Decide what you need to find out, and then where. 

So you have an idea for an invention and decide to do some market research—good decision—but you don’t know how to get started.

The first question to address is, “Market research for what?” Do you have an idea for a new or improved type of service, or have you just sketched out on the back of a bar napkin a picture
of a new product that you have in mind? At this point, you should perform a basic level of research before doing any further work on your idea after conception. Determine your market research needs and objectives.

The first step in doing market research is to decide what you really need to find out. Know what information you need before you begin. The kind of information you seek should determine the type of research you will do.

Remember that to have any chance of commercial success with your invention: 1) It has to solve a problem that enough people care about; 2) It has to be a significant improvement to whatever is being used today to solve the problem; and 3) You have to be able to sell it at a price that people are willing to pay.

Research your Problem

A logical starting point before you walk store aisles and do a Google search is to focus your research efforts on the problem you are attempting to solve, and finding out who has that problem.

This is not easy. If you can find recent newspaper or magazine articles that talk about the problem, that will give you a starting point for further investigation. But here is another idea. You might try various forms of social media and blogs to conduct a survey to find out whether people really care about the problem you are addressing. You don’t need to tell them what your solution is (you don’t have a confidentiality protection in place yet), but you want to get some early indication as to whether enough people have this problem and are interested
in a solution.

Once you are convinced that the need is real and significant, it’s time to visit local stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, etc., to see if there is any other product already on the shelves that remotely resembles your product in any shape, size, form or function. You could also use the internet as a search guide to help you locate products that are similar to yours, or that have the same functionality and purpose as your new product.

You can obtain market research information from a variety of sources. At the library, you will find reference materials, magazines, directories and other publications, as well as access to computer databases. You can also try a college, university or business school; vocational or technical school; civic organizations such as chambers of commerce; wholesale or manufacturing sales representatives; trade associations; city and county economic development offices; and federal agencies such as the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the Small Business Administration.

Several university libraries have established websites where you can follow “road maps” that enable you to conduct the “matching” as illustrated above. In this regard, the following are noteworthy:

• The University of Florida Business Library has published an industry research tutorial entitled “Ten Steps to Industry Intelligence” (see: that will walk you through the steps to conduct industry research and will also provide you with an extensive list of resources, with websites, where you can go to get information you need.

• See the Rutgers University Libraries at for a detailed listing of data and information sources organized by suggested starting points, government data sources, commercial data sources, library resources, and research centers and other data sources.

Mark Twain said, “It is wiser to find out than to suppose.” That is why you should do market research before you move forward with your invention idea.