The reading level for this article is Novice
As a famous scientist once responded to a reporter’s earnest question: “Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing”. As entrepreneurial-minded people, we would be well advised to listen to this simple wisdom.
Market research is more than the analysis of raw data. It is the opportunity to look outside your company to factors that may affect your success.
Research often begins with a guess, sometimes an informed guess based upon your observations, experiences, and belief system. Often the process of gathering information can feel counter-intuitive, especially when research indicates something other than what you believe.
Contrary to popular belief, market research is subjective — and that’s o.k. Your entrepreneurial vision becomes both a filter and a framework for reviewing information. The process begins with an idea or a passion. Then we conduct research to determine if the idea has merit. We begin by asking questions. Who are my potential customers? How large is my target market? What’s the perceived value of my product? Who are my competitors? How is my idea unique? How can I communicate that uniqueness?
Market research is like a scientist who seeks to prove or disprove a hypothesis through questions, analysis, and observation. But research is much more than the analysis of information. It is a willingness to admit “I don’t know”. While market research seeks to confirm your idea with information, the admission of “I don’t know” affords you the opportunity to discover other, possibly superior ideas.
Primary, or original, research is expensive, but Les Brown, a Detroit motivational speaker and author, suggests an inexpensive and readily available tool for gathering information, called TTP — or if that fails, TTMP. That stands for talk to people — and then talk to more people.
University professors, industry analysts, bankers, newspaper editors, and government officials can provide invaluable current information and refer you to additional sources. All you need to do is (1) ask intelligently, (2) recognize their contribution, and (3) show your appreciation. “Asking intelligently” means being prepared before you call, write or fax.
Even though we live in the information age, getting information from and to people is an expensive, sometimes unwieldy process. Here are some or my favorite sources of relatively low cost secondary (previously accumulated) research.
Michigan Information Center, 517-373-2697.
Disseminates U.S. Bureau of Census information.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Inexpensive information about factors affecting business.
Dun and Bradstreet’s Million Dollar Directory.
Library reference guide with company profiles
Info Power by Matthew Lesko, 301-369-1519.
Guide to free and low cost information.
The Directory of On-Line and Computer Readable Databases, Gale Research, 800-677-7760.
Available through Working Woman Magazine.
Research is a process. Like innovation, it is continuous. Perhaps surprisingly, the answer isn’t nearly as important as the act of asking the question.