Let’s face it. Most business leaders and marketers do not do a sufficient job with the market research component of their strategic planning. There are a few reasons behind this:
1) It’s not real exciting (unless you’re the analytical, data-head type)
2) It can be incredibly expensive (and we want to save the budget for the fun stuff)
3) We’re afraid of what we might find out (it can be easier to create a view of the market we want than to face the truth of the market realities).
And, for those of you who do go through the considerable effort of market research, scouring the reports from Jupiter, Gartner, or other industry watchdogs, you’re still missing the boat. This global look at the market is important, but not complete.
Unless you have unlimited budgets (and we’d like to talk to you if you do), the critical step of market research can not be short-changed. To make sure you’ve covered all the bases, consider these four methods for a thorough, holistic market research effort:
1. Survey Customers and potential customers, as well as colleagues in or around your industry or target market. One of the best market research sources you have, is your own customer base and sphere of influence. Conduct a web survey (of no more than 5 questions) aimed at pulling future trends from this valuable resource. Ask them, among other things a) what the most important factor is for buying a product like yours; b) what is the biggest hurdle they’ll face in next 12-months; and/or c) if they could change your product or service, what would they like to see (and why). Choose three of the most important research questions and have your sales team call those customers who didn’t respond to the web survey to get the answers.
2. Gather Team Input It is important to include your internal staff when conducting a market research project. Whether it is customer service who can pass on the “feet-on-the street” trends they hear every day, your product team who are immersed in the emerging trends for their product, or your executive or sales team who often “hob nob” with the people who know, you’ll find important data points that should be considered in your marketing plan. It is important to solicit this feedback INDIVIDUALLY and not as group input. We find that when asked as a group you either have the quiet folks not feeding into the system, or you have such a general response as not to be relevant. Once you’ve collected all of the individual feedback, compile the results into one document and review for completeness, consistency, and consensus. Where consensus is lacking, address as a team-using the data from your other research methods to guide the way.
3. Study The Competition (consider “secret shopping” to get the “real experience”). We’re often told by our clients “we know our competition.” Then, as our marketing team studies and “secret shops” the competition on their behalf, a completely different picture unveils itself. It’s important to an effective marketing strategy that we not make assumptions about our competition (who they are, how they position themselves, their strengths/weaknesses, etc.). If you don’t have the resources to conduct a thorough competitive study, hire someone who can. We promise it will be enlightening, as well as valuable to the research you need for your marketing strategy.
4. Evaluate The Market (concentrate on information that indicates size, trends, and need). It is this method where most marketers focus all of their attention. And, while we don’t think it alone provides a complete enough picture, we do recognize it’s important to your strategic planning. When evaluating the market perspective, start with trade associations, publications, and research companies focused on your industry.
Many of you can’t afford the reports or fees from the research companies covering your industry, but don’t be discouraged. Most of the reports have free executive summaries that will get you what you need. Once you have gathered, compiled, and analyzed the information from all four of these research methods, you will want to then summarize the significant points in the research section of your Marketing Plan. This holistic approach to market research will give you everything you need to create an efficient and effective marketing roadmap!