It's an easy trap to think of market research as a data point collections process when in actuality, it's a creative undertaking where synthesis, strategies, and ideas are paramount.
Strategic market research is a creative process in which a business decision-maker tests assumptions and opinions regarding business opportunities via both quantitative and qualitative means. While data collection for quantitative analysis in today's (aka "Internet") environment poses unique challenges and opportunities, it lends itself well to both a definition of a meaningful endpoint and measurable metrics of the success/failure of the collections effort.
The qualitative challenge, however, is far more complex. It requires induction from the data collection to framework from which to make a business decision. This is, in essence, the creation of the business idea. The business idea is the endpoint - the vision in the distance - that is the wellspring of identifying, targeting, and profiting from an entrepreneurial, structural, and/or new product/service initiative.
- Jeff Bezos conceptualizing the e-commerce revolution with Amazon.com
- Proctor and Gamble management identifying the strategic brand synergies in the decision to acquire Gillette
- Salesforce.com executing upon the vision of Web browser-based sales automation/customer relationship management software for both small-business and corporate users
- Google moving the concept of search (technology in which they lacked a first-mover advantage) forward both incrementally and by quantum conceptual leaps
Importantly, for these business ideas (and most others) the strategic market research they undertake is a strategic/analytical process. In fact, the key decision-makers in these cases would not label their business intelligence collection efforts as market research at all.