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Strategic Planning: Market Research Information Sources

You know what kind of market information you need to develop your strategic plan, but now you’ve got to go out and find the answers. Doing market research can be like pulling on a never-ending spool of thread. Sometimes you reach the end of your search and sometimes you don’t. At some point, you need to decide whether you’ve collected enough information to make a strategic decision about which markets to pursue. Weigh the cost of perfect information against the risk of a less-than-perfect decision.

Following is a collection of potential sources. The sources aren’t exhaustive, but they do cover the most popular research sources available. Some of the sources are free, and others are quite expensive. Evaluate the cost of research against the cost of decision. Or in other words, how much insurance do you need or want to buy?

Market research: Internal company information

You may be amazed by how much information you have stored in your company databases, customer relationship management systems, employees, vendors, and distributors. Before you spend any time surfing databases or any money on a research study, start with your internal company information. Look for data that answers the questions in the earlier section “Identifying your information needs.”

Market research: Secondary data

Information or data that’s already compiled, such as reports, statistics, and white papers, is considered secondary data. To get a general understanding of the market and to begin to develop customer profiles, you can easily tap in to secondary sources. Here are some of the best:

  • Yahoo! Answers: This service is provided by Yahoo! and allows you to post a question to a stable of qualified researchers. At the time of posting, you set the price you’re willing to pay for the information. Average bids range from $5 to $100.

  • U.S. Department of Commerce: The U.S. Department of Commerce provides information about business, trade, and economic information from across the Federal Government.

  • eMarketer: This service provides market research on e-business and online marketing, objective analysis of online market trends, and data from more than 2,000 worldwide sources.

  • MarketResearch.com: This source sells market research reports for a variety of industries. It also has the most comprehensive collection of published market research available.

  • DemographicsNow: This company has numerous tools for both business and consumer markets, such as segmentation, customer profiling, site selection, demographic data, and competitive analysis reports.

  • Frost & Sullivan: This business consulting firm provides industry-specific, B2B research and reports for a variety of fields.

  • U.S. Census Bureau: The Bureau gives you free access to all census data about people, businesses, trade, and much more.

  • University Libraries: Most university libraries provide free access for walk-ins to databases like ABI/Inform, which compile articles from multiple sources where you can search abstracts. If one of your kids is a university or college student, you’re paying for that access now. College students often have better access to company data than marketing departments.

A variety of other websites provide business-specific information. Here are a few:

Want to get more specific in your secondary research efforts? The University of California Berkley Library publishes a guide entitled Finding Information on the Internet: A Tutorial. Check out this free resource on the UC Berkley website.

Market research: Primary data

Whether you have a specific research question, want to evaluate a specific need, or want to test market a product, you may need to go directly to the information source — your customer. This research is called primary research. You may also need to conduct primary research if you can’t locate a critical piece of information through secondary sources. Primary research includes surveys via e-mail, phone, direct mail, in-depth interviews, focus groups, usability testing, and direct observation.

You can conduct primary research yourself or hire an outside market research agency. Check out the GreenBook directory for a list of market research agencies.

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