12 tips for market research

The following information may help when researching a new product or service, potential market or licensors, and looking for strategic partners. Read more about researching customers.

1. Mystery shopping

Always start with the basics; go shopping at all the retailers where you think your product would fit.

2. Ongoing referrals

If you are seeking assistance from someone, or doing some primary market research, always ask if they know anyone who might be able to help. This can lead to excellent contacts.

3. Associations

There are a variety of business and industry associations.

The Directory of Australian Associations is a subscription-based service that lists many of them. The secretary of each association usually knows about the industry the association represents, and its key people.

Some associations are not listed in this directory so a Google keyword search can be helpful.

Another option is to search the Queensland association register.

Most associations produce a newsletter or magazine – try to get on the mailing list.

Associations' websites often include a directory of members with contact details, white papers or industry-based secondary market research.

4. Government resources

Use our free market research kit for a step-by-step guide to conducting your own online market research.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) website has useful information, and help is also available from the Queensland statistics division and research resources for business and industry.

Austrade has access to country and industry reports.

5. Industry Capability Network

The Industry Capability Network (ICN) is an Australian and New Zealand network which helps businesses maximise purchasing opportunities from both the government and private sectors. The ICN can find Australian companies that may be a good manufacturing partner.

6. Pareto's 80/20 Principle when talking to buyers

Ring the big retailers or wholesale distributors and ask for the buyer for your product category. For example, nursery/babywear buyer, and for builders and construction it will be the project estimator who sources suppliers and parts.

Explain that you understand they would probably prefer to deal with someone who already has an established account (particularly if you have only one product) and someone with whom they have an ongoing relationship. Then ask whether they would be able to give you a business name, contact person and the city they are in so you can pitch your product to that contact.

This focuses your efforts on a few key buyers or customers.

7. Web search for expos and trade displays

Look in Australia and overseas for expos and trade displays where you can promote your business. If you are considering going overseas soon, this is the cheapest/best way to get all your competitors in the one spot. It also offers the opportunity to be a mystery shopper (pretend to be a customer), allowing you to see the prices your competitors are offering, their distributors and their main customers.

8. Industry print/trade magazines

University databases have many periodicals online. You can also look up other products in your field in magazines, such as Choice Magazine or Retail World. For example, an article on vacuum cleaners in Australia will give you an idea on the market share of vacuum cleaners in Australia over the past 20 years, and the average price. It will also give a comparison on brands and quality.

A search by key companies in the Australian Financial Review online will be helpful; you can pay by the article after viewing the extract.

Other newspapers can also be useful, such as The Age, Melbourne and The Sydney Morning Herald.

You may be able to request an old issue of a magazine for your perusal as a trial so you can see the format and types of business/articles they cover. The advertising content can tell you which are the most proactive.

9. Cooperative research centres

The staff at the Cooperative Research Centres Association know the experts in a field, making them great for referrals. Be sure to check out the links and white papers which often have market size statistics embedded in an academic document.

10. Directories

Kompass is a global subscription-based business-to-business portal and database, represented in 60 countries.

ThomasNet lists Australian and international manufacturers.

Free annual reports of the major US companies are available at the Public Register Online or The Public Register.

If you're dealing with an American company, you can search the EDGAR database, maintained by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The level of disclosure required of American companies is quite detailed. It is not unusual to find entire agreements on EDGAR, including licences, joint venture agreements, collaboration agreements, etc. This is particularly handy when researching what types of provisions a particular American company has agreed on in the past, and therefore is likely to agree upon again.

11. Secondary market research papers

Secondary market research papers available on a user-pays basis include:

12. Market research associations

Sometimes key players in smaller industry sectors will pay for a market research firm to do a private study. These studies are often available for resale. To find out what's available, contact companies that specialise in research for your industry.

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