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Getting Smart:A Buyer's Guide to Market Research

by Brian J. Dooley

How will you know when you get there, if you don't know where you are or where you have been? Certainly, planning is important to business success. But knowledge of your market, of your competition and of your position is essential. This is the domain of market research, which is available from a wide variety of sources, including market research firms, information services, advertising agencies, information brokers and information consultants.

Research extends the information available to you, and provides an important weapon in the battle to survive and prosper. There are a variety of situations in which it is particularly important:

Many of your research needs can be satisfied in-house by using public sources, such as magazine features, books and generalised reports. These provide crucial day to day information and news on your industry that you must have, but which is available to all.

You also need private information that provides competitive advantage. This includes data gleaned from customer input, such as response cards, buying patterns, advertising response, and the like. It also includes targeted research undertaken to give you an edge.

Some targeted research can be done in-house, but, in many areas, this is more expensive and less effective than outsourcing to an information services company. Companies that undertake market research have skills in areas such as:

Research companies also have available a wide range of investigative techniques, including phone interviews, site visits, Web and database (secondary) research, and coordination of research projects. They can provide an outside perspective on your business, which is invaluable for gaining an unbiased view of your position. They might also have special skills in writing, analysis and presentation, or have special strengths in fields such as telecommunications and IT. Different research firms have different specialties in both topic area and technique, so you should review the offerings of several before deciding upon a supplier.

To commission a research report, you first need to determine the specific information that you are seeking. Research should always be tied to a specific goal, so that you can evaluate its effectiveness. After determining need, you need to place appropriate limitations on the project—how much time is available; how much are you willing to spend; and what are the boundaries in terms of geography, technology or product type?

Next, you need to determine what kind of studies are to be conducted. Do you need all primary research—interviews of industry participants, for example—or will secondary research, such as annual reports, brochures and feature lists suffice? Do you need a focus group to gauge opinion? Do you need research from specialised databases, libraries or internal sources? Do you need raw data, or do you need it digested and analysed? Do you need a statistical analysis? These questions need to be discussed with your information services professional.

Finally, you need to determine an appropriate delivery method. Do you need a report for simple in-house use? Do you need a published or publishable report for distribution? Do you need data entered into spreadsheets or an internal database system? Do you need an online version for an intranet or extranet?

In the Information Age, there is one great certainty—you need access to reliable and accurate information. An information services company can be an important strategic ally.

You can gain the necessary expertise from companies such as BJ Dooley Technical Information Services—located here in Canterbury, and providing years of experience in all forms of technical writing and documentation. We can assemble project teams of any size to meet your documentation requirements and deadlines. You can reach us at or call 03 314-9920. We're just down the road from Christchurch, in Leithfield Beach. We can provide training, contractors, consultation or complete outsourcing. Visit our Web site at for complete information on our services.

Copyright 2002, Brian J. Dooley

Published in Update, the Official Newsletter of the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce, May 2002

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