What is benchmarking research? Key steps to set data-driven benchmarks in consumer research

You’ve probably heard about benchmarking in different contexts, like salaries. But what about in consumer research? 

What is benchmarking in market research?

In the context of market research, benchmarking can fall into two broad categories: internal benchmarking and external benchmarking. 

Internal benchmarking is where you establish what ‘good’ looks like for your specific set of products. 

External is all about comparing your brand or products against pre-established standards. It’s how you find out what ‘good’ looks like in your overall category or market. Brands track benchmarks to make sure they are competitive (and that they maintain their competitiveness) in the market. You might also hear benchmarks referred to as ‘norms’. They form a core part of competitive market analysis.

Food product development process

So what’s the deal with benchmarking when it comes to consumer research? What is it, and what’s the best way of doing it? 

Read on to find out… 

How useful is benchmarking research?

This depends who you ask. 

Many traditional research companies offer benchmarking, and on the surface it sounds compelling: comprehensive studies that aggregate past data on a huge range of products, normally from research carried out with nationally representative audiences. 

Brands might approach a research house asking for benchmarking data on family cars, for example, and the research company will give them the same data they give to everyone else looking for benchmarking on family cars. 

Sounds fine, right?

Not so fast. 

Benchmarks like this have limitations because they generally use the same methodology across different brands, product subcategories and even overall product categories. What ‘good’ looks like can be wildly different from one category to another, and even from two products within the same category. 

Imagine this: you ask consumers how likely they are to recommend a Mercedes family car to other people. They might say they’re ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’. 

In traditional benchmarking, you’d ask the same question for, let’s say, Ford. 

The likelihood of enthusiastic brand advocacy is probably very different for Mercedes than it is for Ford. That doesn’t mean Ford is a bad brand—it’s a hugely successful one—but a general benchmark might not make this nuance clear.

Benchmarking in consumer research should compare competitive products and brands

How to do benchmarking research using reliable data

Like all aspects of consumer research, you should think about benchmarking in the context of your specific research objectives. 

For example, if your key objective is to find out which of your product concepts will be most successful, you can focus on comparing on benchmarking results among these potential concepts. At this stage—your internal concept selection stage—external benchmarking isn’t essential. 

Competitive external benchmarking will become essential when you’re comparing your winning concept with what else is on the market. 

A more useful way to run external benchmarking research is to build a bespoke picture of what ‘good’ looks like for your specific products, brand and category. 

We recommend competitive product benchmarking as a useful method of finding out what makes customers in your sector happy. 

How to run competitive benchmarking research

For this, you take a product from your category that’s already successful—in our analogy, the category is family cars. You then run research asking people why they like individual products. You ask them what they like about it, what they like about the brand, how often they buy it, etc. Then you ask the same questions about your products and brand, comparing the differences. 

You can also run a direct comparison where you ask people to tell you what they think about your product alongside your competitors’ product. 

By running competitive product benchmarking you end up with what you needed: an understanding of what makes products like yours successful. But because you’ve run tailored, specific research, your benchmarks are genuinely relevant and useful to your business. 

Over time, as you accumulate benchmarking data, you’ll be able to create your own specific benchmarks that are custom-built to your product category and your specific business needs. 

What does ‘good’ look like in your market?

Make sure you’re competitive in your market by understanding what makes your competitors’ products successful

Set your benchmarks
1. How can you conduct benchmarking research?

To conduct benchmarking research, start with identifying your objectives. From there, choose the relevant benchmarks and what tools you’ll use to gather data. Define how often you are going to refresh your research. Tools like Attest can help streamline this process by enabling you to easily analyze data over time for trends and outliers. Use the insights gained to make changes, and improve performance. Refine your benchmarks over time to evolve with your business.

2. Why is brand benchmarking important?

A straight-forward market trend analysis is useful, but it typically only looks at one moment in time. With brand benchmarking, you’re comparing your performance against your competitors and see how it has been evolving. This will give you more insight into what affects the success of your brand and will help you make better decisions down the line. Brand benchmarking is a great way to stay competitive in a constantly evolving market and getting to know the ebb and flow of your industry. 

3. What type of benchmarking research is right for you?

What type of benchmarking is most useful for you will depend on your business objectives and the industry you find yourself in. If your goals are more on the operational or efficiency side, internal benchmarking and functional benchmarking will be best for you. If you’re looking to up your marketing game, gain market share and get ahead of competitors, brand or competitive benchmarking is the way to go.

Sam Killip

VP Customer Success 

Sam joined Attest in 2019 and leads the Customer Research Team. Sam and her team support brands through their market research journey, helping them carry out effective research and uncover insights to unlock new areas for growth.

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