Most every organization will benefit from even the most elementary market research. If it does not provide new information, it will confirm what is known.

What is market research?

Market research is the process of gaining information about your market. Preferably, this is specific information about your target market and the key factors that influence their buying decisions.

Determine what form of market research is going to work best for you. Make that decision based on the value you will receive, versus the time and other resources you need to invest to gain access to that information.

Market research is often confused with an elaborate process conducted by a third party that takes a tremendous amount of time and money. It may be important to take a different perspective on what market research is and how it is conducted.

Types of market research

1. Primary market research

Primary market research is research that you conduct yourself, rather than information that you find already published. Primary market research may result from you having direct contact with your customers or the public.

You can gather this information in the following ways: 

  • Holding focus groups—gather a small group of people together for a discussion with an assigned leader.
  • Sending out customer surveys—both of existing customers and potential customers. Sending out a survey via sites like SurveyMonkey are a great way to collect this type of information from current or potential customers of your business.
  • Assessing your competition—look at their solutions, technologies, and what niche they occupy.

2. Secondary market research

Market research may also come from secondary sources. This is information others have acquired and already published which you may find relevant.

Access to this secondary market research data may be yours for the asking and cost you only an email, letter, phone call, or perhaps a nominal fee for copying and postage. Much of it is entirely free, and available to search on the Internet.

Where to find information

There are many websites sponsored by a variety of organizations that can provide you with the business information you’ll need for your business and marketing plans. These provide a beginning, a jump-off place for more in-depth research.

Online resources for market research

Here are sites that provide excellent data within the United States:

  • U.S. Census Cendata: This page has a menu of available reports that include reports on different manufacturing industries, county-specific economic surveys, business patterns for a specific ZIP code and others.
  • Zapdata: This site offers very good industry data reports, sorted by Standard Industrial Classification code, with a powerful SIC code searcher. The industry-specific (based on SIC code) reports tell you how many companies there are, average sales, and employees. There are also breakdowns by company size and location.
  • CEOExpress: This site provides an excellent compilation of additional sites you might want to try.
  • FreeLunch: Offers economic, demographic, and financial information.
  • ZoomProspector: Provides information on markets based on location, to help you choose your business location based on informed market research.
  • BizStats: This site will let you search for useful industry specific financials.

Information from trade and industry associations

Many industries are blessed with an active trade association that serves as a vital source of industry-specific information. Such associations regularly publish directories for their members, and the better ones publish statistical information that track industry sales, profits, ratios, economic trends, and other valuable data.

Where to find an applicable trade or industry association:

  • The Encyclopedia of Associations published by The Gale Group is probably the most established, respected source on associations. These cost several hundred dollars each and are normally available at reference libraries. This organization also offers the more updated Associations Unlimited online database of more than 400,000 organizations.
  • The Internet Public Library has a large list of associations on the Web.
  • The “Action Without Borders” initiative lists thousands of not-for-profit organizations.

The ultimate goal is information. Most of these associations have industry statistics, market statistics, guides, annual references, directories of industry participants, and other industry-specific information. Many provide business ratios by region or by comparable business size.

Visit their websites first to see what information is available. When in doubt, call or email the industry association offices and communicate with the managers.

Information from magazines and publications

Industry-specific magazines offer a wealth of information on your business and your market. Business magazines are an important source of business information. Aside from the major general-interest business publications (Business Week, Wall Street Journal, and so on), there are many specialty publications that look at specific industries.

Why concern yourself with specialization?

Specialization is an important trend in the publishing and internet businesses. Your widgets may be boring to the general public, but they are exciting to widget manufacturers who read about them regularly in their specialized magazines.

Finding the right publications:

Some of these are available online, and some only in print editions:

  • Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory: Located on the R.R. Bowker website, this is probably the most established and respected source on associations and one of the largest listings of magazines. It is also available in hard copy (ask your library reference section, because it’s expensive) as well as online.
  • Audit Bureau of Circulation: This is another source you can look for in library reference. If you have any association with an advertising agency, ask them to loan it to you for a few hours.
  • Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature: Published by H.W. Wilson of New York, this guide indexes popular magazines. It is also available in most library reference sections.
  • Business Periodicals Index: Also published by H.W. Wilson of New York, the Business Periodicals Index is an index of business magazines and journals only.

 Which tools have you found most helpful when conducting market research?

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