Small Businesses Can’t Afford to do Marketing Research? They Can’t Afford NOT To!

How many of us would go on a road trip without first determining the optimal route to our destination?  Or locating the lodging facilities, restaurants, and service stations along the way?  Yet, why is it that when it comes to running our business, many of us don’t take the time to research the route to our business’ success?

Marketing research is a key component in developing effective marketing and business plans.  Marketing research helps us understand who our customers are, what their needs and wants are, and how they perceive our companies and our products vis a vis our compeition; marketing research also helps us ascertain how viable the market is for our products and services, the degree of competition, and the trends within our industry; and marketing research helps us establish goals and choose courses of action.

Yet many small business avoid doing any marketing research because they perceive it to be very costly.  However marketing research exists in several forms, many low cost or even free.  There are two types of marketing research data: primary and secondary.  Primary research is information you collect directly from the customer through surveys or focus groups.  Secondary research is information that has been collected and published by various organizations such as government agencies, trade publications and associations, and chambers of commerce, for various purposes.   Secondary research tends to be the least costly of the two, so it will account for the vast majority of market research a small business conducts, and most often will be all it needs.

Doing Marketing Research on a Shoestring

How can a business do marketing research on a low budget?  There are lots of great secondary research sources available, often for the nominal cost of a trip to your local library or an Internet search.  One of the best sources of marketing research data is the U.S. Census.  The Census Bureau provides demographics and population estimates, as well as social, political, and economic data.  The Census Bureau also conducts an Economic Census every five years to measure industrial activity.  The Economic Census breaks statistics down by industry and region, enabling you to size up your competition.  You can find out how many firms are in your territory, how big they are, what their revenues are, etc.  You can even find out how much of the industry’s sales are controlled by the top companies.

Besides the Census Bureau, you can find inexpensive data from your chamber of commerce, your trade associations, your vendors, and even your customers.  Check out the Encyclopedia of Associations, by Gale Research, at your library.  This source can help you identify associations relevant to your industry, as well as associations your customers might be members of.

Your public library will also have sources like The Thomas Register of American Manufacturers and the Harris InfoSource All-Industries and Manufacturing Directories, which can help you target businesses in a certain industry, learn more about competitors, and find companies to manufacture your products.

If you’re looking for company-specific information, your library may have an online subscription to Hoover’s, which is owned by Dun and Bradstreet.  In fact, D&B also furnishes its Million Dollar Database, which provides addresses, key officers, sales, and number of employees for almost 2 million U.S. and Canadian organizations, both publicly traded and privately owned.

Secondary information can also be obtained from colleges and universities, community organizations, and other government agencies.

And this list is far from comprehensive.

Given all the secondary information at our fingertips, the question is no longer whether small businesses can afford to do marketing research, but whether they can afford not to.

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