Information equals intelligence; however the hardest part in gathering intelligence is often recognising what information you need. Once you’ve identified the information you need, it is surprising what you can find out there in the published domain. Initially it’s worth looking at information that’s already been published, eg market reports, official statistics, trade publications, etc. Some of this information is free, but some you’ll have to pay for. You can obtain market reports and other information from a wide range of sources including the following:
• Your local business reference library is a good starting point.
• Your trade association will have information about your market sector and about any relevant trade publications. Find your local trade association on the Trade Association Forum website.
• You can read official statistics on the economy, population and social trends at the National Statistics Online website.
• Reports in business magazines and the business pages of national newspapers can be informative.
• Local authorities and Chambers of Commerce can provide local information. Find your local authority through our Contacts Directory, or find your local Chamber at the Chamber Online website.
• UK Trade & Investment is a useful resource for exporters, with sectoral information for more than 200 countries worldwide. You can read sector overviews on the UK Trade & Investment website.
• The Internet contains a wealth of business data. Search engines such as Google and Ask can aid searching, while directories such as Yahoo make it easy to look for information by sector.
• Commercial publishers of market reports include KeyNote, Euromonitor, Mintel, Datamonitor, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and Market & Business Development. Reports can often be purchased from the publisher’s website.
• Don’t neglect your business’ own data. Analysing your sales records or levels of enquiries can provide useful insights. Finally, talking to customers and watching how they behave is one of the best methods of market research.
Though there’s a lot of readily available market information, you need to be careful how you interpret it.
External data might not be in a useful format to use easily. It may have been collected for other purposes or be from a range that doesn’t tally with your target market.
Also, beware of out-of-date market information, especially if this is captured from the internet. This can be misleading, as the market may have changed significantly since the information was published. It can be particularly hard to tell how recent any information published on the Internet is. Some information on the web can be unreliable or biased.
Remember that statistics can sometimes mask the true picture. For example, an “average” income for the population in your area might conceal a mix of very high and low earners – meaning fewer people can afford your product than it appears.
The same principle applies to your own sales records – one or two major customers could distort the picture.
Most of all, don’t make up your mind in advance. Finding market information that simply confirms what you already believe is easy – but only a realistic picture of your customers and markets will be useful to your business.