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Trampoline 3 of 12: Step one - Ask good questions

Published by Mark Bodnar

<This series of posts is aimed at the current RADIUS Trampoline cohort – but will be of use to anyone learning to do secondary market research. Click on the table of contents to go to the first post.>Table of contents of this post series. Links back to first post.

Before you can find answers, you need questions!

Grab a beverage and a friend and spend a few minutes brainstorming about what sorts of information you’d really like to find. It often helps to think in terms of key categories: 

line drawing of three people sitting at a table with question marks above the table

Customers & markets

  • What needs does your service or product address?  
  • How are those needs being met currently?  
  • What are the barriers to their being met?
  • What are the trends in usage/sales/consumption of key alternative or complementary ways to meet the same needs?  
  • Who is most likely use your service or product?  
  • What are their demographics?  
  • What are the trends in those demographics in your target area?

Competitors & industry 

  • Who else is delivering services or products that meet similar needs?  
  • What can you infer about their strategies and their success by what they say and do? (News sources will be valuable here.)  
  • How hard is it to get a foothold in this field/industry – are larger organizations already involved? 

Business & economic environment

  • Are there any specific regulatory or legal hurdles in your market/industry?  
  • What economic conditions best fit your planned service or product?
  • What are the trends in those conditions in your area?

These are just some generic examples. I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with questions that are more suitable to your own service or product.  If you can’t do so yet, don’t worry! You instructor will likely be guiding you through ways to think about your goals, consumers, competitors, etc. and much of what you learn can be translated into focused research questions. 


line drawing of a person speaking on a megaphoneIt can be very tempting to just skip this step and go straight to Googling your broadest question: “What is the market for [widgets]?

Frankly, even such a broad search might produce a few useful resources, but your research will be much more effective & efficient if you first invest some time jotting down your questions.

Note, also, that research is iterative. At first, you don’t know what you don’t know, but if you ask good questions and start exploring with an open mind, you’ll learn surprising things… at which point you can come back to this step and add more questions.

Got a long list of questions?  On to >> Step TWO!  Ask broader questions

Mark Bodnar
Business & Economics Librarian

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