One of the most famous statisticians of the 20th century and recognized thought leader of the quality movement, W. Edwards Deming famously said, “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” Market research seeks to understand consumer behavior and helps inform business planning for near-term issues, such as product launches, pricing, packaging, and so forth. It also tackles longer-term issues, such as competitive strengths and weaknesses, strategic positioning, changing trends, and the like.
Although many medium and large companies have internal market research teams, many important market decisions are driven by data and analysis supplied by independent, third-party market research companies. Market research companies range dramatically in size and scope, approach, cost, industries of focus and expertise, and in the ways they work with clients. With these variations in mind, we have researched more than 25 companies to come up with the best options.
The Best Market Research Companies for 2021
Best Overall : Ipsos
Ipsos is our hands-down choice for best overall. Its wide-ranging offerings hit all the key market research needs, including both qualitative and quantitative research, subscription consumption research, as well as project-based custom research, all across a range of consumer data points in various industries all with a global reach.
Focus on speed
Trusted top-five global market research firm
Combination of subscription data and custom research
No cost data available
Focus on long-term, ongoing client engagement; not for small, one-time projects
Ipsos was founded in Paris, France, in 1975 and is still headquartered there. Today, Ipsos has more than 150 offices serving 90 markets across six continents. Ipsos has the globe covered with strong professionals using a wide variety of standard and proprietary analytical techniques and tools to provide timely research with action-oriented conclusions.
The sheer size, scope, and breadth of the company's capabilities and experiences all make Ipsos our top choice for the all-around best market research firm. One key research tool the company employs is surveys, where survey participants are paid about $25 to $30 each. To estimate the cost of a survey, you can expect to at least double or triple that amount to pay for conducting the survey as well as for collating and interpreting the results. Depending on how many participants are needed to validate your results, a survey can cost in excess of $5,000. Of course, more in-depth market or launch studies would likely run into the tens of thousands of dollars, or even $100,000.
You will need to complete an online form on their website and schedule an initial consultation to determine if their process and strategy will meet your project needs. If you do decide to move forward, you will be assigned a dedicated account representative or team.
Best for Small Companies : Bauman Research+Consulting
Bauman is our pick for the best market research resource for small companies because they offer a good breadth of experience and capabilities, and yet are small enough that you don’t have to be a Fortune 500 client to get their attention.
Strong client list
Robust background and skills
Experience spans an amazingly wide variety of industries and projects for a small firm
Some work is subcontracted to other expert firms
No general cost data available
In business since 2004 and based in northern New Jersey, Bauman has a small but solid team of capable researchers and offers the best combination of expertise, experience, and capability for small companies looking for solid technical expertise, but who can’t get the attention of larger market research firms.
Bauman is a good fit for small firms that have specific, project-based, custom research needs, not for those looking for ongoing, standard research (like market share) to be updated and available on demand. Bauman has developed and trademarked a proprietary tool called FATHOM that digs deep into the emotional and psychological factors that determine consumer decision-making.
They offer a full range of services, including primary and secondary quantitative and qualitative research. And although they are a small company, they have several partnerships with specialty firms, including public relations, communications, marketing rollout planning, and research firms in other countries, to bolster their capabilities.
While Bauman lists experience with a wide variety of industries, that experience may be limited to a few segments. Unfortunately, no pricing information exists for Bauman, likely because all of their work is custom research and therefore variable and subject to too many factors to offer general cost estimates.
Best for Large Companies : Gartner
Gartner gets our vote for best market research provider for large companies not only because it is one of the most highly recognized and valued providers in the world, but also because it offers a broad array of additional services.
Recognized as a leader for the IT industry and among CIOs of all industries
Offers global reach
Service offerings beyond market research
Has proprietary analytical tools
Its core strength is in IT platforms; only recent acquisitions have expanded its scope to a broader set of industries
Cost is prohibitive for many
Potential conflicts of interest as clients include brands they review and rate
Gartner was founded in 1979 and has since passed through a number of legal ownership structures. Currently, it is a public company based in Stamford, Connecticut, and has more than 100 offices worldwide, offering a global scope to its research and service offerings. With its annual and biannual industry studies recognized as the go-to reading for executives around the world, Gartner is an obvious selection for best market research provider for large companies.
Gartner is best known for preparing subscription-accessed studies and analyses for the IT and supply chain business functions. Its proprietary qualitative research tool, known as the Magic Quadrant, ranks and rates vendors in an industry, and CIOs across industries have come to rely on these studies for investment decisions.
Recent acquisitions have rounded out Gartner’s capabilities to service most industries, increasing their appeal for executives in finance, HR, sales, and marketing. One thing that sets Gartner apart from other market research companies is its conferences and consulting practice, which accounts for about 30% of its revenues.
Gartner is known to be priced at a premium because of its high level of insight. Although current pricing is only available through direct contact with Gartner, older estimates indicate an annual cost of at least $20,000 to $30,000 just for report access, double that amount for analyst access, and likely substantially more for custom analysis. As one drawback and potential conflict of interest, Gartner is large enough that many of the companies included in their annual and biannual ratings are also clients.
Best for Specialty (Competitive Analysis) : Proactive Worldwide
While there are a number of specialty market research firms, Proactive Worldwide stands out as the best in this category. Proactive Worldwide focuses exclusively on competitive analysis; its strength is in helping firms understand who their competitors are and how to address competitive threats.
Proprietary research tools
PhD-level analyst team
All internally resourced teams
No information about costs
Scope limited to competitive and market analysis
Limited geographic scope
Founded in 1995 in Chicago, Illinois, with just two partners, Proactive Worldwide has grown into two U.S. offices with headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois. It's our choice for best specialty market research firm focusing on competitive analysis. While other market research firms offer a broad array of functional services from product and consumer data, Proactive Worldwide provides success in defining the competitive landscape for their clients. This means evaluating their clients’ strengths and weaknesses in their markets relative to their competitors and then developing winning strategies.
Their PhD-level analysts combined with industry specialists offer a strong multi-functional team. They offer proprietary tools, including PWW Discovery, Profile360, and Intelligence2Day CI Software. These tools combined with wargaming offer real-life, constructive insights and action plans for their clients. While they offer ongoing monitoring services, they will also train clients in competitive intelligence and analysis, teaching them to maintain and update the work of Proactive Worldwide on an ongoing basis.
Proactive Worldwide is small enough that clients receive hands-on attention but large enough that no work is outsourced. As a result, their market research scope is narrower than other firms' and doesn’t include, for instance, brand image, product development and launches, communications and PR, or any direct consumer research.
Specific pricing information isn't available for the company's market research offerings because all of Proactive Worldwide’s work is custom-designed and executed.
Best Affordable Option : Stitch Marketing Research
We have selected Stitch Marketing Research as the most affordable, well-regarded market research company. With pricing starting at $150 per hour, Stitch offers its clients the most transparency and control over their market research budget.
Experienced, professional team
In business since 2007 and based in San Diego, California, Stitch Marketing Research's small team has strong analytical backgrounds with both agency and client-side research experience. Their hourly rate model, starting as low as $150 per hour, offers good transparency and the ability to closely track a budget. That's why Stitch Marketing Research is the best provider for businesses seeking an affordable option.
The company offers a breadth of industry experience across healthcare, consumer products, education, nonprofits, real estate, and financial services. Stitch Marketing Research offers services that include analysis of your company's existing data and will work with you to create new sources of data through surveys, focus groups, and interviews. They do not have access to external data.
While they are strong market researchers, they do not offer related functions such as communications, PR, launch planning, and product rollouts. And, with only one office, there is also a limit to the geographical reach of their research, meaning it's likely that brands with a global scope won’t be able to rely on Stitch Marketing Research.
Best for Digital Markets : Touchstone Research
With a strong focus on where and how youth, teen, and family consumers shop, Touchstone Research is the best marketing research company for digital markets.
All data from digital sources
Cutting-edge tools, speed
Next gen orientation
Limited industry focus
Some services outsourced
Not for brands with consumers that skew to older ages
Touchstone Research was founded in 1991 and is headquartered in Connecticut, with an additional office in Los Angeles, California. With its focus on all things tech, Touchstone Research is the standout best for market research for consumers who browse, shop, and talk about products through digital mediums. All of their data gathering comes from digital sources.
Touchstone uses numerous digital tools and sources to ensure the right demographic mix for your company's particular research needs. Their focus on survey privacy sets them apart when it comes to children and youth research. And, because digital research doesn’t require a physical presence, they have a strong global reach.
Brands that tend to sell to young consumers or to online purchasers would do well to work with Touchstone Research. Conversely, Touchstone Research is less likely to be a fit for brands that tend to attract middle-aged and older consumers or companies with significant business that takes place in person, via television, or at brick-and-mortar outlets.
Unlike some other firms, Touchstone Research does not offer related services, like competitive and strategic analysis, launch planning, communications, and PR, so these would have to be outsourced.
Because their research is custom-designed, there is no pricing information readily available.
Before making any significant strategic decision about launches into new markets, segments, or channels of distribution, companies should consider engaging a third-party market research firm to help bring data and analysis to the decision-making process. Even large companies with significant in-house market research teams usually partner with third-party market research companies to validate, shape, and inform their planning.
We’ve identified six of the best marketing research firms. Ipsos is our overall recommendation because it checks all the boxes with its experience and all that it offers. For companies looking for a particular research specialty, Proactive Worldwide is our recommendation for your competitive analysis needs. If sticking to a strict budget is most important, we suggest Stitch Marketing Research for the most affordable option.
|Company||Why We Picked It||Key Strength|
|Ipsos||Best Overall||Massive global player|
|Bauman Research+Consulting||Best for Small Companies||Hands-on service and attention, good breadth|
|Gartner||Best for Large Companies||IT platforms and supply chain|
|Proactive Worldwide||Best for Specialty (Competitive Analysis)||Competitive analysis|
|Stitch Marketing Research||Best Affordable Option||Small but well rounded, will work on an hourly basis|
|Touchstone Research||Best for Digital Markets||Children and youth consumer research all digital|
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Market Research?
Market research is the study of a given industry, a segment of an industry, or brands within a segment to determine the drivers of success in that defined market. It usually includes the study of consumers, competitors, and suppliers.
Although the purpose of market research is situational and dependent on the client, the conclusions are ultimately used to make a host of decisions. These decisions include whether or not to enter a new business and launch products or exit an existing business line. Companies may use data to decide to enter or exit a geographic market or to determine what actions to take to improve market share in those regions. Research may also focus on products that include product naming, packaging, pricing, launch planning, communications, and PR.
What Is a Market Research Company?
Market research companies specialize in offering data, analysis, and insights for other companies based on their industry, services, and customers. There is incredible diversity in their approach, industry and market orientation, research style, and focus. Some focus more on the gathering of data, say the quantitative side, and some on the gathering of information, say the qualitative side. Some stop with the presentation of the data while others continue with implementation using consulting relationships along with ongoing monitoring. In other words, while one views each project as a discreet custom engagement experience, another creates data that is constantly monitored, updated, and accessed 24/7 through subscriptions.
Who Should Use a Market Research Company?
Market research is usually the responsibility of the marketing function of a company. Depending on the size of the company as well as the skill, experience, and inclination of the marketing team of that company, market research may be handled internally but supplemented with external data. However, many companies opt to have market research handled totally through third-party market research companies because they want specialized focus on unbiased data.
Huge global consumer goods companies usually engage the services of one or more external market research companies, especially when making significant investment decisions, as a way of modifying or validating plans developed internally. Even though small and emerging companies may not have the budget to spend on ongoing external market research, they should engage with a third-party resource at some level, particularly when taking a significant new commercial step.
How to Choose a Market Research Company?
Choosing a market research company can be daunting, but, like selecting any specialty partner, there are several common-sense steps to take. Here are our recommendations:
- Plan to vet at least three to five candidates
- Select candidates whose experience and typical project profile match the size and scope of your project
- Review the data gathering and analytical methods they plan to use for your project. You know your industry and product segment best. Is their plan going to identify what you want to know?
- Ask for and talk to references. Did the company deliver on time? How specific and constructive were their observations, conclusions, and suggested actions?
Lastly, review their quote and make sure all costs are clearly spelled out.
What Does a Market Research Company Cost?
Little is publicly available about the cost of market research, largely because it is project-driven and pricing is custom to each unique project.
Surveys and focus groups are likely to cost $5,000 to $20,000, depending on the number of questions and the number of participants needed. Some market research firms list hourly rates which can be as little as $150 per hour, such as Stitch Marketing Research included here. Ongoing subscription data offer levels of service including raw data only, curated data reporting, and access to analysts. These services range from about $10,000 to $100,000 a year.
Large market analyses, brand launches, and competitive analyses will likely be in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands, depending on the scope of the project. Every project is different, so it's important to get a firm bid on your needs.
How We Chose the Best Market Research Companies
We arrived at these six top companies after reviewing more than 25 firms, conducting an in-depth review of their websites and any third-party online reviews. We narrowed this list to the six best based on various criteria, including industry, geographic experience, information gathering and analytical methods, and, where available, cost. We also took into consideration the full range of research and services provided, whether they offer all services through in-house resources versus through outsourced relationships. Finally, we considered whether they provide industry information through subscription services or via custom-developed analyses.