Market Research

Market research

written by Tim Berry of Palo Alto Software


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.

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. Market research can be casual and limited in scope and, although it may not be “statistically significant” research, it can still be valuable. The value and “degree of fit” may be based on the quality, cost, or the amount of time to acquire the information using these practical market research tools.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.

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. This may be through the following types of information gathering.

  • Focus groups gather a small group of people together for a discussion with an assigned leader.
  • Customer surveys
    • Existing customers
    • Potential customers
  • Your competition
    • Solutions
    • Technologies
    • Niches

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. Much of it is available to search on the Internet.

Where to Find Information on the Internet
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.

Market Data for the United States
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.
  • 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.

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. If you don’t know which trade associations apply to your industry, find out. Look for Associations on the Internet:

  •’s list of trade associations is an amazing list of hundreds of trade and industry associations.
  • 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
  • “Action Without Borders” initiative from 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. Contact possible associations, visit their websites 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, etc.), there are many specialty publications that look at specific industries.

Specialization is an important trend in the publishing and Internet businesses. Dingbats and Widgets may be boring to the general public, but they are exciting to Dingbat and Widget manufacturers who read about them regularly in their specialized magazines. The magazines are an important medium for industry-specific advertising, which is important to readers as well as advertisers. The editorial staffs of these magazines have to fill the space between the ads. They do that by publishing as much industry-specific information as they can find, including statistics, forecasts, and industry profiles. Paging through one of these magazines or visiting a website can sometimes produce a great deal of business and market forecasting, and economic information.

Finding the Right Publications
If you don’t already know what magazines focus on your business area, then the best place to start looking is on the Internet:

  • listing of magazines.
  • 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 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.

For traditional printed directories, several good reference sources list magazines, journals, and other publications. They also offer indexes to published articles which you can use to search for the exact references you need. These will be kept in the reference section of most libraries.

  • 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, is an index of business magazines and journals only.

Getting the Information
Once you’ve identified the right magazines, contact the editorial departments using their website, fax or phone number and published contact information. Many industry-specific magazines publish statistical editions and market reviews at regular intervals.

Use the indexes to identify published information that might help your marketing plan. When you find an index listing for an article that forecasts your industry or talks about industry economics or trends, jot down basic information on the publication and ask the library for a copy of the publication.

Tim Berry

about the author

Tim Berry

Founder and President of Palo Alto Software and a renowned planning expert. He is listed in the index of "Fire in the Valley", by Swaine and Freiberger, the history of the personal computer industry. Tim contributes regularly to the bplans blog, the as well as his own blog, Planning, Startups, Stories. His full biography is available at Follow Tim onGoogle +


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