Defining Your Marketing Research Plan

How Critical is Marketing Research?

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.

marketing research, marketing study

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.

Online Market Research Resources

It is not too difficult to do some fairly 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.

Top Tips for Market Research

  • Google: almost certainly you already know Google! Any marketing research plan should start with this – search for your market subsegment, or product/solution description, 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?
  • Online business directories – by searching for products and services like you are planning, you can identify competitors.
  • 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).
  • Hoovers.com 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.
  • Allbusiness.com 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.
  • Use Web 2.0 to your advantage to find recent articles 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 and other relevant social media to see what people are currently talking about related to your market subsegment. Ask potential customers what they are looking for, how they solve their problem today, what they would like to have, etc.
  • Find free market research reports, free survey sites, or conduct a customer survey on your website or blog.
  • Talk to potential customers and get their feedback directly.

Completing the Market Research Plan

Once you have completed this basic marketing 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.

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