Monday, July 21, 2008

How to conduct market research

Young Inventors has asked experts for their advice for innovators and first-time student entrepreneurs. Scott Gingold of Powerfeedback offers his tips for conducting market research:

You have a brilliant idea for a new product or service. All it takes is funding and you can produce this product, it will sell and then you are off to Tahiti with your fortune!

In many cases, the result is not so positive. For example, consider the case of the NeXT Computer introduced in 1988 by Steve Jobs. The machine was a marvel in offering the first CD-ROM drive and multimedia capabilities. However, it could not run standard applications, as a result, software vendors hesitated to rewrite their code for the NeXT machine. The unfortunate outcome was the demise of this machine.

What can we learn from this case? Technical wizardry is not enough to ensure success of an innovation. Buyers have their distinct evaluative criteria. Your new product will succeed, or not, according to how it fares when evaluated by potential buyers. As the NeXT machine lacked useful applications, buyers passed on it and purchased Windows based machines to run Excel, Word, etc. The awesome technology of the NeXT machine was not enough to compensate for the aforementioned deficiency.

The Role of Marketing Research

Marketing research is not a substitute for creativity, technical training or inspiration. What marketing research offers is a set of techniques which, when properly used, can supply information about the industry, competitors and consumers. This information is an aid to effective decision making and acts as a means to reduce the risk involved in developing and marketing new products.

Marketing Research Methods Useful for the Aspiring Entrepreneur

There are hundreds of marketing research techniques which range from focus groups to sophisticated multivariate statistical methods. The objective of this piece is to offer suggestions for cost effective research which can be performed by a non-specialist and yield information for sound decision making.

Here are two sources for data, which has already been collected (Secondary data):
Trade associations collect data and conduct studies to serve the interests of their members. Much of this information is available at no cost to nonmembers. In addition, the staff members of these organizations can offer guidance about other resources such as industry experts and trade publications. Several years ago, a client had developed an improved design for the common warehouse pallet. His design was a higher priced alternative to wooden pallets. How could he determine the size of his market? He turned to a trade association of pallet manufacturers for detailed data to answer his question.

Another source to consider is the U.S. Census Bureau. On their site it is possible to access information on the demographics (age, sex, race, income, etc.) of the U.S. population. A basic and critical issue for creators of new toys is how many children of a specific age range or gender who live in the U.S. The Census Bureau data can be used as a means of estimating total market size.

Lessons Learned

Always start your marketing research efforts with a thorough search for secondary data. Initially, try using major search engines such as Google and Dogpile. It is well worth it to make an appointment with the Business Librarian at a good local college library. Librarians are experts in ferreting out relevant sources which can be invaluable. However, they need your input regarding the nature of your product and the major issues you face.

Good luck!

Scott Gingold is a pioneer in the realm of online research, and stands as a noted business-consulting expert. His company, Powerfeedback, offers full-service market research services including qualitative and quantitative capabilities. In addition to market research, Scott Gingold regularly provides his consulting acumen to companies of all sizes throughout the Country. Prior to forming his own company, he spent 20+ years in the highly competitive transportation industry holding senior management positions and specialized in turning red ink into black ink. Visit Scott's Tumblr site.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Making Your Small Business Look Big

Young Inventors has asked experts for their advice for innovators and first-time student entrepreneurs. The first post is by Janet Holian, President of VistaPrint Europe:

As a small business, your budget is tight and your time is even tighter. But you still have to compete with larger organizations that have big budgets and even bigger staff. Let’s face it image is everything and if you can’t look big, prospective customers will go elsewhere.

How can you make your small business look big without breaking the bank? Start with these five time and budget friendly ideas. In no time you’ll be competing head-to-head with the larger organizations in your market.

1. Powerful Logo – the logo of your company is often the first thing that someone sees. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but don’t take it for granted. It should communicate the values of your company – strong, dedicated, customer focused, etc – and be on all of your marketing materials

2. Business Cards - Don’t underestimate the power of the business card. It’s often the first thing someone sees when you meet them for the first time and they are you when you aren’t there. Make sure your business cards are high-quality, full-color and make an immediate impact. Distribute them freely to ensure that your name gets out there often. Give a stack of cards to colleagues who will pass them along to potential customers.

3. Professional Materials—Produce high-quality, professional materials for all of your branding and marketing initiatives. All of your collateral materials - business cards, letterhead, brochures, note cards, post cards, giveaways and even return address labels - should all match and make a strong impression. And don’t forget note cards for hand written thank you notes. Because prospects and customers like to review information from home, clear and easy-to-read brochures with product or service information are important. Skip photo-copied fliers on colored paper and shoot for full color glossy materials. Hand them out when you meet with clients or prospects at shows and conferences.

4. Reinforce Your Brand With Great Giveaways—Stay in front of your customers every day. Look for cost-effective options that have staying power. If it makes sense for your business, items like calendar magnets with seasonal professional sports calendars are a great way to ensure your customers will place your business and contact information in a frequently viewed location like the refrigerator or file cabinet. Also consider holiday cards and holiday promotional giveaways with your name and messaging.

5. High Impact, High Frequency Mailings—Promotional mailings are one of the most cost-effective ways to keep you top of mind with your customers. Look for high-impact, full-color postcards that inform customers of your latest successes or upcoming sales. The frequency of the communication is almost as important as what you say. Mail your customer base twice a month for the best response. If you can segment your database, send smaller print runs of mailings to targeted audiences. You’d be surprised how appropriate mailings can impact the bottom line.

No matter your budget, these simple tips will enable you to look professional and will keep your company’s name in front of your customers.

Janet Holian is President of VistaPrint Europe, the small business marketing company. For more ideas on making your small business look professional, visit www.vistaprint.com.