Posted by William on March 6, 2012
About 10 years ago, I did a market research project for Otis Spunkmeyer, a cookie company out of San Leandro, Calif. I was asked to evaluate their optimum market share within the frozen cookie dough sub-industry. Back then, the library was the No. 1 source to turn to before venturing out to specialized groups and survey materials. Having been trained in research methodology, I mapped out what quantitative and qualitative (remember those terms from your high school economics class?) information I needed and then started lining up the possible data sources.
General to specific
I learned a great deal about conducting research by going from the general to the specific in that industry. First, I got hold of a huge reference book called something like, “Listings of Specialized Libraries.” From there, I was able to track down specialized food industry libraries and research centers, such as the Dole Foods Library. I even found a brilliant marketing plan from Nabisco Corporation, in which the company would stock shelves with products that had no sign of Nabisco on them, yet were owned by one of their subsidiaries.
What you’re looking for
Otis Spunkmeyer only gave me 2 weeks and did not want me to conduct any in-depth interviews with experts or industry figures, which would have taken more time and money. While a budget and a reasonable timetable are good things to have, what is more important is the type of research you are conducting. An important step is outlining your benchmarks and knowing what kind of data you need in order to make substantial marketing decisions. Establishing and studying matrices (simply a table with different variables) for cross-referencing can save you lots of time and produce more reliable results.
Initially, you may want to do a lot of your own research and map out your research methodology. Although the Internet has changed many of the dynamics of conducting research, the basic principals remain the same: Research still entails going from the general to the specific within a set of boundaries or matrix. A good resource I have found for gathering information on the type of strategy to use is Quirks, which features hundreds of articles on case studies and industry-specific research projects. Of course, specific search engines like Ask Jeeves, HotBot, and AltaVista are very helpful since they feature the largest volume of pages that are data-mined. A powerful newcomer that is creating a lot of global awareness is WorldLight, a search engine that searches worldwide and is definitely worth checking out.
If you have “unlimited” funds and want to get top-notch research, you might consider paying Forrester Research or the Gartner Group to give you an extensive industry analysis conducted by one of their expert teams. They will do an unmatched job, but will also charge you substantially. However, you may find some of their free industry reports helpful.
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