Today’s direct to consumer selling environment is fast-paced and ever changing. To stay competitive, you need as much market research information as you can glean. Making better business decisions marks the starting point for developing effective sales strategies and setting up business longevity.

Much has been written and communicated about how market research is done, but business owners and managers often question what you can actually learn and implement from the process.

Simply put, market research equates to collecting data about almost everything related to your business from what audiences you are trying to attract to what competitors are selling, and even trends within your industry. You need to know what the marketing potential is for your product or service and how to reach those consumers who most likely will become customers.

Who buys product at farmers markets? What family grouping is most likely to be attracted to agritourism operations? What audiences purchase the most products at farm-gate operations and at on-site tasting rooms and festivals? These are some of the questions you have probably already researched in pre-business strategy sessions. Additional information, which delves further into audience demographics, buying habits, customer preferences and industry trends, expands your knowledge base.

Essentially you are looking for ways to increase customer satisfaction and build brand loyalty. To do that you need to be able to reach a solid customer base and establish your product or service as the brand people want to buy on a returning basis.

Market research also serves as the basis for developing and launching new products. You need information on purchasing, pricing, packaging and trends to even begin knowing where and how a potential new product or service will prosper. It is this background information which provides the confidence to move forward on projects, or re-assess branching out in a new direction.

Gaining valuable information is but one part of using marketing research effectively; analyzing and implementing the data follows. Analysis involves matching relevant data points to your unique operation and finding where the information can be helpful in marketing strategies. For example, if the data indicate a certain age group is a viable target audience for your product, does this align with your business plan and environment? Are you able to reach that audience as you operate now, or will you need to adapt your operation in new ways? Analysis is the tool to measure potential markets compared to your capabilities and resources.

And if the information and analysis proves interesting and follows your business plan, how would you implement changes or operations? Often this shifts priorities related to labor, transportation and other operational changes. Such changes need to be balanced against funding issues and budgetary concerns.

When it comes to competitive advantage, the more you know about your total business environment, the better the decisions you will be able to make. Marketing research forms the basis for strategic business decisions to bolster customer satisfaction and build brand loyalty. However, it must be done in the context of your mission and your resources. All of these factors must balance out for overall success.

The above information is presented for educational purposes and should not be substituted for professional business counseling.