Posts Tagged ‘Analysights Small Business Solutions’

Doing Market Research for Your Business Plan Need not be Expensive

June 2, 2010

Every business needs to do market research. Whether your company is a Fortune 500 corporation or the neighborhood bar, understanding the market or markets in which you operate is critical to your company’s success. Would you invest money in an oil company that didn’t research the fields where it wanted to drill? Would you buy a house in a neighborhood without checking out the schools, crime rate, or housing market? Would you open a restaurant if you knew nothing about the location, the traffic around it, or the prospective customers? You can be sure that if you wanted to open a business, no banker will loan you money without you having done proper, thorough market research.

When one hears the phrase “market research,” most often he/she thinks about surveys and focus groups. These are the most common, yet often most expensive types of market research. Surveys and focus groups are primary research methods, since they are conducted from scratch. Most market research that small businesses need is secondary, that is, research that has already been conducted, published, and available to the public. Often, secondary research can be found in libraries, online, or through other published sources. Secondary research is also much less expensive – sometimes even free – to obtain; however, sifting through it for information relevant to your business’ needs and analyzing it properly can be very time-consuming. In this post, we will discuss how someone starting a business can do market research without breaking the budget.

First Step: Decide on the Information You Need

Tom Johnson has decided to fulfill his dream of starting a comedy club. He’s purchased a book on writing a business plan, and finds that one section of a typical business plan is “Market Analysis.” Tom realizes he must get this section down pat in order to determine the viability of his business and make projections of his first few years of revenues, and convince a banker to lend him money. Tom needs to ask himself several questions: What type of customers am I catering to? What locations are most convenient for attracting those customers? What are the traffic patterns in those locations? What other comedy clubs and entertainment venues are in the area? What do they charge? How do they promote their businesses? What types of promotions do my target customers respond to? Tom writes down all the questions he can think of that will help him analyze his market.

Census Bureau

The first place Tom turns to is the U.S. Bureau of the Census. The bureau’s Web site, www.census.gov, provides a wealth of info for him. He looks at the Web site for demographics, and plugs in the ZIP codes for the locations he is considering, along with their adjacent ZIP codes. The Web site provides great insights into the number of households in the ZIP code, the age ranges, income levels, racial composition, and other demographic factors. Also from the bureau’s Web site, Tom obtains the latest “Consumer Expenditure Survey,” and finds out what the average family spends on entertainment each year.

Tom then notices that the bureau also does an Economic Census of businesses every five years. He finds the Web page for County Business Patterns and looks to see how many entertainment establishments are within the ZIP codes he is considering. He gets good insights about the number of establishments, their employee size, revenues, and payrolls. Tom also finds other interesting facts from the Economic Census – particularly what percentage of revenues entertainment establishments typically spend on various categories: advertising, salaries, maintenance, etc.

Local Library

Tom realizes the Census Bureau has provided him with data that is summarized and aggregated. He needs more information about specific competitors and business patterns in the areas he is considering. So he visits his local library, which has access to several different databases of small businesses, like Dun & Bradstreet’s Hoover’s, and Million Dollar Database. These databases provide information on several individual establishments, including revenues, owner/officer information, employees, and location. Tom does a search of all entertainment establishments in his locations of interest.

Tom also searches through local newspapers of the past few weeks to see which entertainment venues were advertising, how often they were advertising, what they were offering in their ads, etc. He then goes to the Yellow Pages to see if those prospective competitors advertise there as well.

Chambers of Commerce

Tom then contacts different chambers of commerce around his locations of interest. He finds out when their functions are and attends some of them. The local chambers of commerce are great sources for identifying the similar businesses in his area, meeting their owners directly, and finding other businesses that can be help to Tom in opening his business. For example, Tom could meet the general manager of a local movie theater, and might learn from him that the area seems to be pressed for customers, or is impacted by some local ordinance; Tom might also meet a banker or an attorney who specializes in helping new businesses start. Still, he might meet people from a local corporation who are seeking to do events for employees, of which a comedy club can be a great option. Tom might also find information on the cost of labor in the area, as well as commercial real estate rents in various areas. Chambers of commerce are ideal for networking, news, assistance, prospective customers, and other information.

Getting Out There

Tom has now done a lot of secondary research, an exhaustive amount if you ask me! But there is also some primary research he can – and must – do. Tom should drive the areas near the proposed locations for his comedy club. He should check out the other entertainment places nearby: restaurants, jazz/dance clubs, movie theaters, other comedy clubs, karaoke bars, etc. That is, he should mystery shop. Tom should go into some of these competitors and get a feel for the type of clientele to which they cater, the prices they charge, the quality of service they deliver, and how busy they are. He can also see the décor of these venues, their peak times, the outdoor signage, and the traffic around them. All of these can yield valuable clues about the venue’s degree of competitive threat to Tom’s comedy club, and the viability of the location.

Putting it all Together

While there are countless many more sources Tom can turn to for market research, we see he’s done quite an impressive amount already. While most of his sources were free, or of minimal cost, Tom’s real expense was the time and legwork he put into it; he must now synthesize all this information and analyze it to see which locations provide the best mix of traffic, revenue potential, rental costs, and demographics, and then use that information to create forecasts. Once he’s done that, Tom can write the Market Analysis section.

PlanPro Makes the Market Analysis Section of Your Business Plan a Snap!

Chances are you don’t have the time Tom did to do all of that research. Finding all that secondary information and making heads or tails of it is probably something you’d rather delegate to a professional. With PlanPro, Analysights conducts all the secondary research you need for your business, and provides you with templates for the primary research you need to do. Once all the research is compiled, we will analyze it and provide you with the findings, so that you could write the Market Analysis section of your business plan with ease. All for a flat $495! For an extra $125, we will also write the Market Analysis section for you. This way, you can spend more time on the elements of your business plan that make the best use of your time. To learn more about PlanPro, visit: http://analysights.com/PlanPro.aspx or call Analysights at (847) 895-2565.

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Using Statistics to Evaluate a Promotion

May 25, 2010

Marketing – as much as cashflow – is the lifeblood of any business. No matter how good your product or service may be, it’s worthless if you can’t get it in front of your customers and get them to buy it. So all businesses, large and small, must engage in marketing. And we see countless types of marketing promotions or tactics being tried: radio and TV commercials, magazine and newspaper advertisements, public relations, coupons, email blasts, and so forth. But are our promotions working? The merchant John Wannamaker, often dubbed the father of modern advertising is said to have remarked, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Some basic statistics can help you evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing and take away much of the mystique Wannamaker complained about. When deciding whether to do a promotion, managers and business owners have no way of knowing whether it will succeed; in fact, in today’s economy, budgets are still tight. The cost to roll out a full promotion can wipe out an entire marketing budget if it proves to be a fiasco. This is why many businesses do a test before doing a complete rollout. The testing helps to reduce the amount of uncertainty involved in an all-out campaign.

Quite often, large companies need to choose between two or more competing campaigns for rollout. But how do they know which will be effective? Consider the example of Jenny Kaplan, owner of K-Jen, a New Orleans-style restaurant. K-Jen serves up a tasty jambalaya entrée, which is priced at $10.00. Jenny believes that the jambalaya is a draw to the restaurant and believes that by offering a discount, she can increase the average amount of the table check. Jenny decides to issue coupons via email to patrons who have opted-in to receive such promotions. She wants to knock a dollar off the price of the jambalaya as the offer, but doesn’t know whether customers would respond better to an offer worded as “$1.00 off” or as “10% off.” So, Jenny decides to test the two concepts.

Jenny goes to her database of nearly 1,000 patrons and randomly selects 200 patrons. She decides to send half of those a coupon for $1.00 off for jambalaya, and the other half a coupon for 10% off. When the coupon offer expires 10 days later, Jenny finds that 10 coupons were redeemed for each offer – a redemption rate of 10% each. Jenny observes that either wording will get the same number of people to respond. But she wonders which offer generated the largest table check. So she looks at the guest checks to which the coupons were stapled. She notices the following:

Guest Check Amounts

 

Offer

 
 

$1.00 off

10% Off

 
 

$38.85

$50.16

 
 

$36.97

$54.44

 
 

$35.94

$32.20

 
 

$54.17

$32.69

 
 

$68.18

$51.09

 
 

$49.47

$46.18

 
 

$51.39

$57.72

 
 

$32.72

$44.30

 
 

$22.59

$59.29

 
 

$24.13

$22.94

 

 

Jenny quickly computes the average for each offer. The “$1.00 off” coupon generated an average table check of $41.44; the “10% off” coupon generated an average of $45.10. At first glance, it appears that the 10% off promotion generated a higher guest check. But is that difference meaningful, or is it due to chance? Jenny needs to do further analysis.

Hypothesis Testing

How does Jenny determine if the 10% off coupon really did better than the $1.00 off coupon? She can use statistical hypothesis testing, which is a structured analytical method for comparing the difference between two groups – in this case, two promotions. Jenny starts her analysis by formulating two hypotheses: a null hypothesis, which states that there is no difference in the average check amount for either offer; and an alternative hypothesis, which states that there is, in fact, a difference in the average check amount between the two offers. The null hypothesis is often denoted as H0, and the alternative hypothesis is denoted as HA. Jenny also refers to the $1.00 off offer as Offer #1, and the 10% off offer as Offer #2. She wants to compare the means of the two offers, the means of which are denoted as μ1 and μ2, respectively. Jenny writes down her two hypotheses:

H0: The average guest check amount for the two offers is equal.

HA: The average guest check amount for the two offers is not equal.

Or, more succinctly:

H0: μ12

HA: μ1≠μ2

 

Now, Jenny is ready to go to work. Note that the symbol μ denotes the population she wants to measure. Because Jenny did her test on a portion – a sample – of her database, the averages she computed were the sample average, which is denoted as . As we stated earlier, the average table checks for the “$1.00 off” and “10% off” offers were 1=$41.44 and 2=$45.10, respectively. Jenny needs to approximate μ using . She must also compute the sample standard deviation, or s for each offer.

Computing the Sample Standard Deviation

To compute the sample standard deviation, Jenny must subtract the mean of a particular offer from each of its check amounts in the sample; square the difference; sum them up; divide by the total observations minus 1(9) and then take the square root:

$1.00 Off

Actual Table Check

Average Table Check

Difference

Difference Squared

$38.85

$41.44

-$2.59

$6.71

$36.97

$41.44

-$4.47

$19.99

$35.94

$41.44

-$5.50

$30.26

$54.17

$41.44

$12.73

$162.03

$68.18

$41.44

$26.74

$714.97

$49.47

$41.44

$8.03

$64.46

$51.39

$41.44

$9.95

$98.98

$32.72

$41.44

-$8.72

$76.06

$22.59

$41.44

-$18.85

$355.36

$24.13

$41.44

-$17.31

$299.67

   

Total

$1,828.50

   

S21=

$203.17

   

S1=

$14.25

 

10% Off

Actual Table Check

Average Table Check

Difference

Difference Squared

$50.16

$45.10

$5.06

$25.59

$54.44

$45.10

$9.34

$87.22

$32.20

$45.10

-$12.90

$166.44

$32.69

$45.10

-$12.41

$154.03

$51.09

$45.10

$5.99

$35.87

$46.18

$45.10

$1.08

$1.16

$57.72

$45.10

$12.62

$159.24

$44.30

$45.10

-$0.80

$0.64

$59.29

$45.10

$14.19

$201.33

$22.94

$45.10

-$22.16

$491.11

   

Total

$1,322.63

   

S22=

$146.96

   

S2=

$12.12

 

Notice the denotation of S2. That is known as the variance. The variance and the standard deviation are used to measure the average distance between each data point and the mean. When data are normally distributed, about 95% of all observations fall within two standard deviations from the mean (actually 1.96 standard deviations). Hence, approximately 95% of the guest checks for the $1.00 off offer should fall between $41.44 ± 1.96*($14.25) or between $13.51 and $69.37. All ten fall within this range. For the 10% off offer, about 95% will fall between $45.10 ± 1.96*($12.12), or between $21.34 and $68.86. All 10 observations also fall within this range.

Degrees of Freedom and Pooled Standard Deviation

Jenny noticed two things immediately: first, that the 10% off coupon has the higher sample average, and second each individual table check is closer to it mean than it is for the $1.00 off coupon. Also notice that when we were computing the sample standard deviation for each offer, Jenny divided by 9, and not 10. Why? Because she was making estimates of the population standard deviation. Since samples are subject to error, we must account for that. Each observation gives us information into the population’s actual values. However, Jenny had to make an estimate based on that sample, so she gives up one observation to account for the sampling error – that is, she lost a degree of freedom. In this example, Jenny has 20 total observations; since she estimated the population standard deviation for both offers, she lost two degrees of freedom, leaving her with 18 (10 + 10 – 2).

Knowing the remaining degrees of freedom, Jenny must pool the standard deviations, weighting them by their degrees of freedom. This would be especially evident if the sample sizes of the two offers were not equal. The pooled standard deviation is given by:

FYI – n is simply the sample size. Jenny then computes the pooled standard deviation:

S2p = ((9 * $203.17) + (9 * $146.96))) / (10 + 10 – 2)

= ($1,828.53 + $1,322.64)/18

= $3,151.17/18

= $175.07

Now take the square root: $13.23

Hence, the pooled standard deviation is $13.23

Computing the t-Test Statistic

Now the fun begins. Jenny knows the sample mean of the two offers; she knows the hypothesized difference between the two population means (which we would expect to be zero, if the null hypothesis said they were equal); she knows the pooled standard deviation; she knows the sample size; and she knows the degrees of freedom. Jenny must now calculate the t-Test statistic. The t-Test Statistic, or the t-value, represents the number of estimated standard errors the sample average is from that of the population. The t-value is computed as follows:

 

So Jenny sets to work computing her t-Test Statistic:

t = (($41.44 – $45.10) – (0)) / ($13.23) * SQRT(1/10 + 1/10)

= -$3.66 / ($13.23 * SQRT(1/5))

=-$3.66 / ($13.23 * .45)

=-$3.66/$5.92

= -0.62

This t-statistic gives Jenny a basis for testing her hypothesis. Jenny’s t-statistic indicates that the difference in sample table checks between the two offers is 0.62 standard errors below the hypothesized difference of zero. We now need to determine the critical t – the value that we get from a t-distribution table that is available in most statistics textbooks and online. Since we are estimating with a 95% confidence interval, and since we must account for a small sample, our critical t-value is adjusted slightly from the 1.96 standard deviations from the mean. For 18 degrees of freedom, our critical t is 2.10. The larger the sample size, the closer to 1.96 the critical t would be.

So, does Jenny Accept or Reject her Null Hypothesis (Translation: Is the “10% Off” Offer Better than the “$1.00 Off” Offer)?

Jenny now has all the information she needs to determine whether one offer worked better than the other. What does the critical t of 2.10 mean? If Jenny’s t-statistic is greater than 2.10, or (since one offer can be lower than the other), less than -2.10, then she would reject her null hypothesis, as there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the two means are not equal. Is that the case?

Jenny’s t-statistic is -0.62, which is between -2.10 and 2.10. Hence, it is within the parameters. Jenny should not reject H0, since there is not enough evidence to suggest that one offer was better than the other at generating higher table checks. In fact, there’s nothing to say that the difference between the two offers is due to anything other than chance.

What Does Jenny Do Now?

Basically, Jenny can conclude that there’s not enough evidence that the “$1.00 off” coupon was worse/better than the “10% off” coupon in generating higher table check amounts, and vice-versa. This does not mean that our hypotheses were true or false, just that there was not enough statistical evidence to say so. In this case, we did not accept the null hypothesis, but rather, failed to reject it. Jenny can do a few things:

  1. She can run another test, and see if the same phenomenon holds.
  2. Jenny can accept the fact that both offers work equally well, and compare their overall average table checks to those of who ordered jambalaya without the coupons during the time the offer ran; if the coupons generated average table checks that were higher (using the hypothesis testing procedures outlined above) than those who paid full price, then she may choose to rollout a complete promotion using either or both of the offers described above.
  3. Jenny may decide that neither coupon offer raised average check amounts and choose not to do a full rollout after all.

So Why am I Telling You This?

The purpose of this blog post was to take you step-by-step into how you can use a simple concept like t-tests to judge the performance of two promotion concepts. Although a spreadsheet like Excel can run this test in seconds, I wanted to walk you through the theory in laymen’s terms, so that you can grasp the theory, and then apply it to your business. Analysights is in the business of helping companies – large and small – succeed at marketing, and this blog post is one ingredient in the recipe for your marketing success. If you would like some assistance in setting up a promotion test or in evaluating the effectiveness of a campaign, feel free to contact us at www.analysights.com.

 

Introducing Analysights’ Small Business Solutions

May 11, 2010

I’m pleased to announce that Analysights has developed a line of solutions designed to provide high-quality marketing research services to small businesses at affordable rates. Much like large corporations, small businesses need to forecast sales, analyze and monitor their marketplace, and understand what their customers think and where improvements must be made. However, most small businesses don’t have the budget that larger ones do to get the insights they need.

Now they don’t have to!

Small businesses can now get customized marketing research services for a flat price! Analysights has introduced three lines of small business solutions: SurveySimple, ForecastEase, and PlanPro.

SurveySimple is our small scale survey solution, which includes initial consultation, questionnaire design, survey deployment, data collection for 100 to 300 responses, and analysis and reporting with recommendations. You can choose from a Silver, Gold, or Platinum package, depending on the number of people surveyed and/or the length and complexity of the questionnaire. Find out more about SurveySimple.

ForecastEase is a customized sales forecasting solution for small businesses. We use your past sales data to build a forecast model that will help you predict what sales will be in the both the short- and long-term. We then provide you with an Excel spreadsheet powered with the model, so you need only plug in a few numbers to get estimates of upcoming sales, making it easier for you to schedule employees, order supplies and inventory, and make plans with more certainty. You can have sales forecasts made on a daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. ForecastEase also has a flat price, depending on the periodic basis chosen. Find out more about ForecastEase.

PlanPro is geared towards any small business or entrepreneur preparing a business or marketing plan. The “Market Analysis” is a critical, but often difficult, section of a business plan to create. Analysights takes the drudgery of the Market Analysis section off your hands. We will consult with you and then research your market, examine industry’s trends, competition, and regulatory environment, develop projections for the next couple of years, and provide you with the findings. For a small fee, we will even write the Market Analysis section of your business plan for you. Find out more about PlanPro.

With Analysights’ Small Business Solutions, the question is no longer a matter of “can you afford to do marketing research,” but of “can you afford not to?”