Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Ohio State University Fact Sheet

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Conducting Market Research


Small Business Series

Nancy H. Bull
Gregory R. Passewitz

Customers are the foundation of any successful business. Effective market research results in increased sales and profits. Use market research to develop marketing plans. Market research provides a more accurate base for making profit assumptions and helps develop critical short- and mid-term goals.

Market research: 1) identifies customer needs and wants; 2) determines if the product or service meets customer needs; 3) identifies potential target markets; and 4) determines the best advertising technique for each customer group. Market research is an organized process to collect information about the business environment before the business starts. It includes talking with customers about their occupations, interests and buying habits as well as listening to customer requests for products and services.

What is Market Research?

Market research is an effective way to learn about potential customers, their opinions, habits, trends and future plans. Use it to determine the geographic area of a business and demographic characteristics of customers such as age, gender, income and educational level.

Market research may make the difference between the right and wrong decisions that affect sales. It may reveal unfilled needs, suggest marketing strategies or identify the competition's strengths and weaknesses. Business cannot afford poor decisions.

Market research involves asking questions, recording information and taking time to learn from the information. Market research develops an information base to estimate sales, develop market strategy and decide how to enter the market.

One approach to market research is to compare customer needs and wants to competitors' weaknesses as well as to customer demographics. For example, a large customer base of dual income families with discretionary income may exist. If this customer base is being ignored, turn competitors' weaknesses into a business strength by expanding store hours to evenings and weekends, offering a better quality line and targeting advertising to this group.

Identify a Customer Profile

Who buys the product or service? Where do they live? What income levels are in the market? What is the age pattern in the market? Answers to these questions help identify target markets, specific products or services and advertising efforts. Use demographic characteristics to identify customers. Demographics include age, gender, income, race, marital status, education, occupation, home ownership, number in the household and age of the home.

Customer profiles help determine if a market segment is large enough to be profitable. Ask these questions to identify important customer characteristics:

All the answers may not be available. Part of the picture gives a base on which to build a marketing program and target an advertising plan. A sample customer profile for a particular product or service is shown on the next page.

Once the customer profile is developed, collect information from current customers by personal interviews, telephone surveys and mail surveys. To collect information from potential customers:

Direct observation of customers provides good, reliable and easy-to-obtain information.

Identify the Competition

Now that customer needs and wants have been identified, look at business competitors. Compare what customers need and want to what competitors offer. Develop a checklist of factors important to customers, such as the one shown on the next page.

Where to Go for Help

Obtain market research information from a variety of sources. In addition to direct contact with customers and the competition, the local library includes reference materials, magazines, a directory of associations, sales and marketing figures and an annual survey of buying power. Try a local college library or business school, vocational or technical institute, chamber of commerce, wholesale or manufacturers sales representatives, trade associations, media representatives such as advertising space salespersons, or competitors.

Additional sources of market information include: the Small Business Answer Desk (1-800-827-5722), administered through the Small Business Administration; regional planning organizations; banks; real estate agents; or economic development agencies. Customer phone numbers, addresses and past business records indicate geographic market areas.

Business Potential Summary

Results of market research serve as a blueprint to guide future business decisions.

Market research defines the business in terms of customer needs and wants. Market research identifies the available market, how well advertising is reaching the target market, changes competitors have made, what new products should be offered and changes occurring in the market place.

To be successful, a business owner must know the market. Market research is a simply structured, objective way of learning about people - the people who will buy the product or service.

Use of a Particular Product or Service

I am a: ____ light user ____ medium user ____ heavy user ____ non-user

I use your product/service: ____ daily ____ once a week ____ once a month ____ once a year

I have used your product for: ____ a short time ____ many years

I have tried similar products. The names are: ________________________________________________________


I use your product in combination with: ____ other products ____ different seasons ____ etc.

I buy your product at a: ____ supermarket ____ drugstore ____ department store ____ discount store ____ hardware store ____ other store

The quantity I buy at one time is: ____ a single package ____ several packages ____ many packages

Trade with a Particular Store

I shop in your store: ____ more than once a week ____ at least once a week ____ every two weeks ____ once a month ____ once a year

The distance from my home to your store is: ____ less than five blocks ____ one mile away ____ two or three miles ____ five miles ____ more than ten miles

I usually buy these types of products at your store:

The part of my shopping I do with your store is: ____ All ____ Most

My favorite stores that are similar to yours (and including it) are:

First choice___________________

Second choice_________________

Third choice__________________

Each year I spend this amount in your store: $_______

Checklist - Factors Important to Customers

I haveCompetitor #1 hasCompetitor #2 hasCompetitor #3 has
1.Brand names            
4.Warranty service             
5.Variety of selection             
6.Credit terms            
7.Return policy             
8.Convenient location             
10.Appropriate atmosphere            
11.Convenient store hours             
12.Experienced personnel            
13.Concern for customers            

Effective market research must include business strengths as well as weaknesses. Take corrective action to strengthen your market position. To help organize your market research, consider the following format: Targeted markets: Potential strengths: Potential weaknesses: Potential competitors: Potential opportunities: Potential threats:


Cohen, W.A. (1983). The Entrepreneur and Small Business Problem Solver. American Institute of Small Business.

How to Set Up Your Own Small Business. Small Business Newsletter. (August 1986).

Small Business Development Center, University of Wisconsin Extension. Vol. 7, No. 6. Safit, D. and Gibbons, G. (1991)

Marketing Research - insight and outsight handout. Adopted from Wheelen and Hunjen (1987).

Sexton, D. and Bowman Upton, N.B. (1991). Entrepreneurship: Creativity and Growth. New York: MacMillen.

All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.

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