[This post was originally published in August 2011 and has been updated for relevance.]
Of all the tasks on your to-do list as a business leader, I'm sure "staying up to date on market research" is...well, at the absolute bottom.
"No," you say, pushing up your glasses, "I make sure to spend an hour every day reviewing the reports our McKinsey analysts send to us on market disrupters."
What? You didn't just say that? Didn't think so.
Because, let's be honest, staying on top of market research and trends can feel like a daunting, laborious, expensive task.
A task that, yes, you know you should do—but that just doesn't seem that important in the practical sense. After all, if you've been in business for a while, you already have a sense of your competitors. At least the ones that have been long-time competitors...
I wish I could tell you that market research isn't that important or is something you only have to check in on every five years. But I've got to lay some truth on you.
Why, Yes, You Do Have to Stay on Top of Market Research
There's no better example to look at than the dethroned communications giant: Skype.
In 2003, when cell phones and landlines were fighting for dominance, a whole new technology came on the scene—free, internet-supported calls through a new platform called Skype. Suddenly making international calls became cheap and easy! By 2006, you could even call someone AND see them on video in real-time!
Fast-forward to 2021.
Despite being an industry leader...
Despite "to skype" being added to the dictionary...
Despite a massive pandemic-fueled shift to video conferencing...
Skype only had 40 million daily users in 2021—compared to Zoom's 300 million. Ouch.
So what happened?
Don't Rest on Your Laurels
Of course, with any market-disruptor story, things start out rosy—and then the competition sets in. Skype's fall from usage is no different. The market, as it always does, just got flooded with more options: Zoom, Facetime, Google Hangouts. But there are two nails in the coffin that really sealed Skype's fate:
1. A lack of response to customer complaints
For years, users complained about serious issues within the platform, but Microsoft's response was band-aid upgrades that didn't address the real problems. They threw in some emoji features and moved on to invest in their new darling (and direct competitor) Microsoft Teams.
2. A lack of brand identity and differentiation
While Zoom staked out more and more of the business market, and Apple rolled out Facetime on every iPhone, Skype was preoccupied trying to copy "cool kid" apps like Snapchat—all while failing to deliver on their original value proposition: reliable video conferencing! The vacuum of brand identity left users filling in their own adjectives: buggy, slow, annoying, unreliable, dated.
So what does all of this mean for YOU?
No matter your market share or budget, you have to be vigilant—and responsive—to what is going on in the marketplace.
How to Make Market Research Part of Your Process
So let's get into the nitty-gritty of how to make market research a routine part of your business operations. Are you taking a holistic view of both competitors and even more importantly, trends? Ask yourself: are you really offering something that has a truly distinct value proposition? If not, someone else will.
The following are practical suggestions for keeping up with competitors, alternatives, and disruptors in the marketplace:
1. Conduct regular Google searches on your value proposition.
What's ranking on the first page of Google for what you offer? Are you really offering something that has a truly distinct value proposition? Better yet, create Google alerts with the keywords included in your value proposition and check them daily. This is a low-cost, easy way to stay up to date on who else is trying to do what you do. It's also good motivation to keep your value proposition tightly defined so you can locate your competitors quickly.
2. Listen to industry podcasts as a regular part of your routine.
There's truly a podcast about everything these days, and they're a great way to learn on the go. Unlike you, these hosts make it their job to closely follow your market and interview great experts about what's changing.
3. Make testimonials and lost-deal surveys a part of your sales process.
This is a great way to conduct your own research! Whenever you win a new deal, take the time to ask your customers who else they were considering, why they chose you, and what annoys them about your industry. Likewise, follow up on deals you didn't win and ask them what made them choose someone else. People love to complain and, if you're brave enough to ask, you might learn a lot about what you need to improve on.
4. Brainstorm and implement changes with your sales force.
After you've collected your testimonials and survey responses, act on them! Meet with your sales & marketing team to go over the results. Discern what issues seem most common or important. Brainstorm ways your company can pivot—it could be as simple as changing your messaging to make your solution to pain-point more clear. Choose one or two ideas from your brainstorming session and implement them well. Then do it all again and again.
I know you've got a lot on your plate, but with industries changing faster than ever, you have to stay on top of your market. Don't become the next Skype!