benchmarking illustration
Written by Roger Jackson,
May 30th, 2020 | Uncategorised

4 types of benchmarking in market research – and when to use them

Benchmarking is much more than just comparing your own performance to your competitors. In market research it is used in a variety of creative ways, in different study types.

We all know the classical situation. When you look at your Net Promoter Score of let’s say 58% – and you ask: should I be happy or should I worry?

To be able to answer the question, you need context: (at least) one other data point to compare to. It can be your direct competitors or your wider market, your own performance in a previous period, your organization’s other departments, or even a fixed reference value that you believe in. Ideally, it’s a combination of several of these. The choice depends on your goals, and your budget.

Here are 4 common types of benchmarking used in market research – and what situations they are most helpful in:

  • External / Competitive Benchmarking
  • Internal Benchmarking
  • Historical Benchmarking (or trending)
  • Fixed Benchmarking

1. External / Competitive Benchmarking

How does it work?
This is the most common type. You compare your own performance to one or more competitors – or to a combined aggregate “All Competitive Benchmark”. You can also define your wider set: a whole department or even the whole store in case of shopper research (see our video about how it’s used in Category management).

What does it answer?

  • Are you better or worse than your competitors?
  • What is unique about you?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses compared to other brands or categories (that perhaps meet similar consumer/shopper needs)?

When is it used?
It can be used in most types of research. Typically used in:

  • U&A, satisfaction or brand research: to compare brands or categories on consumer funnels, consumer profiles, brand images, brand equities
  • Shopper research: to compare brands, categories or retailers on their shopper profiles, understand the role of the category in the store, purchase funnels, shopping habits, POS effectiveness etc.
  • Product Testing: to compare your product to competitor products, to support product development
  • Ad Testing: to compare your ad copies to the competitors in a diagnostic way or on a few simple awareness measures in a clutter real
  • Mystery Shopping: to compare satisfaction and protocols to competitors

How are Benchmarks calculated?
In custom research you need to collect survey data about competitors as well, yes this costs more, but without comparison you can conclude little.
In a syndicated survey you would expect your main competitors to be included.

illustration of people helping each other to reach the top

2. Internal Benchmarking

How does it work?
You compare the performance of your subcategories to a bigger department, or you compare the evaluation of a test product (under development) to existing products with known market performance.

What does it answer?

  • Are you better or worse than other parts of your organization (departments, categories, regions) or product versions?
  • Which are the strong and weak points of your portfolio?
  • Where are you underperforming vs your overall level – what are the intervention points?
  • What is the expected market performance of the test product compared to existing products?

When is it used?
Typically used in:

  • U&A research: to compare niche categories to a bigger category or department, to compare different categories in a department
  • Shopper research: to compare your own performance on different categories vs the department or the total store
  • Employee satisfaction: to compare the results of different departments
  • Product Testing: to compare the existing version of the product to an enhanced or cost reduced version of the same product
  • Concept testing: to test different product or communication concepts
  • Ad Testing, Product Testing or Concept Testing: to compare the performance of the tested ad copy/product/concept to the average performance of previous ad copies/products/concepts (tested with the same methodology)

How are Benchmarks calculated?
In custom research you need to collect survey data from individual tests and then combine them to aggregate level data (to serve solely as the benchmark).
In a syndicated survey you would expect the provider to give you relevant comparisons.

3. Historical Benchmarking (trending)

How does it work?
You compare your performance either continuously at regular intervals, or before and after a specific event or activity (e.g. a marketing campaign, or in the current situation: before vs after Covid-19).
Typically, you would combine historical benchmarking with Competitive Benchmarking, i.e. track not only your own performance, but also that of the competitors.

What does it answer?

  • How do your performance KPIs (or any other metrics) change over time? What is the trend?
  • How does your performance compare before and after an action you have taken (e.g. marketing activity)?

When is it used?
Typically used in:

  • Brand research: to track brand images, brand equities – typically on a continuous basis
  • Satisfaction: track consumer or shopper satisfaction on different KPIs
  • Ad research: to compare brand images and brand equities before and after a specific event e.g. a communication campaign

How are Benchmarks calculated?
Benchmarks are given from previous period, or are calculated from previous tests using the same standardized methodology.


4. Fixed Benchmarking


How does it work?
You compare your performance to a pre-defined fixed number: a target.

What does it answer?

  • Are you reaching your target?
  • Are you better than worse than the fix reference?
  • Is the tested product / concept a Go or a No Go?

When is it used?
Typically used in:

  • Product testing: Go / No Go decisions, if the company has a fix target on a KPI, above which the product is launched
  • Mystery Shopping or Satisfaction surveys: to evaluate the performance of staff, to serve as the basis of their bonuses

How are Benchmarks calculated?
Benchmarks are pre-defined by the client, based on their internal standard protocols.


Overall, benchmarks are very useful in giving a context and therefore reducing your uncertainty about the interpretation of results.

At Shopper Intelligence, we believe in the power of benchmarks. Indeed it’s a foundation of our platform, our philosophy if you like (see our video). We use a combination of the above types, depending on the business question.

Our brand clients typically want to know how their category is shopped, what are its characteristics compared to the department or the Total Store – this gives them a good basis for negotiation with their retailers. For example, if their category is highly brand planned, then a brand led layout could work for them more effectively. They also want to know how they perform vs their competitor brands in-store.

Our retailer clients tend to look at their performance against other retailers in certain categories. For example, how they are evaluated on the shelf layout of their bakery products versus other retailers. And secondly, they like to find out about the role of each category in the store (e.g. traffic drivers vs spend drivers), which helps them increase the ROI on marketing activities on each category.

To find out more about our benchmark-driven shopper insights, please get in touch at

Happy benchmarking!