If you are looking for ways to expand your business, enter a new niche, or increase revenue from your current niche by finding new customers, then you will need to do some careful market research to proceed. It is time-consuming and expensive to simply try to expand without carefully testing the waters to determine if your idea is likely to succeed. Unlike large corporations able to hire a research firm or even with an in-house team, any research a small or medium size business conducts creates additional expense or manpower needs.
However, there are some effective methods available that minimize both and will allow you to move forward with confidence into new markets.
The simplest and most direct way to get market data and demographics is from your own website. If you are trying to determine new products or price points for your current customer base, the absolute easiest way is to ask them. If you (or your web developer) search plugins, you will find numerous available that will allow you to easily add short marketing surveys directly to any page of your website. These are free and take only minutes to set up.
Social Media such as Facebook and Twitter can be used to conduct informal research and surveys providing you have a large enough following to be worthwhile. A few things to consider with this approach is that unless you can make up an angle catchy enough to be shared it is limited in scope and people that answer on such places where all can see there answer will tend to respond to some questions with what they think they should feel instead of what they actually think. FaceBook actively markets its own research tools and allows you to purchase research campaigns and advertise surveys but it is not cheap at all and you pay per impression, not by response.
There are tens of thousands of forums on the Internet for every interest imaginable. If you search for forums relevant for your business or products you can gain insight into what people are looking for, and what is trending by reading posts. In addition, most forums allow you to post polls or surveys. Ask non-spammy, individual questions and you may get a lot of responses. If joining several forums to do this, use different usernames and different questions. Most people on these forums are members of several and if they see the same username and question everywhere they will quickly label you as spammer and pull your posts.
Using the Google applications available for free can give a lot of insight into what is trending and what people are looking for that you may be able to provide. The keyword tool will allow you to put in words that are similar to your product offerings and match them up with phrases containing those words that are most searched for. This allows you to see what people are looking for in addition to your product. For example if you put in a brand of shoes you offer and it comes back with most searches for that brand plus a specific color in search you will know how to load you inventory or feature product.
Another tool on Google is trends. You can go to the explore tab from the trends page and type in keywords (products) and it will tell you how often it is searched for and quite accurately predict if it is going to become more or less popular in future months. These are both free and take just some time and creativity in selecting keywords to research to gain reams of valuable market data.
The premier free research tool is readily available often from local universities. Contact the university’s Marketing Degree program, and give them the parameters you need and they assign it to higher level students as projects for real world experience. It is far more valuable to them as instructional tools then repeated often done past assignments and gives you highly motivated and reviewed market research tailored to your needs on par with high cost research agencies for free.
James Raglan writes for 2Europe Marketing Research Services, specialists in international market research.