Published as a part of a three article series in the Career Moves section of the Evening Echo

The internet is a superb market research tool for your new or growing businesses. It can provide all sorts of useful insight into your industry, your competitors and, most importantly of all, your customers. In this article and the next in our series we take a look at twelve ways that the internet can make gathering marketing intelligence more productive and less costly for your fledgling business.

  1. Read industry association websites: A quick search for industry related websites in your favourite search engine will unearth all sorts of valuable information: up-to-date news, white-papers, research and best practice guidelines, and more to inform the strategic direction you take with your new business. Decide to join, and you’ll probably get access to even more online resources, training and support….

  2. Subscribe to analyst newsletters and report updates: one of the main sources of information for market research is reports from analyst firms like Forrester Research, Gartner Group and others. Stay ahead of the game by subscribing for e-mail updates on new analyst reports for your industry. You’ll get up-to-the minute summaries of the latest research direct to your inbox, and can invest in a full report or two if you feel it will help your business.

  3. Use news aggregators to keep up-to-date: know what’s going on in your industry by searching for relevant keywords on news aggregation sites like Google News (news.google.com) and Yahoo! News (news.yahoo.com), both of which offer convenient, easily accessible window to global and local news stories, press releases and other material. You’ll have access to a much wider range of material that’s infinitely more useful than scanning through hundreds of print publications.

  4. Read blogs: blogs (short for web-logs) are personal publishing platforms that allow people to post their thoughts on anything and everything to the web. A lot of them, naturally, won’t be relevant to your business, but dismissing blogs could be a serious mistake. The most popular bloggers on a particular subject can command huge audiences, and have massive influence on opinion in online communities. Reading these blogs can offer you valuable insight into what these key influencers in your field think. Remember, blogs are a two-way medium – so check out the comments to see what readers think, and perhaps even offer an opinion or two of your own.

  5. Check out online forums: online forums can be great places to glean valuable information and advice for your business, and to identify the online influencers in your space. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in – a quick search is sure to unearth relevant interactive forums full of people passionate about your particular subject. Many of them are only too happy to share their experience, expertise and insight with newcomers. Just remember it’s a two-way-street, so be sure to engage in the conversation and help others out whenever you can.

  6. Keep your finger on the online pulse with media submission sites: find out what’s flavour-of-the-moment with online consumers by checking out the top stories on online media submission sites like Digg.com (www.digg.com), StumbleUpon (www.stumbleupon.com) and others. These sites allow people to recommend, vote on and discuss news articles, blog posts and web pages they’ve seen online. As well as more general sites, be sure to check out industry specific media submission sites (Sphinn.com, for example, is an online media submission site for search and internet marketers). More of these are emerging all of the time, and they can give you a very industry-centric indication of what’s hot and what’s not online.