In 2013, author Brad Stone released an interesting book called, “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.”
The book chronicles the story behind Jeff Bezos and Amazon, but there’s really only one paragraph from it that I’d like to focus on herein. That paragraph reads as follows:
“They [Amazon] would let other more experienced retailers sell everything on the site via Amazon’s Marketplace, and Amazon would take a commission. Meanwhile the company [Amazon] could watch and learn. That was something we did quite well, says Randy Miller. If you don’t know anything about the business, launch it through the Marketplace, bring retailers in, watch what they do and what they sell, understand it, and then get into it.”
So, let me break this down for you if it’s not apparent. Rather than selling items like apparel and kitchen items itself, Amazon launched these categories through the Amazon Marketplace where other vendors sold them.
In doing so, Amazon was able to see what products sold well and how they were sold. And then, when a product sold well, what did Amazon do? Well, they started selling the item themselves in the main Amazon.com site.
So, what is this strategy called?
Market Research. That’s right, Amazon.com went from an online bookseller to the WalMart of the internet by doing market research. Because with the right market research you can avoid the missteps that most companies and entrepreneurs make.
So, what kind of market research will help you grow your company? Below are the key research areas you need:
In assessing your industry or market, start by defining how big it is. Why? Because if it’s too small, it’s probably not worth entering. Define your market as clearly as possible. For example, if you manufacture prosthetics, look at the size of that market, not the entire healthcare market.
Next look at market trends. For example if the market is shrinking or consolidating, it’s probably not a great market to enter; unless you have a revolutionary new product that could shake things up.
Understanding your target customers is absolutely critical to your business’ success. In fact, one of Jeff Bezos’ hallmark strategies is “We start with the customer and work backward.”
In your research, you need to precisely identify and define who your customer is. Define their demographics such as what gender they are, how old they are, where they live, etc. If a business customer, also define their role in their company and the type of company for which they work.
Then move to the psychographic questions. What do your customers like to do in their free time? Who do the like on Facebook? Etc.
The more you know your customers and what make them tick, the better job you will do in creating the products and services they want, and effectively marketing to them.
Identify who you are top competitors are. Importantly, like Amazon did, determine what has worked well for them and what their customers are buying.
The old investor saying is very important here, which is as follows: “if you have no competitors; maybe you have no market.” What this means is that if customers aren’t currently buying a product or service that serves the need your company fulfills, then maybe that need and thus market doesn’t exist.
The more you understand your competition, the better you will do in creating a winning strategy. Fortunately, with online tools, you can learn a lot about your competition. You can find out the demographics of their website visitors, what other sites those visitors frequent, what other companies they like on Facebook, and so on. Clearly this information will help improve your marketing and overall strategy.
The final category or research to conduct is financial research. Here the goal is to develop benchmarks. For example, what is the average Cost of Goods Sold in your industry? What percentage of your revenues should staffing costs comprise?
By understanding these benchmarks, you can do a better job in determining financing needs and also measuring and improving your performance over time.
We all know that knowledge is power. And when running a business, the knowledge you need is market research. With it you’ll have a better strategy and your likelihood of success skyrockets. Without it, you’re shooting in the dark. I prefer the former.
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