Niche Market Research Tools & Resources
Market research forms a core component of planning for a small business. Is there demand for my product? Who are the competitors? How can I differentiate myself from them? How can I cater my product to the right audience?
Entrepreneurs who are passionate about their industry or sector have strong intuitions about each of these questions. When you have an idea about a product that stands out from the rest and fits a demand that the market has not yet been able to satisfy, that's a niche market. According to a business dictionary, "niches do not exist but are created by identifying needs, wants, and requirements that are being addressed poorly or not at all by other firms."
Why Niche Markets?
A good slogan for the niche market strategy is to aim to be the big fish in the small pond, instead of small fish in the big pond. Studies show that small to medium size businesses are most likely to succeed if they adopt a niche marketing strategy.
TPL provides a wide array of tools of use to entrepreneurs and small businesses to either start a new business or hone their understanding of their market. In addition, a specialized set of online tools are available to both expand and hone your customer base.
In this post you'll find a combination of specialized TPL databases, freely accessible web tools, and primary research methods that will enable you to succeed in carving your preferred market niche.
Offer a Unique Product
To create a viable and unique product, you will need to be knowledgeable of the sector and industry in which you want to succeed. This includes knowing trends, the big movers and shakers, and the successful business models that allow top firms to dominate. You also need to know your direct small business competition in the specialized market segment in which you want to foray.
For example, if you want to break into online retail, you should learn about the dollar value of the market. You should also know the key players, how competitive the market is, and consumer behaviour.
Here are some resources to help you determine if your product will be unique and viable.
Databases and Directories
Marketline, a core business database available at reference branches, allows you to learn about broad industry trends. Marketline provides industry reports, cases studies, competitor and market intelligence, and industry news. You can also use Canadian Business & Current Affairs to access the latest Canadian and international business news and peer-reviewed business journals.
Scott's Business Directory focuses primarily on Canadian manufacturers and wholesalers, with a listing of over half a million private and public firms of all sizes.
Mergent Intellect is a powerful tool for finding competitors, distributors and manufacturers. It has an international scope and lists over 3 million Canadian private and public firms and businesses of all sizes and business types. It includes addresses and subsidiaries, sales and employee totals, in-depth financials, and executive contacts.
Using a Search Engine
Besides these great resources, you can use popular search engines and online marketplaces to research competitors.
Keyword searches on Google, Bing or DuckDuckGo will return businesses with the most inbound links deemed most relevant by search engines. Being favoured by search engines means greater exposure and boosts to sales.
In order for your business to rank high on search results, you need to optimize your website through use of relevant keywords.
This involves anticipating the vocabulary of the user when they search for their preferred product or service. Your job is to include as many of the right keywords on your website as possible so that search engines can deem you relevant and index your site. Beware though: search engines are good at weeding spamming websites.
Establishing an Online Presence
A low-cost, high-reward way to establish your online presence is through Wordpress.org. Wordpress is a popular free and open-source web-development platform that doesn't require you to code. Usually, you can find a host for your Wordpress website for very cheap. Wordpress also gives you much greater functionality than most month-to-month all-in-one platforms. Did you know that roughly 40% of all websites on the web today use Wordpress?
One of the great things about free, open-source platforms like Wordpress is that you can add free plug-ins. Plugins are extra features to your webpage that enhance its functionality. One such feature is WooCommerce. WooCommerce allows you to add a digital shop to your webpage. This includes ways to display your products, shopping carts, log and organize your sales, and statistical tools.
Search Engine Optimization
You will also want to optimize your webpage for SEO. You can check how well optimized your website is by entering your web address onto free analyzers like Seoptimer. Then you can use free plug-ins available on Wordpress to help you with optimization.
There are many more tools and platforms out there. Shopify is another great eCommerce tool that requires less work on your part but costs more on the month to month basis. These are decisions that you as a business person will have to make in a way that's cost-effective for you. The most important thing is to do your research properly and see what best fits your vision and budget.
Flippa.com is another great resource where you can browse, buy and sell established online businesses. If you have an account with Flippa, you will be able to see core statistics about how such businesses increased their traffic and built their client base, including their sales and unique page visits.
Finally, digitalmainstreet.ca/toronto provides a great starting point with migrating your business online. Digital Main Street was created in collaboration between the City of Toronto and the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas. It is also supported by companies like Google and Shopify. Digital Main Street offers one-on-one help and training on trusted online tools, digital vendors, and general tech help.
Cultivate Your Audience
Before you design and finalize your product, you need to think about who will want it or need it and why.
When you're thinking about your customer, you can consider categories like age, gender, income and occupation, household size and location. You should also try to understand the psychology of your consumer by considering hobbies, lifestyle, interests, personality type and attitudes.
Once you've identified a target audience, you can ask yourself: are there enough people who would want my product? how will my target audience benefit from the product? How accessible are this target group and can they afford what I'm putting on offer?
A great tool to target your key demographic includes the city of Toronto Data, Research & Maps page.
You can use this portal to find demographic data by ward, riding, and neighborhood. Moreover, you can use the annually compiled labour force survey to understand the distribution of employment by industry across the city. Lastly, you can use the community mapping tool and Business Improvement Areas to target areas of need by surveying available services and business indices.
Besides public data, you can use online data collection and promotion tools to build a broader clientele. You can collect data from your own website, social media channels, and marketplaces. You can also conduct your own research through focus groups, surveys, questionnaires and phone calls.
To get the most information from your website traffic, you can link your website to Google Analytics. This tool allows you to learn what country or province your users are from, visit lengths, pageviews, session and new user rates. You can also find out demographic breakdowns by age, gender, and device preference. If most of your users access your website through their phones, for example, you might want to make sure to include responsive design onto your website.
Another great, free resource is StatCounter. Less sophisticated, but easier to use, it allows you to see informative website activity like pageviews, session length by user and location.
Use BuzzSumo to find out brands, competitors, topics, and their coverage on major social media platforms. This tool allows you to know which social media platform is best suited to your product. It also allows you to monitor your competitors and understand trends about products in your industry.
Once you've established a presence on a major social media platform, use social media listening to draw important insights by monitoring brand mentions, top hashtags, and competitor behaviour.
While there are many premium-based platforms that analyze insights, you can do this yourself by remaining active on popular platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram. The key aspect of this part of your research is to translate your monitoring insights into action about your product and its marketing.
Build a Brand
The astronomic rise of e-Commerce in this decade has created the potential for global reach.
As most small businesses, you'll want to establish your web presence through a website, social media channels and digital marketplaces.
Aside from giving you exposure, such web tools offer an opportunity to disseminate a consistent experience, identity and values. As components of your brand you want to ensure that these stand out from the competition.
To achieve this you can use design tools available for free on library computers at enhanced learning centers such as the Adobe Creative Suite. To learn how to use these design tools and more you can use the video tutorial platform Lynda.com available through TPL eLearning.
Use Canva to create quick, professional and consistent designs for promotions and website. Use Pixlr for in-browser free image editing.
Keep Developing Your Business Skills
Use Gale Courses to gain skills on how to start your own business online. Gale has courses on business marketing, sales, accounting and other general business skills.
Use O'Reilly to supplement your business knowledge on the topics mentioned or any area of business through quick video tutorials and full-text eBooks.
Finally, use design thinking by funneling the information you collected about your target audience to build an experience that creates the greatest satisfaction. This means that you will need to actively engage your audience through all the possible channels, both online and in-person, to improve your product prototype through iteration.
Our Digital Innovation Hubs are library spaces equipped with computers and design software that can help you access these resources. Find the right equipment you need at our Digital Innovation Hubs website portal.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, access is currently limited. Be sure to check out the webpage before visiting!
Blog created in collaboration with Tony Rocchi, from the Business, Science & Technology department of Toronto Reference Library.