HOW TO: Conduct a market assessment study

Marketers face ever greater pressure to retain and grow sales from existing customers, while trying to maximise opportunities from new ones. Your organisation may have a good understanding of market share, and sales figures may provide a measure of success, but are there aspects of your existing customers' behaviour that you need to understand in more detail? Do you know how potential customers view your brand or product?

Market assessment research can help you focus on the competitive strengths and weaknesses of your product or service within your target market, identify opportunities to improve your offering, and help you ensure marketing strategies are correctly positioned to achieve maximum relevance and impact.

Below are a number of practical tips for conducting a successful market assessment study. They will help you create a defined market position for your brand, develop profitable products and services and improve your bottom line.

1. Define your market

Be precise about the market you want to assess. Consider where the bulk of your business comes from at the moment, and/or where you realistically have opportunities to grow, and focus your resources. Don't dilute the power of the research to help strengthen your position in this core base by trying to canvass the whole world.

2. Who to survey?

To provide a reliable overview of your competitive position, the research must be based on a representative sample of the market you have defined. This means going beyond your own customers and contacts. It can be tempting to use in-house marketing databases for this type of project, but that will provide a skewed result, unless you know for certain that you hold records of all the relevant players. If you only measure awareness of your brand among people who already receive communications from you, you may over-estimate your position relative to your competitors. Use an independent, comprehensive business list to sample from, and you will obtain a far more reliable picture of where you stand.

3. What to ask them?

Key elements of a market assessment study include:

  • Awareness, usage and perceptions of you and your main competitors.
  • Buyer needs and expectations.
  • Satisfaction with current sources of supply, against those needs and expectations.
  • Issues/changes that will affect buyers in future.

With this information you can plot where you currently stand (against the competition and against market expectations). You can also prioritise where action needs to be taken to ensure you meet market needs as effectively as possible, now and into the future.

Other question areas you can weave around this core might include: How decision-making structures work, how often buyers change suppliers, what 'push' and 'pull' factors influence this, and what kinds of marketing activity buyers are exposed to and what has most impact?

4. How to do it?

As already noted, the research must be representative in order to provide you with a reliable set of results. This means that any method of data collection that would potentially skew the findings should be avoided. Potential customers who don't know much about you (yet) are as important here as existing contacts, so an online survey that some recipients would have no interest in and see no value in completing will not be robust.

Equally, you will not be able to measure awareness and perception levels accurately if your name is connected to the approach up front.

An independent telephone survey will often produce the most reliable results, introduced anonymously. Your identity as the research sponsor can be revealed towards the end of the interview, at which point more detailed perceptions of your strengths and weaknesses can be explored.

5. What to do with the results

Use the results to map out where you are currently, where you want to be, and what needs to be done to get there. Taking a systematic approach to understanding your competitive position will enable you to base your marketing plans on fact rather than gut feel or anecdote.

It is quite possible that while some of the results confirm what you already suspected to be the case, others may run counter to internal beliefs regarding your brand's position and/or your customers' priorities. If the research has been done properly, then the findings will reflect the reality of what the market is thinking, and should be accepted as such. It can be helpful to get buy-in from key internal stakeholders (who will be responsible for acting on the results afterwards) from the start, to ensure that they are in a position to take ownership of the outcomes.

Consider sharing edited highlights with existing and potential customers as part of your ongoing marketing activity. The fact that you have invested in finding out what the market thinks and needs, and to take business decisions on the back of this, will carry its own PR value.

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