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Determining your ideal customer is important because it will shape how you identify and try to reach this market group. If you are not sure about who your customers should be, consider factors such as: your product(s) cost, your geographical location, knowledge necessary to fully benefit from your product or service. Answering these questions should give you a good start to your market research endeavor.
You may also want to look at the buying trends of potential customers before you begin to finalize your plans. Look at the time you spend doing market research as an opportunity to "fine tune" your product or service for the best possible result (business and money to you).
Market trends and demographics can be found in many different ways. For information on the kind of people who live in a particular area (age, race, income bracket, family size), also called demographics, it is best to consult the U.S. Census Bureau. Finding lifestyle trends is more difficult. You may want to contact a local college or university's marketing department to see if any studies have been done in the geographical or ideological area you are targeting. If not, you may have to conduct your own market surveying to learn whether or not your business will be successful.
In designing your custom-made market research instrument, decide how much time and money you want to spend. This may make your selection easy. Do you want to do it all alone? Can you find friends to help you out? How about spending some money and having college marketing students assist you? You may luck out and find a professor who will adopt your business for a classroom project.
Put together some standard questions and go out and ask people in the market you are targeting. Know that people often avoid this type of experience because it is long and inconvenient. It is, however, inexpensive and relatively easy to implement.
This may be your best bet. Putting the survey together can be tricky and how well you do it will determine the quality of your results. Again, see if a marketing professor or professional would consider helping you to design your survey form. Once completed, hit the streets and ask people to complete the form. This is usually received better if you offer some type of incentive to the survey taker. Consider candy, cookies, or lottery tickets. You may want to enter their name into a drawing for some type of prize. Everyone loves a contest.
If the services you are providing are via the Internet, consult your database (you are compiling one, right?). Send a survey out to everyone and offer free t-shirts to the first 50 who return them on-line. This method can be time and cost efficient.
Surveys are not very expensive in and of themselves. Depending on your own creativity and knowledge base, the costs can add up when you figure in printing the surveys (if necessary), paying the survey administrators (if necessary), interpreting the data. Overall, this method is quick and relatively easy.
Basically, this is a group discussion where 4-8 participants are asked a series of questions in a facilitated setting. This approach is expensive because you have to hire a consultant to facilitate the group and move the discussion forward, plus you have to compensate the participants in some way. Due to the nature of the questioning, responses tend to be more complete and give more accurate information. The number of people questioned is lower than other methods due to the time it takes to perform the questioning.
The most important thing to realize is that the outcome of your market research may change the course of your business plans. In some instances you learn that there is not a need for your product or service. Often times, you need to change your focus or marketing plan. Be open and be flexible. And remember that market research is an ongoing process that really does not end. Be sure to always be in tune with your customer base so as not to be caught off guard by sudden market shifts.
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