Monitoring your business’s market for changes can be vital to continued success. Unless you keep abreast of how your market is evolving, you could find your business left behind as your product or service offerings become outdated, your target market moves on to a new trend or business, and your competitors eat your lunch. By monitoring your market, you can know when to:
- raise or lower prices to meet what your market can afford and your competitors are charging
- adjust your product and service to meet your market’s changing needs
- target new demographic or geographic markets that can add to or replace your current one
Here are four market factors you should be monitoring.
Your Geographic Market
Keep track of what's going on in the geographic regions you sell to.
If you own a local restaurant, for instance, this might just include your town and the surrounding communities within driving distance. If you sell online throughout the U.S., you’ll want to monitor national trends. If you sell to customers internationally, you should monitor the situation in the primary nations you do business with.
How to do it:
The Census Bureau’s Economic Indicators provide a plethora of information on everything from how many rental vacancies exist in your area to average retail sales. Also check out USA.gov’s Business Data page for links to information on census data, employment rates, local economies and more. The Bureau of Economic Analysis offers a variety of reports, and the U.S. Census Bureau is a repository of all kinds of data about American consumers and businesses. On a local level, reading local newspapers, business journals and attending local business organizations’ meetings such as your chamber of commerce can help you keep on top of what’s going on in your market.
Your Demographic Market
What's going on with the demographic niche you sell to? Whether you sell B2B or B2C, you should have a profile of your target customer; use it to keep up-to-date on what's affecting that group. For instance, if your target customers are middle-class suburban moms, pay attention to trends affecting them. If your target customers are buyers at regional women’s clothing retailers, you’ll need to track what's going on with retail businesses of this type and size.
How to do it:
Some of the demographic information you need can also be found in the resources mentioned above. For instance, you might learn from Census data that more young families have moved into your city in the last few years while seniors have started moving out.
You can also learn about your demographic by following the same media your target demographic reads, watches or listens to. For example, the entrepreneur targeting moms would want to be active on Pinterest and Facebook, read magazines or blogs geared toward suburban moms and pay attention to what’s causing a buzz. You might find a growing trend of moms going back to work instead of staying at home, which could affect your target market’s needs and budget.
There are market research companies that compile information and studies on every demographic you can think of, from women over 50 to millennial dads to Latino families. While this research is often available as costly reports, sometimes you can get a lot of the information for free online by looking up press releases, blog posts or interviews from the company.
Finally, you can monitor your target demographic yourself by conducting focus groups or doing regular surveys to see what their needs, interests and pain points are.
Keeping up with what your competitors are doing is vital, as it can tip you off to new threats and opportunities. Are your competitors launching new products, opening new divisions or expanding into new markets? Have they redesigned their website or launched a new ad campaign? Are they hiring employees or laying people off?
How to do it:
Social media is a big help in monitoring your competitors. Follow them on social media to see what they’re doing. If they are public companies, you can get annual reports or use resources like Hoover’s to find information. Set Google alerts on your competitors so you get notified whenever they’re mentioned in the press.
What trends are transforming your industry? Are there new technology tools to help businesses like yours be more productive? Is overseas competition squeezing profit margins? Is there a shakeout on the horizon that will consolidate small players? Could proposed government regulations or upcoming elections affect businesses like yours?
How to do it:
Join industry associations and become active in them. By attending industry events, conferences and seminars, you can learn a lot. Make connections and stay in touch with them. Also, you should read industry publications regularly, and follow influential bloggers and journalists on Twitter so you’ll be up on the trends.
By monitoring your market, you can know in advance when your demographic is shrinking or moving out of your area so you can plan how to deal with the loss. You can also find out about new markets you haven’t tapped into before and plan how to capitalize on them. You may spot trends before they sneak up on you, so you can take advantage of them—not the other way around.
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