How to Use Market Research to Find The Difference That Matters

There’s a pattern in business that I’d like to share with you. Often, in our journey as entrepreneurs, we tend to find ourselves preoccupied with our own identities. In fact, it’s usually one of the first challenges we face in business. Who are we? What do we stand for? What does our brand look like? Does anybody want what we’ve got?


All very valid questions and all strongly based around the idea of identity and brand identity.


But we get so preoccupied with these questions that we forget to look outside…


We forget to take stock of the marketplace…


And instead jump straight to what we think we need to DO to get sales.


And yes, I can completely understand that…


… but I want to introduce you to another step…


… an important Next Step for your business.


Market Research


There is a definite reticence in entrepreneurs around the idea of market research.


There’s also a tendency to look at it as a tick-box exercise rather than a strategic step in the journey to building your own success.


Today, I want to demystify market research for you.


But more than that, I want to show you the value of it.


So, What is Market Research?


Market research is all about asking the right questions.


The right questions will lead you to your Sweet Spot, that point of difference that will help you thrive.


It’s not enough to be different. You need to be different in a way that matters to your customers.


And to find that difference, you need to ask the right questions.


Have you ever heard about the best way to eat an elephant?


You do it… “One Bite At A Time”.


And that’s how you’ll find your Sweet Spot…


…One Question At A Time.


So, What Questions do you Need to Ask?


First, do you know who your customers are?


You may think you know them. You know their age, where they live, what job they do.


But you can’t assume you know them.


You need to test your assumptions and go deeper. What challenges them? How can you help them overcome those challenges? What motivates them? How can you help them get to where they want to be?


How Many Matters


You need to think of these customers as your best friends. That’s why I ask people to divide their customers into categories. It focuses your mind, and makes it easier to imagine an individual customer, one that you can speak directly to.


Think of three categories that your customers fit into. Now we come to an important question. How many customers are in each category?


Because how many matters.


If you know how many customers belong to each category, you’ll know whether it’s worthwhile to reach out to them or not.


How do you find out who those customers are?


Well, you can start with Google.


Let’s say you’re aiming to reach female executives aged 50-plus who like to garden.


I started with what are women over 50 interested in? And it was amazing the results… I discovered:


Look at how much I learned simply by asking some questions that led me to a place that gave me insights into this arbitrarily chosen topic. So this information changed my view on both gardening and over 50’s. The question ultimately has to be – am I trying to provide services to over 50’s or am I trying to expand the market for gardening.


The lesson here has to be in the value of exploring and seeing what you can discover that’s already been researched and using Google as your go to guide.


See what happened here…


I went down the rabbit hole and forgot my intention was to find out the answer to the “How Many Matters” question… it happens when you start researching.


This is why I want to anchor that question for you here. Keep this in mind every time…




The meandering will automatically happen. The focus happens when you ask How Many… because How Many… Matters!


So I started again and googled that instead… I typed in How many people in Ireland garden?


And immediately I found a report from Bord Glas that tells me there are 1.3 million regular gardeners in Ireland.


I also discovered that 63% are women and 40% of them are over 55. The report told me what they did, what life stage they are at, how much they had to spend, where they like to spend it etc etc.  Amazing all from a simple Google search. And even the rabbit hole gave me insights too.


The Key Insight here is to keep focused on what you want to discover. Keep the how many matters question top of mind and then let the rabbit hole fill in the other gaps.

Next, Let’s look at Who Influences Your Customers?


We’re living in an age of influencers, so it’s crucial that we know who our customers are paying attention to. Think like a private investigator and check out your customers’ social media feeds. Who are they following? Whose content do they like and share? As you do your research, you’ll see the same names appearing again and again, giving you clues as to what your ideal customer is looking for.


Each step in your research reveals something new.


You may not know where it’s leading you, but file it away for now as another piece of the puzzle.


All will eventually become clear.


What Global Trends Affect Your Customers?


Next, it’s time to take a look at the bigger picture. Whether we know it or not, we’re all global now, and there are changes happening around the world that affect how your customer thinks, what they buy, and how they buy it.

How are you going to find out what market trends influence your customers? A good place to start is with trend firms like TrendWatching and TrendHunter.
These sites monitor behaviours and social changes around the world, and they can help you figure out what market trends may be impacting your business.


Look at TrendWatching’s latest report on The Future of Experiences in 2019 and beyond.


There are 3 powerful trends here including

    In 2019, automation and magical in-person customer experiences collide!
    In-person experiences that repair and re-imagine the social fabric. Think of how we could use this for our over 50’s gardener from our earlier example.
    Amazing experiences, minus the guilt.


Take a browse through these websites once every quarter and pick a trend that you think is relevant to your market.


You may discover a new angle that will help you market your offer. Or you may get ahead of the curve and spot a market trend that you can leverage before everyone else. Pick a trend that’s interesting to you.


You may not quite understand yet how to tie it into your business, but that’s okay. Being interested is enough as a starting point. The answers will evolve over time.


Next,  take a look at how these trends are being distilled in your own country. You may find that people in your country have embraced a global trend, e.g. do people now prefer grazing instead of eating sit-down meals? Check out this piece on what we’ll eat in 2028.


Narrowing down your research like this will help you decide whether this trend matters to your customers, and this will give you an edge when you’re reaching out to them.

Who are Your Competitors?


I’ve waited until now to talk about this, because you need to learn more about your customers and the market trends that affect them first. Then you’ll be more open-minded when you look at your competitors, and you won’t be tempted to compare yourself to them.


Get a piece of paper and write down what you know about your competitors. You’ll start to see a pattern of behaviour. By identifying that pattern, you’ll also identify gaps in their service that you can fill. All competitors will say they’re the best, but it’s more important to think about what makes you different. Check out my blog on The Lost Art of Competitor Analysis and How to Perfect it Here. It breaks down the entire process for you and there’s even a downloadable guide to help you.

Where are the Gaps?


Look at how your competitors talk about themselves, how they brand themselves, online and offline, how they use social media, their packaging, and their products and services.


You’ll start to see what YOU excel at…


…what you do that NO-ONE else is doing…


…or what you do DIFFERENTLY and BETTER.


That’s The Point Of Difference That Matters To Your Customers.


That’s your Sweet Spot. And you couldn’t have found that Sweet Spot if you hadn’t taken the time to research your market and to understand your customers first.


I hope you found this post helpful, and if you have any questions, please do share them in the comments below.


I’m going to leave you with a final tip.


Check out and see what you can find.


You might see some crazy ideas that’ll make you think differently about what you do, but could eventually lead you to your Sweet Spot –  that point of difference that matters.


And then you’ll be unstoppable.

I love to work with businesses, both large and small to help them create sustainable business dreams... Brand and Strategy are at the heart of everything I do and that gets rolled out digitally and across any channel where your customer lives.

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