Market intelligence can be just as important to SMEs as it is big companies

March 2019

If there’s one thing which underpins my approach to client work, it’s a near-obsession for making it evidence-based. Be it metrics from Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, qualitative customer research or market intelligence, I want to know it in order to shape marketing decision making.

From that short and certainly not exhaustive list above, the one I’m focusing on here is market intelligence. So firstly, what does the term actually mean? At a top-line level market intelligence would cover areas such as market size and where those markets are, but drilling down it could also, for example, include information on how consumers typically shop a particular market. The latter has been especially important in the last decade or more, because consumer journeys from research to purchase have fundamentally changed in our digital world.

Market intelligence is of course different to customer research, because the latter is concerned with a specific company’s customers and their attitudes and experiences etc. Of course the two can be very usefully analysed together, with an example being comparing data and insight from customer research with the market norms from market intelligence.

Market intelligence is available off-the-shelf for pretty much every major product category, industry and sector you could think of, and, generally speaking, is not especially expensive – certainly relative to its value. And it’s not especially expensive because it’s often about volume sales – so perhaps all your competitors are already buying it and therefore keeping the cost down.

It’s fair to say that I’ve often had more than a little difficulty in persuading my SME clients to invest in market intelligence. The reason has also been fairly consistent, in that the business owner believes, and generally wrongly, that they know their market inside-out. As an example, I’ve been banging-on to one of my main clients for about 7 years to invest in market intelligence so we could better understand the complexities of consumer journeys – and in this case which are largely about ROBO (research online buy offline). A few months back I finally succeeded, with the resulting marketing intelligence report revealing that, along with a raft of other valuable insight, we’d been missing a major trick in what consumers were typically looking for at the very start of their online research. We’ve quickly responded to this vital learning – and in fairness to the business owner he’s entirely accepted the value and that we should have invested years ago – with a shift in our marketing strategy and some of the tactics we use to deliver it.

For very large companies, and certainly in my experience, market intelligence would normally be seen as a very important and entirely necessary aspect of business decision making. So not just to aid the marketing process, but more generally with the overall success of business planning and resulting growth. This sort of thinking should also apply to SMEs, and the fact that it doesn’t is, I would suggest, a major barrier to growth and indeed why so many small businesses fail.

So if you’re an SME owner and have never invested in marketing intelligence, then do so now. What’s the worst that could happen? Probably that, and this is unlikely, it tells you what you already knew and therefore you can plough ahead with renewed confidence.

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