Research on Main Street
Several years ago, I spoke with a conference program planner about my upcoming presentation for her organization. I had sent her several topics related to business research, on which I frequently speak and write, and the purpose of our call was to narrow down the list of possibilities. After a few minutes of discussion, she said, “Marcy, these are great topics, but could you possibly talk about local market research?” I did, and it became one of my most requested speaking topics.
As with any new presentation, I invested a lot of time in researching this topic and talking about it with other librarians and information professionals. I looked back on my own experience with client projects that involved finding and analyzing information about small local areas, and I spoke with business professionals across a range of industries.
Through my research, I found that even in our global economy, businesses are still hungry for targeted, localized information about customers, companies, and trends. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a Fortune 500 company or a one-person operation. If you’re entering a new market, tracking competitors, identifying possible strategic partners, getting to know your buyers, or raising funds, you’re probably asking questions about specific—and sometimes very small—geographic areas. And as with any type of research, you’re looking for answers on the web.
Entrepreneurs deciding on a location for their new businesses depend on neighborhood-level demographics. Large organizations seeking partners to help them connect with customers in certain geographic markets want information about local companies, events, or issues. Nonprofits need community-level information to help them learn about potential donors and monitor awareness levels. In an age of limited budgets and high accountability, people are discovering that each county, city, town, and neighborhood is unique and that national- or state-level information won’t always tell them what they need to know.
What I also found through my research for the presentation on local market research and through my work with clients is that adding the element of geography to any search topic—especially for counties, cities, census blocks, or any other substate area—will make any project a lot more challenging. For several reasons, even the most experienced business researchers expressed frustration with this topic.
First, the people I talked and worked with said they need high-quality information since they use it for making important business decisions. Too often, inserting a local aspect into a search means a search results page full of city guides, restaurant reviews, and meet-ups. While these can yield some useful information, most searchers needed more business-oriented, reliable sources—and they weren’t finding them.
Second, Google and other general-purpose search engines don’t do a good job of localizing search results. Few web resources go to the local level, and those that do can be expensive. Many sources frequently offer information that’s out-of-date, not very in-depth, or lacking in local feel. It can be quite time-consuming to drill down to information about just one particular place or to compare information about several small locations.Finally, many people I spoke with said that even if they could find local demographics and other numbers, something was still missing. Without any insider knowledge of the target group and location, they risked...
Author of introduction, etc.: Mary Ellen Bates
Bio: Mary Ellen Bates is the author of Building and Running a Successful Research Business. She lives in Longmont, Colorado. Author: Marcy Phelps
Bio: Marcy Phelps is the president of Phelps Research. She lives in Lakewood, Colorado.