The most obvious pieces of market research should be on your own company followed by some detailed research on your competition.

Even if you think you don’t know much about marketing, research into your own customers, competitors and products should provide you with enough information to really make a difference to your business planning.

One way to get a quick bit of market research without leaving the office is to use the internet.

If you do have a direct rival or rivals then do a search of their websites followed by a check for their product or service name on other peoples’ sites.

Check out of product availability. Can you order online? Who are the suppliers? Can you improve your own website, or its links?

Finding out basic but valuable information such as this is the key to good marketing.

Research is the only way you can do this, so get stuck in.

The next level is to get out of the office and employ a mystery shopper.

There’s no better way of testing than by using the services and products directly.

Restaurateurs and catering businesses need to check out rival establishments – if your face is too well known, send a friend for a meal in a rival restaurant.

How good is the food? Is the wine list special? Is the service up to scratch? What is your rival’s unique selling proposition, and could you match it?

If you do your marketing research fully enough then you should be able to organise your business in a way that gives you a clear advantage afterwards.

You can even play detective and go on a stakeout to observe your own premises, and those of rivals.

Retailers need to look at how attractive window displays are, and how accessible the aisles are. Do some goods fail to sell?

The problem could be the stock itself, or its location. Try moving it up on the shelves. Consider special promotions.

Finally, there’s always room for some background reading either through reading the local papers, or by visiting the public library. Does your rival make the most of free editorial coverage, and could you dream up a newsworthy item to interest a news editor?

Some pubs and restaurants thrive by being media-friendly. Can you dream up some publicity stunts of your own?

Ordering a special Mintel report will cost hundreds, and the report itself will be written from a certain perspective which may not be your own.

But you can carry out desk research yourself, gathering together reports and comparing statistics.

Ask your local library for Keynote and Mintel reports, and use the index to search for the relevant sectors.

There’s no better way of testing than by using the services and products directly.

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