Research is the key to gaining a useful insight and potentially enjoying an edge over your competitors, but the conundrum that many face is how to go about collating the right information and where to look.

If you were looking at stocks to buy, you wouldn’t normally do that without carrying out some research beforehand, and that same diligent approach is suggested when approaching the task of conducting industry research, so that you enjoy the power of data and knowledge.

Improving your odds of success

Whether you are launching a new business, a new product, or both, there is no question that doing some thorough market research is likely to prove fundamentally pivotal to to your chances of success.

Launching a new product into a market where there is not the demand or launching a new business without identifying your target audience, is not necessarily ensuring that you are destined to fail, but it could turn out to be costly, which is why research is so important.

A good starting point

A major search engine like Google is never a bad starting point for carrying out some basic secondary research, which could turn out to be quite informative and revealing.

It gives you the opportunity to carry out some free research regarding your intended market, so that you can quickly see what products or services are already currently available, who your potential competitors are, as well as gaining an insight into which products are popular with customers and who is buying them.

There is a lot of information that is available at no cost if you work on drilling down a bit deeper with your search engine enquiries, and you may well be able to establish key data such as current market size and any obvious trends or preferences that seem to be demonstrated.

Your research should be focused on three primary categories. This means that you are trying to build data on who your competitors are, the size and scope of the market, and the state of the industry that you are looking to enter.

Overviews and reports

Your secondary search efforts using a search engine like Google will get you some of the way in your quest to gather a reasonable level of data, but there is some more detailed primary research required to give you a more in-depth and insightful picture.

Resources like Standard & Poor’s industry surveys will allow you to look at a diverse range of industries and get a clear idea of trends, key industry ratios and statistics, as well as comparative company statistics, which can enable you to see which companies are doing well, and evaluate why they are enjoying that success.

Other primary research resources includes Hoovers, amongst others. These data sources will charge to access their data, so you will need to have a clear idea of what you are looking for and how you want to use the information you gain access to, so that you are able to get the best possible return on your investment.

You can also use some free resources that will give you some other reliable sources of market data, which could prove to be useful in your attempts to build a comprehensive insight into a specific industry and current consumer trends.

Google Almanac is a free tool that demonstrates how consumer behavior changes in response to certain times and dates in the calendar, allowing you to gauge potential spikes in demand at specific points.

You might also want to look at FedStats, which is government data and can help you to identify industry trends. Also worth a second look is American Fact Finder, which could prove to be a useful tool when you are collating demographic data, as it is based on U.S census information.

Join a trade association

There are a number of definite advantages to joining an industry-specific trade association, not least the potential to tap into some useful market research resources.

Joining a relevant trade association will give you access to some potentially very useful industry news and research. This can prove invaluable in terms of gauging the economic health of a particular industry, as well as allowing you to see what topics or ideas are trending.

You may well be networking amongst competitors in your industry, but as with any form of market research, anything that gives you an insight or an edge that you can take advantage of, has to be a positive.

Louis Rowley loves numbers, research and planning. It’s just something in his nature, and he fully embraces his inner geek now that he’s older and wiser. Louis is a keen article writer who contributes fairly regularly to a number of online publications.

Founding Editor @Alltopstartups, Contributor @Entrepreneur, Columnist @Inc. Magazine and Curator at Postanly (his free weekly digest of the best life and career improvement posts on the web. Subscribe for free.