Experience & instinct are a good starting place…
I’m guessing that you’ve been living with your product idea – mulling it over for months, if not years – and perhaps you’ve already been working in the industry.
You know your product already, and you probably have a pretty good idea who your main customers might be and how to reach them.
… but as valuable as such lived experience is, it has some major limitations:
Relying solely on your own experience can leave you trapped in a bubble of “known knowns” that blocks you from seeing potential risks and learning from others. Doing some research to confirm your assumptions and uncover trends & surprises (unknown unknowns!) can break that bubble, resulting in a clearer understanding of your market and a more successful strategy.
Your experience and enthusiasm – no matter how deep and contagious they are – may not satisfy funders and other stakeholders (i.e., bankers, investors, suppliers, etc.). Most stakeholders will want to see some objective evidence before making a commitment to your grand adventure.
That doesn't mean your stakeholders will insist on perfect data that exactly matches your specific product, target consumers, and region… just that they want to see some sort of a foundation for your estimates of future sales, trends, and risks.
Again, though, whatever experience you have already is still important! At the very least, it may help you to develop initial research questions, then to reframe those questions in broader terms if the answers prove elusive.
I provided many examples of the sorts of questions you might brainstorm in one of my Trampoline posts. At this point I’ll just add a few more examples of possible questions and categories to stimulate your imagination:
Expand your horizons. Are there suppliers, distributors, and retailers you’ve not heard about yet? Uses for your product?
Add depth to your instincts. You may know how to sell to the people you’ve already been selling to… but could you make a few small tweaks to your pricing, your design, or your website and appeal to a completely new, larger group of people? What does the research say about the behavior and attitudes of that expanded consumer group?
Surf the trends. Your products might represent only a tiny drop in the ocean that is the global apparel or accessories market, but that ocean is always in motion… What can you learn about major sector-wide trends in retail techniques, consumer attitudes, and product designs… and how much of that might you apply to your own products? Are your customers moving completely online and expecting home delivery for everything? Do they only "read" social media, or can they be reached in other ways?
Don't reinvent the wheel. Other companies are selling similar products, or at least products that address similar needs, and others are selling to the same consumer groups... in fact, some companies might even be doing both! What have other companies attempted – and can you learn from their successes and failures? Are they mentioned in the news?
You are not alone. If many entrepreneurs are trying to do the same sort of things (e.g., launch a new clothing product or sell internationally), are there support services such as government agencies, associations, and consultants already in place and ready to offer you advice? Such advice may not be on your specific product type or situation, but in secondary research, close enough is often the main goal.
Now that you have some questions... the next step is to decide which sort of research you'll do to find answers: Primary vs. Secondary. Read on!