Shoe-leather marketing research for small businesses

Easy cost-effective marketing research tactics to make better business decisions.

The term big data is one of those phrases that we are hearing much about. Big data helps corporations make better decisions on advertising, product offerings, hiring practices and much more. Using data helps managers make better business decisions. Entrepreneurs can make better decisions using data as well and it doesn't have to be expensive. 

The MSU Product Center assist clients who have consumer packaged food products. My role is a counselor who guides these food entrepreneurs so their business is successful. My most frequently asked question is something like this: “Do you think my food product will be successful?” Of course, I cannot predict what product will be successful, but I do offer suggestions on some simple marketing research so the entrepreneur can make better decisions.

One of the best marketing research tools is observation. Simply watch what people are buying. Go to the grocery store, hang out in the section that your product will be sold in, and see how many units of a similar product get purchased. You will be amazed on how accurate this shoe-leather research is.

For those shoppers who pick up the product to look at it, but decline to make the purchase, you could ask them why they didn’t choose the product. From their responses, you can glean much information on the product design (if it should be GMO free, or sugar free, or some other product design attributes). This type of research works basically the same for any type of business you are interested in.

If you are interested in purchasing the local cinema complex for example, you can simply go there and hang out in the parking lot to see how many people go to the cinema on any given day. You can count the number of people buying tickets, and if it is a matinee or an evening showing. You can also see who is going to the movies (teens, adults), and where they are coming from (by reviewing the license plates on the cars).

There are many ways to do shoe-leather marketing research. If you are a retailer and you are interested in expanding your product offerings, go to a store that sells the merchandise you are interested in selling, and observe how many consumers are purchasing the item. You can learn much with inexpensive shoe-leather marketing research and make better business decisions with this data.

I am a Michigan State University Extension educator from L’Anse, Michigan. You can obtain free business counseling by registering with the MSU Product Center. I have many years  of experience in small business ownership and entrepreneurship. My wife and I currently own two small businesses in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. 

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