One of the many challenges of running a successful business is that markets change. It’s natural: Tastes shift, technology advances, and the consumers you target today may look and behave differently from those in the market tomorrow.
So if markets are a moving target, it is critically important for businesses to have industry research. Without the right industry data, it’s like entering a skeet-shooting tournament wearing a blindfold: You can compete, but you’re not going to win.
Here are 3 ways to use industry statistics to your advantage.
1. Track consumers’ changing needs and wants.
Nearly every business carefully catalogs and mines its own customers’ behavior, as well they should. But customer data can’t tell you everything. Supplementing customer data with industry data can lead you to new revenue, or prevent you from going astray.
Take the online travel industry, for example. It has been growing at a double-digit pace for years. So all’s well, right?
It is — if those in the trade are paying attention to the shift to mobile devices. According to the “Travel Trends Report 2019” from travel software maker Trekksoft, online travel bookings are shifting sharply to mobile devices. Consumers surveyed from around the world used cellphones and other mobile devices for 56.7 percent of online travel bookings in 2018, up from 51.5 percent in 2017.
Anyone who makes money from online travelers — from the online giants in the travel booking business to the boutique hotel — had best check their websites on a cellphone to see how easy it is to use. Industry data sources say that’s how most consumers are booking their vacations.
2. Guide the selection of new products.
Whether you are starting a business for the first time, or are considering expanding an existing business into a new line, market research data can be your best friend.
Fortunately, market research data need not be expensive. It’s available for free through government sources online. If you join an industry association, access to industry research is often included with the price of admission.
Retailers, for example, would be foolish not to peek periodically at the Census Bureau’s retail reports, which aggregate sales data on a host of industries. You can view it online or download it into a spreadsheet.
You can also use digital tools to generate your own trend data — and you don’t even have to be a nerd. Google Trends, for example, lets you quickly build your own data set centered on the key terms that your customers are typing into a browser.
3. Keep an eye on the competitive landscape.
Thinking of entering a new line of business? You’ll want to see who the competition is, and that’s where industry research can flash you a red or green light.
Landscaping industry statistics, for example, paint a picture of a highly fractured competitive landscape, with a huge number of small, but highly experienced, players. While it is a $52 billion industry in the United States, a full 72 percent of landscape contractors employ four or fewer employees. You can also expect that the average landscape contractor will have enough experience to know Bermuda from Bluegrass: 77 percent of landscaping companies have been in business at least 10 years.
These kind of statistics can also be particularly useful in industries with an international component. In its white paper, “Trade Analysis: Using Trade Data in Strategic Decision Making,” The Freedonia Group points to export data as a source of intelligence. By knowing from U.S. data that the United States exported 48 million kilograms of soybeans to Canada equivalent to $28 million, an export price of $0.60 can be inferred. For a wannabe soybean exporter, that’s handy intel.
The Freedonia researchers add a wise caveat — take care which data you rely on. Dig into the small print. You can find important information hiding amid asterisks and footnotes. The researchers may have assumptions baked into the data, or could have excluded certain classes of data, which can lead you to a different conclusion than you originally had.
So whether it’s about soybeans or Zoysia grass, dive deep into the weeds. Industry data can be dirty, but used right, it can help a business grow.
About the author: Rachael Baihn holds a Bachelor of Arts in Media from Macquarie University and works as a Digital Marketing Analyst at LawnStarter Lawn Care.