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Conducting Market Research

Like those preparing to write a business plan, one of the first things marketing plan developers do after establishing goals is conduct market research. Some might make a trip to the library, while others might use focus groups or purchase research from an established market researcher like Gartner, Inc. or Forrester Research Inc. Another key source of information, of course, is the Internet.

Marketing plans include extensive information about target market, such as the existing size and the anticipated growth rate of the market and the level of demand for the product or service offered. Marketing plans also quite often include descriptions of potential customers, including their gender, age, level of education, marital status, how they make purchases, and the reasons behind those purchases. When clothing retailer Lands' End began planning for its new Lands-end.com site, the firm had already determined that a large portion of its customer base owned a personal computer and was twice as likely to have online access than the rest of the population. A typical Lands' End shopper was between 35 and 54 years of age and reported an average household income of at least $60,000. Nearly 88 percent had earned a college degree, and 66 percent were employed in a professional or managerial position. Incorporated into a marketing plan, all of this information would allow executives to make a wide variety of informed marketing decisions.

Discussions of target market also provide information on the history of the market, as well as various trends within the market. While marketers planning to target an emerging market might be unable to produce historical data about that market, they might be able to make comparisons to a similar industry. For example, although Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos was unable to research the online consumer book industry?Xwhich for all practical purposes did not exist prior to Amazon's launch?Xhe was able to use the traditional book industry as a basis for extrapolation when analyzing his target market. In fact, it was only after investigating 20 different products that he believed could be sold via the Internet?Xincluding magazines, CDs, and computer software?Xthat Bezos settled on books, guessing that this sizable market, with its wide range of purchase choices, would be well served by the electronic searching and organizing capabilities of the Web.

Market research also includes a thorough analysis of competition. Marketing plans require information regarding the strengths and weaknesses of rivals, as well as information about their market share, profitability, and pricing strategies. Prior to choosing books as Amazon's initial focus, Bezos analyzed his competition and realized that market share was distributed among many leading book publishers. In fact, industry leader Barnes & Noble held less than 12 percent of the $25 billion book retailing market. This market fragmentation, Bezos believed, left room for upstarts. Along with describing the competition, marketing plan writers often explain how they plan to gain a competitive advantage over rivals. In the case of Amazon, Bezos planned to wrest market share from traditional book retailers by offering a wider selection and undercutting prices by 10 to 30 percent. Online travel discounter Hotwire.com planned to compete with its well established rival, the name-your-own-price giant Priceline.com, by offering improved services to customers. For example, online shoppers who purchased airline tickets on Hotwire.com would be granted access to their specific dates of travel, their estimated number of layovers, and the exact purchase price before they actually completed a transaction. In comparison, shoppers on Priceline.com were required to commit to a purchase when they submitted a desired price or price range, should that price be available, without always knowing the exact travel dates or approximate number of layovers.

According to a July 2000 issue of Catalog Age, the market research section of a marketing plan for pure play e-commerce vendors?Xthose without a brick-and-mortar counterpart?Xmight also require additional information. "For instance, a print catalog selling camping supplies competes directly with other camping catalogs, and to some extent, local camping stores. But a pure-play Web site of camping products competes with other pure-plays, as well as catalogers and retailers that also have sites, and manufacturers that may have started selling direct to the consumer online. It's not just that there's more competition on the Web. An online consumer may find a tent he wants on your site, and then many search for a better or cheaper version elsewhere in cyberspace. These differences need to be noted, quantified, and attended to in the marketing plan."

Copyright Creating A Marketing Plan


 

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