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All You Ever Needed to Know about Market Research You Can Learn Hiking(1) (Marketing Memo, August, 2004)

A colleague and I regularly hike up a small nearby mountain. For us, hiking provides food for the soul, exercise for the body, and, when we are at the summit, an opportunity to brainstorm and scope assignments. Here are eight tips that apply to hiking and market research challenges alike.

  • A change of scenery helps you view things in a new light. Amazingly, you may think of a different way to interpret data or a new source to check that didn't occur to you before you stepped back from your tasks. One worker solved business problems walking downstairs to get lunch.
  • Start out with a plan to avoid getting lost. Conducting market research is a messy, unstructured activity, particularly if the assignment is vague, and you have little guidance. Whether you have too much data, too little data, or the wrong data, begin with a list of objectives that you can expand. This will keep you from needlessly "spinning your wheels."
  • Be willing to re-direct if your original plan appears flawed. If necessary, change methods, resources, or even goals. A foreign firm expected to emulate the success of a large American retailer by discovering and replicating its organizational structure. Research revealed that other aspects of the retailer's strategy were more important to its success than its structure.
  • Start early so that you don't have to take risks to reach your destination. Allowing enough time to find and check facts and assumptions is critical. When organizations make major decisions under duress, the results are often disastrous.
  • You will reach your destination more quickly if you have the right resources. For research, your "compass" could be a special publication or database or online resource. As always, having the right tools saves time and helps you obtain better results.
  • Nothing is as it seems. Investigate. A telecom start-up blamed its disappointing sales on the difficulty of transitioning from providing products to providing services. Probing revealed that salespeople couldn't gain access to decision-makers, which suppressed sales.
  • If you only look directly ahead, you won't see the big picture. When you are mired in data, it is sometimes difficult to see trends and form conclusions. Step back and articulate three or four findings. Ask, "What are the three or four main points I want to impart."
  • When you lose your bearings, retrace your steps and start over. Take another look at the data to discover new trends. You may also find gaps in your data that need filling.
  • When you can't find your way, seek guidance. Winett Associates helps companies answer a variety of questions, from "How is our target market currently solving the problems we solve?" to "What companies make good acquisition candidates?"

(1)Apologies to Robert Fulghum, author of All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

Winett Associates provides market research and writing services for high tech companies.

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