to feel confident that the findings provide clear direction.

  • Let market research experts guide you whenever possible in both planning and implementation. Your research would likely benefit from a paid consultation with an expert even if you have to cut costs by Always ask prospective contractors and vendors for nonprofit rates.
  • Seek professionals with market research experience who might donate their time. Low-cost experts (e.g., a graduate student who needs a dissertation topic) may be available at local colleges or universities.