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A marketing strategy will help you identify your best customers, understand their needs and implement the most effective marketing methods.

The internet has transformed business marketing. No matter what you do, the internet is likely to be at the heart of your marketing strategy.

Social media is firmly established as a marketing tool. Having a presence opens up new lines of communication with existing and potential customers.

Good advertising puts the right marketing message in front of the right people at the right time, raising awareness of your business.

Customer care is at the heart of all successful companies. It can help you develop customer loyalty and improve relationships with your customers.

Sales bring in the money that enables your business to survive and grow. Your sales strategy will be driven by your sales objectives.

Market research exists to guide your business decisions by giving you insight into your market, competitors, products, marketing and your customers.

Direct marketing can be a highly successful way to generate sales from existing and new customers. Find out how to target them in the best way.

Exhibitions and events are valuable for businesses because they allow face-to-face communication and offer opportunities for networking.

PR

Favourable media coverage can bring a range of business benefits. But how do you attract the attention of editors, broadcasters and journalists?

How can market research help me?

Julia Whitehead, director of Ask Joe Public, explains how market research can help your business grow

Why do I need to do market research?

Market research can enable you to identify your target consumer, find out what they think about your ideas, products or brand and gather insights to help you target the right market.

When should I do market research?

Market research should be part of your business strategy. It can be undertaken at numerous stages from pre-launch onwards. It's worth bearing in mind that consumers' motivation and behaviour change over time, so you should really consider reviewing your research on a regular basis.

How will it help me in my business?

That depends on what business you are in and what you need to find out. If you're developing a new product it can help identify whether it's appealing, who your target audience is, how big the market is, who the competition is and how you're positioned in the marketplace. Market research can enable you to test everything from ideas and perceptions to packaging.

Does market research need to be expensive?

If you've never undertaken market research before, it may sound expensive. However, when you put it in perspective and relate it to the costs of launching a product or service, the costs are relatively low. Market research can help you understand whether you have a viable idea in the first place, and can help you improve your sales in the long term.

Which are the most cost-effective methods?

Desk research is cost effective as it relies on existing market data, much of it available online. Desk research can provide information about market size, value and trends. The disadvantage is that it is not specific to your product.

Your own sales data also represents valuable information that can help you understand sales, geographic and demographic trends.

If you're commissioning research, there are some relatively cheap methods. However, the choice of methodology should be driven by your brief - not just your budget. Hall Tests are a way of getting the opinions of a cross section of people and are useful if they need to see or sample products. Omnibus Surveys enable you to ask a few questions on a large general survey that is shared with other businesses.

Another way of gathering information is observational research. For example, you could watch how long people interact with a product before buying it, whether they are alone or with someone else, what else they buy and whether they are looking for assistance.

If you want to understand consumers' perceptions of your products, or behaviour in more detail, the most cost-effective method is probably focus groups. The internet can also be a cost-effective way to reach large samples of people.

Can I do it myself or do I need an expert?

It is possible to do basic background research yourself, but when it comes to gathering feedback directly from people I recommend that you employ professional market researchers.

Professionals know how to select the right audience. In addition, there is a skill to asking the right sort of questions and providing feedback that is relevant, coherent and concise.

Experts are neutral third parties so they can provide you with a true gauge of what people really think and feel about your ideas, products or brands. I've had clients that had tried to do their own research and the findings had raised some alarm bells. When I conducted the research properly, the results turned out to be very different.

How do I choose a professional?

There are several types of market research providers. Full service agencies provide professional staff to undertake your project from beginning to end. Independent consultants may be small agencies or freelancers. They can be quite flexible and could even work on a daily basis when you need a consultant to help you out. Freelancers can often be more cost-effective than larger agencies. Most researchers will have areas of research and markets that they specialise in and it is important to match this to your own business requirements.

Where do I find professional market researchers?

Professional bodies can provide you with contact details of consultants and agencies that meet their codes of conduct, as well as offering general advice about market research. These include:

Written by Julia Whitehead of Ask Joe Public

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