Market research and reports dominate the headlines in industry publications. They’re easy to talk about, get dropped into pitch decks, and their value seems obvious on the surface. After all, they’re numbers! But not everyone considers how to use market research. A deeper level of analysis is required, after reading about statistics like an industry’s compound annual growth rate (CAGR) or the average sale price (ASP) by category. You have to take these findings and contextualize them within your business.

Quality, quality, quality

Do your research. Different reporting publications have different levels of credibility. The gold standard is going to be independent organizations who make their name in publishing this data. The publishers are known and their work is used by reputable industry players. They do not allow pay-for-play for inclusion in reports or datasets. Beware, there are fly-by-night outfits that will publish reports to make a quick buck, spam email lists, and may work between industries without a sense of vision or purpose. Research published by brands may glean some insights, but ultimately this is a form of content marketing that is to be taken with a grain of salt.

Think directionally

You can look to market research and industry reports for directional guidance, maybe even horserace comparisons to see how different brands or sub-categories are evolving. But reports won’t tell you what to do. And don’t have a knee-jerk reaction to any one report, either. Look to a number of different sources and try to triangulate trends across those reports. They can provide you an idea of the directions, trends, and momentum in your industry.

Stay in your lane

One of the easiest mistakes to make is looking at reports that are in your industry but don’t apply to what you’re doing. Stay in your lane. Make sure you are being responsible about the conclusions you’re drawing from the research. Make sure the market segment, company size, geography, sales channel, category, price point, use case, and other variables are appropriately considered. Of course, you can learn things that don’t relate exactly to your business, but proceed with caution.

Stick with known good

If you find a report that’s higher quality from a reputable source, stick with it and monitor changes over time. Build your own spreadsheet (make sure you’re not violating their terms of use) to track changes between periods, whether that is monthly, quarterly, or annually. Connect with the publisher, meet with them at industry events, subscribe to their podcast, learn more about their methodology and approach. One known good report is worth more than one hundred bad ones.

Pay what is due

Market researchers are in the information business. If there is a paid option for deeper data, more regular updates, one-on-one conversations with analysts, or something along these lines—consider it. Having independent eyes evaluating your industry can provide an important sense of perspective for you as an operator. If an organization’s insights are commercially valuable for you, put your money where your mouth is to ensure the continued availability of that information. Or you might lose it!

Don’t use it, lose it

Just because you (or someone in your organization) has purchased an industry report in the past, that doesn’t mean you need to continue purchasing it in the future. If you are not using an industry report, lose it. Or at the very least, contact the publisher and share with them what is and is not valuable. They may take your perspective into consideration and improve their work. They are in the information business and they should be open to this feedback. Hopefully, they thank you for it and you get better research in the future that you wouldn’t be able to get on your own.

Do I recommend using market research as a tool in the toolbox to help you make strategic decisions? Absolutely. Listening to customers matters. Making products you believe in matters. But there’s also nothing quite like a third party look at what’s happening in your space.

What tips do you have for how to read market research? If you want to me to get specific and dissect a particular report, I have some ideas in mind. Let me know.

Feature image captured by Beau Swierstra and shared through Unsplash.

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