Having a strong marketing research plan is the first step in building a winning marketing strategy that will drive sales and grow your business. Market Research is the process of learning as much about your target market as possible – essential to successful marketing.
Without first researching your potential market, launching a product or service is like shooting in the dark. Unfortunately, too many small business owners shy away from taking the time to do the thorough marketing research and strategy that is needed to build a successful business.
It is not too difficult to do some detailed research of your potential market and competitive analysis online. Here are my recommendations for sites you can use for effective online marketing research. These are all freely available.
Of course, if you have access to paid resources like Hoovers.com that is even better.
Google can be a great resource for market research. Any marketing research plan should start with this – search for your market subsegment, or product/solution description, or the name of a competitor and see what comes up.
Put yourself in the shoes of your potential target customer – what would they type into Google to try to find a solution like yours? The listings that come up on the first page or two of results are your competitors or complementors (look at both the organic results as well as the paid sponsors).
If you are going to be successful with your potential product idea, you need to be able to make it to the first couple of pages on Google (preferably without having to pay for it)… how is the competition? Will you be able to get on the first 1-3 pages?
Your industry or market segment probably has a number of business directories that are available online. If you're not sure, then check out the websites of the top industry associations or groups in your segment. Or try typing "[market segment] directory" into Google (replace "market segment" with the name of your industry or niche).
Online business directories can be a great resource for the names of competitive products, or contact information for potential joint venture partners (complementors).
Try out Alexa.com/siteinfo. Alexa often provides basic information about the business/owner of a particular site, with some company profile data also included sometimes (revenue, etc). Can be used for competitive research, although sometimes the Alexa company profile data, revenues, etc is of questionable quality (may not be very current).
You can get more out of Hoovers if you have a subscription, but even without one they have quite a bit of information available for free. You can get industry segment reports, company directories, and company profiles.
You can find company profiles, press releases and articles related to a particular market/industry segment or a particular company. Useful for competitive and niche research.
Find helpful conversations and data about your market subsegment: do a search for blogs and forums related to your market subsegment (type in “<market subsegment name> forum” in Google, for example). Search in Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other relevant social media to see what people are currently talking about related to your market subsegment.
The best market research reports are not going to be free, but if your budget is limited you can often find summaries or articles written by others using data from recent analyst reports.
You can also look for survey results in your niche, or conduct a customer survey on your website, blog, or social media.
Finally and most importantly: talk to potential customers and get their feedback directly. Ask them about their challenges and what solutions they are using. Find out what their needs are. Do some informational interviews with thought leaders in your niche.
Once you have completed this basic market research, then step back and see what additional data you are missing to fully flesh out your marketing research plan.
This market research will give you the understanding needed to drive marketing strategies that actually produce business results. Now continue on with Step 2: Assessing Your Competition, which is covered in
this article on Competitive Marketing Strategy.