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Marketing and strategic direction research

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Research background: Thermax, a manufacturer of industrial heating products, is seeking information on industry trends and current market positions in order to reposition its products and marketing strategies.

Additional information and insight on marketing plans, international activity, and management or ownership changes of its main competitors is also requested.

Research budget: This small company does not have extensive in-house resources to compile external information.

Thermax does maintain company files on competitors of interest and has access to Dun & Bradstreet reports and similar financial information resources

There is a small outsourcing budget for hiring an independent researcher, and Thermax requests that the spend no more than $1,000 on online charges and research time for the first phase.

Research strategy employed: Given the budget and type of information requested, the researcher decides to spend as little time as possible online.

The bulk the search budget will be devoted to outsourcing telephone interviews to an associate and spending the time necessary to read, synthesize, and report results for a one-to-two-page brief.

The following steps are taken by consulting the Encyclopedia of Business Information Sources (EBIS), conducting a database and Internet search, requesting a special issue via postal mail, and then conducting telephone interviews:

• Because recent news events are key data sources for this project, a Dialog OneSearch on full-text newspapers (PAPERS) is conducted first to cull press stories on the industry and management changes.

• Research next focuses on Internet resources to explore associations and trade magazines referenced in the EBIS.

Among these is the site for Industrial Heating: The International Journal of Thermal Technology (http://www.industrialheating.com), which also provides contacts to additional sources.

• Using basic information from Thermax, the Internet, and the newspaper, clippings, the researcher gleans names of trade journals and associations to include in the follow-up telephone interviews.

Approximately a dozen sources to interview are identified through this initial research.

They include technical experts, contributors to trade magazines, consultants, government agencies, and personnel at supplier and distributor companies.

The sources are contacted and most, if not all, are able to either contribute information or refer the researcher to other sources than can.

• One of the industry’s trade journals has recently published a special issue on a manufactured item that is of particular interest to Thermax, including a ranking of the top ten producers.

The editor mails a copy of this issue to the researcher and supplies an educated opinion and referral.

• The researcher conducts an Internet search of regional newspapers at competitor locations.

Although this does not yield a lot of useful information, it is an important step and retrieves some news tidbits that are useful in conducting the telephone interviews.

I usually start with Bizjournals (http://www.bizjournals.com) and then use list sites for finding other regional newspapers not captured on this site.

Summary of solution: According to the information found in the telephone interviews, it has become apparent that the international industrial hearing scene is becoming more important as offshore production picks up and domestic production falls off.

A quick check with an expert reveals that there have been no changes in the regulations recently, and that none are foreseen.

But it is important to verify this; before accepting it as fact the researcher would like to have it confirmed by other independent sources.

An additional, unexpected benefit of the telephone interviews is the opportunity to hear comments about the client, both good and bad. These are an important “value add” that can be integrated into the executive brief.

The total cost of the data is negligible – less than $30. Conducting the telephone interviews and connecting the pieces took at least seven hours.

Useful tips
• Don’t overlook special issues that come as part of trade magazine subscriptions. Many magazines publish at least a few surveys a year.

Even if the survey is not up to date, it will still provide a springboard for updating data during telephone interviews.

• Telephone interviews often involve some quid pro quo. Be ready to share something you’ve learned during your research that may be of interest to the interviewee.

• Work to verify any information you are given in at least three different sources.

• Regulations can be a major force in marketing plans – either helping or hindering the development of new products.

Make sure you’re up to date on the regulations or telephone a government organization, association, or trade expert who is.

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