‘You can’t get enough research on your target markets’. That’s the mantra that was always hammered into me and one that I used to say strong and loud when delivering workshops.

It seems to make sense - it’s all about reducing risk, and the more market intelligence you have, the less the risk. It’s still a sound and true principle.

But the environment is changing. Technology has made it easy to enter a market quickly and cheaply. This means time to market is at a premium and there is an opportunity-cost to delay.

We often see small entrepreneurs, particularly in the service and tech sectors, leaping into the market with only a little ‘research’. It’s an agile approach, to see if the idea will fly. It’s both proof of concept and market testing. We can think of it as ‘research on the job’. If it doesn’t work, either go back adjust and refine, or start again.

How much research is enough?

The question may not be just ‘how much?’, but also ‘by when?’ In an ideal world we would strive to have the maximum research before even putting a toe in the market water.

However, we have seen many huge international organisations thoroughly research a new project and for it all to go terribly wrong.

The trick is to assess what you need to know and when you need that information. As you start to assess your data, now key facts may pop up and new iterations will be required.

Look beyond the survey approach.

For years, a standard approach to research was survey based. We’d come up with an idea of what we wanted to know, then create a questionnaire and try to find a representative market sample. It was time consuming, expensive and had a lot of variables to get wrong.

The good news is that there is now a mass of data out there on the web. What you need to do is learn how to get the data you need - just enough - just when you need it.

Is there a new approach to market research?

One of the hottest terms in market research today is ‘agile’. This springs from the agile movement in development, production and management. It’s probably going to be of real interest if market research is your profession, but if you are an exporter what you want are ways to secure success, quickly and easily.

You shouldn’t think of replacing traditional research approaches, but make them more efficient. Here’s a few things you should consider. 

  • Identify the key ‘must knows’ about your target market.
  • Set timescales and milestones - research can go on for ever if you’re not careful (and be an excuse for doing nothing!). Work towards key dates. You probably don’t need all your research at one time. Focus on what you need and when. Each step can be another iteration of your knowledge base.
  • Look for cheap, fast tools to help assemble and analyse data. There’s a mass of DIY tools available. Focus on one suite, then you’ll soon become skilled in getting fast results.
  • Get help - if you are time-poor, there’s a lot of companies providing automated, online research across international markets - check them out.
  • Use online communities. They’re a fast way to assemble market samples to run your research on. You’ll find community members fast to respond.
  • Regularly return to the the original questions - ‘what you need to know’. Avoid drift but don’t ignore new questions that are unearthed. Each iteration should become richer and more fine-grained.

(Here's a useful market research checklist for you - view here.)

Ian West