Practical Techniques To Help You Improve Your Market Intelligence
Despite the incredibly difficult challenges that businesses of all types are facing during this pandemic, many are finding it useful to use the time to do some valuable information gathering and business contingency planning. This includes broader strategic planning for the business.
Whilst it may be hard to make any firm plans, when everything around us is so unsettled at present, it’s still worthwhile reviewing your competitive marketplace and considering where to potentially find new markets and customer groups. That way, when the business world does take off again, everything is in place for when it is needed and this can also support your strategic decision making.
Here are some practical tips that you may find useful for setting up a market information system and to improve your market intelligence, without breaking the bank.
How good is my existing market ‘intel’?
As a business, ask yourself some key questions before you get started:
- How much do I really know about my current marketplace – market size & trends?
- Who are my key competitors & what relative share and core products do they have?
- Where does my business fit in to all this – what are my key differentiators, are there any major gaps between my business & and my competitors, am I missing out on anything significant?
- What other markets, products & services should I be looking at – UK and/or overseas?
This exercise should help you to start identifying information gaps, which you can fill in over time.
How do I make information more useful?
As this is a process, it really helps to set up a framework from the beginning, to easily capture valuable information, so that it can be readily accessed and also updated. Even if it’s a simple Excel spreadsheet with supporting document folders, you may find it of benefit to develop a practical system to summarise the key sources of information and the salient points, so that you can use it to gain an overview and also to track changes.
In order to maximise its usefulness, all of this needs to be set in context and, of course, requires assessment before you can see the overall picture and start to draw some initial conclusions. However, it can enable you to gain a preliminary estimate of likely market size, relative competitor shares and key trends. And it can demonstrate where your business currently sits, as well as identifying areas that you could potentially target.
Each business will have different requirements, but here are a couple of examples of basic frameworks to help you capture (and start to assess) information:
What sources should I use?
To have confidence in the information, which you may use to inform decision making regarding your marketplace, you should check that you have referenced robust sources. Whilst it may be tempting to use simple search engine techniques to find sources, this is unlikely to always provide the full detail and thoroughness that you require.
To improve search results therefore, try to focus on the particular data/information that you require and consider what types of organisation will really provide added value and credibility here:
Potential published sources include, for example:
- Relevant industry trade associations/bodies – who may produce industry reports; UK & international
- Exhibitions & trade fairs – for supplier and product details
- Trade media – a potential source of industry experts
- Country specific statistics offices – such as the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS)
- Government departments & publications – statistics & reports
- Global /sector consultancy reports – specialists in particular sectors
- Market report publishers - you may be able to access specific parts of a report
- Regional statistics – available from the ONS; local economic development units
- Business directories – may be available online
- Company reports, publications & accounts – often available on a larger corporate website
- Company blogs, websites & social media – provide a snapshot of activity (but from the company's perspective)
- Local country search engines – of particular relevance to international research
- Trend websites – ideal for imagery, along with Pinterest & Instagram (but the latter again from a company's perspective).
Overall, these cover a variety of economic, business and social trend information which can be pieced together, with sources also likely to be updated over time.
What if there is nothing specific to my industry?
Whilst, especially in some B2B markets, there may not be any readymade, off-the-shelf reports on your specific industry, you will be surprised how much information you can actually pull together. This may mean that you need to read around a subject, for example:
- What are the wider consumer trends in related sectors?
- What is happening in the supply chain?
- Where is the innovation?
Whilst this is likely to need updating in the light of Covid-19, you can still get a feel for the relative strengths and weaknesses of your own, and your competitors’ products & services, within the context of overall market trends.
But it also means you will then have to do some detailed, but worthwhile assessment of the information that you collect, in order to derive any meaningful conclusions. And to cross check findings.
It doesn’t all have to be data – have fun creating a visual trend board (such as a collage of selected images, styles and themes) to capture ideas and potential directions. You might just be inspired to create new products & services.
Having moderated many focus groups and workshops over the years, it’s always amazing to see the different ideas that emerge when people get hands-on and start thinking in a completely different way, using more than just one sense.
Remember it’s a process
I really hope you find the above useful to identify and to start to fill some market intelligence gaps. Importantly, remember that this exercise relies on using secondary data sources and has not, at this stage, factored in direct customer feedback. That might be something you have already done, or should ideally include in stage two, in order to understand exactly why people buy product ‘x, y and z’ and what would make a real difference to your customers and could influence their choice of supplier. This is important because the intention is not just to follow and react to what is already happening in the marketplace, but to ensure that you are at the forefront and being proactive, whilst mindful of customer requirements.
Best of luck with your information gathering.
Since all businesses have specific requirements, this article should be used for general background guidance only and should not be understood as one to one, personal business advice.