Market Research is any activity aimed at understanding the behaviour of consumers (whether they be industrial (companies) or end users (consumers) in a certain market.
Unlike academic research, commercial market research focuses on speed and cost effectiveness - while maintaining validity and reliability of results - in answering specific management questions, rather than answering "interesting" or "theoretical" questions.
A "market" is influenced by a multitude of economic, social, psychological, cultural, legal and political factors. Any of these factors can influence the behaviour, (including purchase behaviour) of a set of defined consumers in a defined market. Market research can include broad analysis of a market as a whole such as feasibility research and estimation of market growth, or specific analysis products, product classes or target/sub groups within a market.
Market Research always involves some form of data collection - either Secondary Research (sometimes called desk, document or investigative research) or direct from the consumer - fieldwork.
It almost always includes the analysis of this raw data to help management see clearly the main factors and trends in a specific market, usually with a major focus on the client's own products, services, brands, or company, and often on their competitive positioning.
A company usually has a set of Management Questions which they need answered to make better decisions. These Management Questions needs to be transferred into a set of broad Research Questions, designed to provide the data required. These research questions take into consideration target markets and the type of information required. A research plan needs then to be developed including target markets, methodologies and techniques to be used, timings and costs. Before the research starts, the Research Questions are devided into the actual questions that will be asked in fieldwork (Investigative Questions) via intercepts (The term "Intercepts" defines a broad range of short interviews, usually only a few minutes in length which are carried out "in-situe" with consumers), focus groups, secondary or "desk research", interviews, observation, or any number of a multitude of various research techniques.