19 Market Research

Peter Bobkowski

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Understand what market research is
  • View market research as a useful information source
  • Know how to access and read market research reports
  • Evaluate the credibility of market research

New Pet Store’s News Release

Let’s say that there is a new specialty pet store in town. The store bakes its own pet treats, and sells other locally produced pet food and accessories. The owner asks you to write a news release about the store. The news release will inform local news websites and TV stations about the store and, hopefully, generate some news coverage about the store’s opening and unique merchandise.

Getting the basic facts for the news release is a piece of cake for you. Who is the owner of the store? What is this business about? Where is it located? When is the grand opening? How does this business distinguish itself from other pet stores in town? Why is this a good time to open a store like this? Your interviews with the store owner and her pet-parent friends contain good background information and quotable soundbites. In no time, you have a solid draft of a straightforward news release.

But you are not fully satisfied. You wonder if there is a larger context for the opening of this business that you can mention in your release. Is this store part of a larger trend? Are there other stores like it opening elsewhere? How are pet stores doing, in general? You wonder if you can find a more authoritative source than the business owner about why a new specialty pet store is opening in your town.

You could go down the nonprofit route. Are there nonprofits that represent pet store owners or the pet supplies industry? You search Google and Guidestar. All that come up are links to humane societies and pet rescues. You wish there was some source that provided information about the pet store industry and about what pet owners are buying.

You’re in luck! There are sources like this available to you, in the form of market research companies. These companies generate reports about industry and consumer trends, and sell these reports to other companies that use this information to plan and enact their business strategies. These reports can be bought individually or by subscription. Large marketing and advertising agencies, for example, tend to subscribe to these services for the benefit of the diverse clients they serve. A prospective pet store owner might buy only the pet store industry report to learn what her store should carry, and how she should market it.

As a student at the University of Kansas, you have access to market research sources licensed by the KU Libraries. These include: IBISWorld, Mintel, Plunkett Research and Euromonitor’s Passport. Two of these, IBISWorld and Mintel, will be described as we continue the discuss the pet food market.

IBISWorld’s reports focus on individual industries, so you find “Pet Stores in the U.S.” in its directory, and immerse yourself in the 33-page report on this industry. You learn that this is a growing industry, with revenues expected to increase steadily over the next five years. Rising pet ownership, particularly among millennials, and higher demand for premium and organic pet food, and specialized pet services, have driven this growth. However, there is strong competition in this space, with mass merchandisers (e.g., Walmart, Costco), grocery stores, and the two largest pet store chains — PetSmart and PETCO — exerting considerable pressure on smaller stores and the prices they are able to charge. You also learn from this report about the nonprofit for this industry, American Pet Products Association, which could serve as a source for your release, especially since it conducts an annual survey about pet supply trends.

The Mintel report titled “Pet Store Retailing – US” echoes IBISWorld’s forecast for growing sales, but also identifies further challenges for pet supply retailers. Pet owners tend not to be loyal to specific pet stores, but to make purchases based on convenience and price. The report suggests that specialty pet stores need to distinguish themselves by the exclusive brands they carry and by the unique experiences they offer, to compete with pet store chains, mass merchandise stores, and online shopping options.

Some of this information definitely can strengthen your news release. Using IBISWorld and Mintel as your sources, you can frame the opening of the new store as a response to the forecast for steady growth in the pet retail industry. The store’s focus on home-baked treats and other local products reflects the need articulated in the Mintel report for independent pet stores to distinguish their offerings from those of their large competitors.

Why Use Market Research

A wide range of communications professionals use market research reports every day to gain insights on their clients and on their clients’ competitors, and to contextualize news about individual companies.

Let’s say that a strategic communication professional is asked to devise a marketing strategy for a soap company. The resulting document that contains this marketing plan likely will include a section on the soap industry as a whole, and on the main companies that operate in this industry. Before starting her planning, the strategic communication professional would read market research on the overall trends in the soap industry, and learn which segments of the industry are doing well and which ones are lagging. All this information would inform her understanding of how her client needs to position itself to remain competitive and what marketing steps it needs to take to do so.

News journalists also regularly use market research reports as sources. Business journalists draw information from these reports to include in news reports about companies, industries, and consumers’ shifting preferences. The reports help fill in the gaps when reporters cannot access information such as a private company’s revenue, or to better contextualize a company’s happenings. Market reports aren’t limited to manufacturing and retail businesses. Trends in sports, education, and entertainment, for example, also are covered in market research reports.

Peer Tutorial: Why Use Market Research

In this video, Sara Carlsen (JOUR 302, spring 2019) reviews how market research is used by strategic communication practitioners.

How to Access Market Research

Nielsen, IQVIA, and Westat are some of the largest American market research companies. Each one provides specific research products by contract, subscription, or through individual purchase. Access to the reports of two other market research companies, IBISWorld and Mintel, is available through the University of Kansas Libraries.

The following videos guide you through accessing and navigating IBISWorld and Mintel.

How to Evaluate the Credibility of Market Research

Consider our standard credibility cues when evaluating the credibility of market research.

The publisher is an important credibility cue. In this case, the publisher is the market research company that produced the research. If we are considering the credibility of an IBISWorld report, we want to evaluate IBISWorld. If we are looking at Mintel, we want to evaluate Mintel.

Where can we find evidence about the credibility of a market research company? The company’s (often) glitzy website may be one source of information, although we need to keep in mind its self-serving bias.

Another way to gauge a market research firm’s credibility may be to look at its reputation among organizations and businesses that use market research. For example, the American Marketing Association publishes an annual ranking of the top U.S. market research firms. Greenbook, itself a market research company, ranked the largest market research firms in the world.

Searching for how often a company’s market research is quoted in the news may be another way to gauge its credibility. This can be accomplished by opening a news database (i.e., Access World News, Google News, etc.), and searching for the name of the research firm. If the company’s research has been quoted both recently and frequently, that may be an indication of the trust that journalists put in the company’s work. Few hits mentioning the company’s work could indicate that it’s not a trusted source, or that its work is not accessible to journalists.

A credible research source will present its research methods, that is, it will explain how it conducts its research. We can then evaluate the credibility of the research based on this information. For instance, Mintel provides a general research methods report for its U.S. research, and separate reports for the research it conducts in other regions.

The author may be another credibility cue to evaluate. Whether a single author or a team of authors is identified will depend on each research company’s conventions. Some companies do not identify by name the individuals who write or contribute to their research reports. In cases like these, an entire company serves as the research report author.

Can market research be biased? Unlike nonprofit trade associations, market research firms should not have built-in biases in favor of their clients. Market research firms aim to provide their clients with accurate research, that is, research that business leaders can trust to make profitable decisions for the companies they run. It usually is not in a market research company’s interest to sugarcoat a negative business forecast or an unfavorable industry trend. Market research companies generate repeat customers for their research reports by being accurate and credible.

Still, market research companies can be biased in the way they conduct their research. To assess this, examine a company’s research methods, and identify sources of information that may have been underrepresented in how the research was conducted. For example, if part of a company’s research comes from online surveys, it is possible that consumers without reliable internet access are under-represented in this research. Such a company’s research results may be biased toward populations with reliable internet access.

In sum, when evaluating the credibility of market research, consider all of the regular credibility cues. The report’s publisher, author, and bias, may be especially important to assess.

Activity 1: IBISWorld

Pick an item or product you use every day. Using IBISWorld, write a summary of the market trends related to this item. Identify this item’s manufacturing and retailing industries, and read the IBISWorld reports for these industries.

Activity 2: Mintel

Think of a different item that you use everyday. Using Mintel, write a summary of the market trends related to this item. Find and read the variety of Mintel reports available that are most closely related to this item. Pay special attention to the differences between consumer, market, and business or company reports.

License

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Be Credible by Peter Bobkowski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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