Market Research Without the Guesswork

Do Your Research
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What is the purpose of market research? 

"Every idea has competition. If you can’t see it, you’re not looking hard enough. While it may be true that there are no companies offering the specific combination of tools and services you plan to offer, there are always replacement technologies. What do people use today to solve their problems while waiting for your idea to come to the market? That is your competition," explains Christian Buckley

Market research is, therefore, all about identifying your biggest risks and also seeing opportunities. 

How to Ask the Right Questions

Market research does not require expensive consultants, surveys or focus groups-- it can be as simple as asking the right questions:

  • Do I have an identifiable target population with similar interests and needs?
  • Is the market large enough to support my business?
  • Can I tailor my products, services, and business identity to address that market's particular needs?
  • Is my target market currently underserved?
  • Can I reach my potential customers in a cost-effective manner?

How to Find Your Market

Once you have a sense of the questions you need to ask to start your business, reputable studies are a great way to get a total picture of your market niche and where you fit in. The most obvious place to start is by searching blogs and trade publications in your industry for the most cutting edge research and reports about your market.

Other ideas:

  • Pew Research Center offers tons of free comprehensive and reputable reports on the "numbers, facts and trends shaping your world."
  • Census.gov is a huge clearinghouse of data that details just about every strata and sub-strata of American life. For that reason, it's a goldmine of intelligence on the vital trends that affect your business.
  • Slideshare is a social network for presentations, and, in some cases, business plans. Take a look at what others have researched relative to your target market. Some of your work may have already been done for you!

Take a Look, It's in a Book (Or a Database)

Libraries across the nation are a trove of not just books but resources for business planning and market research. Libraries put large sources of demographic research at your fingertips, so you can know your market before you launch.

SimplyMap is a powerful software program that allows users to generate sophisticated demographic maps using 70,000 data variables related to demographics, employment, real estate & housing, crime, businesses, consumer spending and points of interest. Many city libraries have a subscription to SimplyMap -- call your local branch to find out more.

Great resources for financial analysis that you may find at your local library include: D&B Industry Norms & Key Business Ratios, Almanac of Business and Industrial Financial Ratios and RMA Annual Statement Studies. If your library doesn't have these volumes, ask for them on inter-library loan.

Google It! 

Google Trends and Google Insights are two great tools that allow you to look at web searches for any topic you can dream up and see trends over time.

For instance, a Google Insights search for "cake pops" and "whoopie pies" reveals that web searches for the latter had remained constant for some time, while interest in the cake pop had skyrocketed in the past few years.

A search for different beverages such as lager, IPA (a type of beer) and cider, and saw clear seasonal patterns around cider searches. You can easily segment out geographical areas to further pinpoint where consumer trends exist.

These are just a few great ways to understand your place in the competitive landscape.