The Press, March 2008

Actor Will Smith is big. As the heaviest of Hollywood heavy hitters, Smith’s total box office earnings have been calculated at $US4.4 billion. As Men’s Vogue magazine said “ . . . he is as sure a thing in Hollywood as celebrity DUIs, Botox, and paternity suits.”

As well his obvious acting talent, Smith’s success has been adhering to a fundamental tenet of marketing – understanding your market.

In a 60 minutes TV interview last week Smith said a secret to his success was researching the movie business with his manager when they had just arrived in Hollywood. “We got the top ten movies of all time and we realized that ten out of ten were special effects movies, nine out of ten were special effects movies with creatures and eight out of ten were special effects movies with creatures and a love story.”

Multiple blockbusters later, this clear picture of the market has paid dividends.

Knowing about your market is the most fundamental part of marketing, it is one of the key things to avoiding failure for any new business or product. Matt Haig in his recent book “Brand Failures: The Truth about the 100 Biggest Branding Mistakes of All Time,” finds that most failures are a result of insufficient market information. He points to famous bombs like the Ford Edsel and Coke’s New Coke, neither of which were well researched.

So why do so many of us dive into launching a new venture without more than cursory glance at the people that are expected to impart money for the pleasure of buying it.

The people who invented 'spectacles for chickens' designed to reduce the incidence of them pecking each other's eyes out, the 'alarm fork' that reminds you to reduce your calorie intake or duster slippers for cats so they can help with the house work, probably thought they were on to a great thing.

As humans we have a tendency to assume that we know what others will like. We encounter a problem in our daily or business lives and find a solution to it. We quickly assume the way we solve that problem will be what others will like.

For example there are hundreds of software, electronics and engineering companies in New Zealand with great ideas and new products. But many have little knowledge about the market or person who will buy them. There are examples of local companies who have invested in building a product to discover that the problem it aimed to solve wasn’t really an issue outside of New Zealand. Or others who find that their product requires enormous change on the part of the buyers to adopt.

So what kind of information can help you enter a market with your eyes open? There are a few basic questions you need to be able to answer.

• Who is typically going to buy your product (e.g. age, gender, qualifications, interests)?

• Why are they going to buy it (what functional, financial and emotional needs are they looking to meet)?

• How many customers are there?

• What’s special about your solution (is it better, easier, faster or cheaper than the competition)?

• How could you talk to them (what associations, conferences, magazines, websites)?

• What are the customers currently using and how much effort would it be for them to change?

• Are they aware of your product and if so, what do they think of it?

How can you gather this data?

Market research can sound about as much fun getting your eyes pecked out by a chicken, but the insights gained from talking to your customers can inform your business.

A wealth of detailed and reliable information is available on the internet, if you are careful about the sources you use. It is incredible the depth of data that is accessible. You can find the number of buses plying suburban Sydney streets, including their size, make, year of manufacture, cc rating, capacity and typical routes, the areas in Christchurch that have the highest concentration of 50+ olds on higher incomes, even the profit and loss statements for a competitor located in the UK.

But you can’t do everything online, you still have to engage with some real people. It doesn’t require large scale market research studies, just a few in-depth conversations with some customers or target customers will give you some powerful insights.

Don’t think research has to be laborious and expensive, or to expect scientific certainty from the results. Having some data on your market is far better than having none.

Gaining some clarity around you market means you can approach a product launch with much more confidence. Confidence like Will Smith, who once said, “In my mind, I've always been an A-list Hollywood superstar. Y'all just didn't know yet.”

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