10 Free Data Sources to Help Build Your Category Insights.

Picture the scene. You have just landed that new category management role and you are raring to go. Your new company are incredibly supportive and full of ambition. They recognise the power of category management thinking and are keen to cement their category develop partnerships with retail customers. They are expecting great things from you and have given you the autonomy to crack on with bringing fresh insights and thinking to your new category. But you have hit a snag! Category data availability is scant or worse still, unreliable. Maybe you must rely on internal sales, factory gate sales or the generosity of former data agency contacts to decipher how the category is performing. You may cobble together as much data as you can, but deep down you know that this is not going to add much colour to why the category is performing as it is our what the potential opportunities are.

Fear not – help is always at hand. The above can be a common occurrence for new or developing categories or for small to medium sized companies who are beginning to develop their category first mindset.In this post, I give you 10 ways that will help you to build your category insights without having to break into your category management budget.

The Free Insight Source List.

  1. Competitor Websites
  2. Webinar
  3. Store Visits
  4. Google Trends
  5. Libraries
  6. Cupboards, Larders & Fridges.
  7. Podcasts
  8. LinkedIn
  9. Twitter
  10. The Traditional Media.

1. Competitor Websites.

A lot can be gained from having a snoop around your competitor websites. You can bet that they are probably doing the same on yours. Look for any new products or concepts they have brought to market and figure out what consumer segment they are trying to target. Are they being truly innovative or are they playing catch up by “renovating” product types that already exist in the category? Competitors sometimes mention their key stockists, which may give you an indication of their strength of relationship with category buyers. Try to figure out the story they are trying to tell. There could be an insight in the story relating to a macro trend like health or they could be ahead of the game by communicating an emerging trend. In addition, look out for any data, research, or insight sources they may be referencing.  They may have links to these sources that you can then follow for further insight.

2.  Webinars.

Webinars became a lifeline for many during the lockdown, and a lot of them are free to attend. Most are gated and require you to register your email address, but you can always choose the opt out button were available if you do not wish to be marketed too. Do not limit yourself by registering for webinars that just relate to the category or industry that you are involved in. The best insight often come from other industry sectors that may be activating on a global macro trend that could be relative for your category. My top tip for finding the golden nuggets from webinars is to actively listen to what the presenter is saying. The true insight often comes from the slide explanation rather than the slide itself. That’s why it is always more favourable to attend the webinar rather than just receive the slide pack in absentia.

3. Store Visits.

“The desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world”.
John Le Carré from DaveGardner in Forbes magazine.

Le Carrés sentiment can be applied to all office and home-based jobs throughout the world. Getting out and into store has been one of the biggest things I have missed from a work life perspective during the lockdown times. Store visits are an invaluable source of insight because you get to see the shopper in action at their last opportunity to purchase. Shopper observation can reveal insights about average weight of purchase from a category as well as cross shopping and associated shopping behaviour. You may feel a little self-conscious about doing it, but most of the time shoppers do not even notice and if they ask what you are up to, tell them the truth. Visits can help you get a handle on off fixture displays and secondary displays, as well as supporting your space planning initiatives and planograms with information like location on fixture. It is always a good idea to sign into the store so that management know you are legitimate and do respect any photography protocols they may have in place.Additional insights can be revealed from observing from outside of the store. I once sat in my car for two hours, counting the number of shoppers who emerged from a well-known grocery retail brand to see if the main shopping mission was a basket or trolley shop. The trick is to do this as regularly as possible. Block out time in your diary each month to escape the desk trap. You are guaranteed to come away with a handful of insights from each store visit.

4. Google Trends.

This is an invaluable source of insight, increasingly so if you want to get ahead of a forthcoming trend. An increasing amount of research is now linking the positive correlation between share of search and brand market share. Research is showing that brands can often expect an increase in share following a period of high search volume, particularly if the brand is a category leader. Google Trends is easy to use with a search database that runs from 2004 to present. Trends can be spotted across geographical boundaries, sometimes down to a region within a city if the search volume is large enough. The related queries feature is particularly useful for spotting trends for category management development strategies. For example, if you need to know the latest trend in perfect food pairings, you can get a fair idea of what is popular by using this feature.

5. Libraries.

When is the last time you visited a library? This, sometimes forgotten source is a treasure trove of data, knowledge, and business insight. Not only will you find the latest book from this years in vogue business guru, but many libraries will now give you free access to subscription only market research databases.  If you need to dig a little deeper for your insight, libraries carry plenty of academic journals containing published research from global thought leaders. Other services like e-libraries have taken leaps and bounds during the pandemic and look out for relevant business events that are free to attend.  Do yourself a favour and join one today.

6. Cupboards, Larders & Refrigerators.

Ok, most of us have not been spending a lot of time in other peoples houses lately. But when things open up, don’t be afraid to open you eyes to the purchasing habits of your friends, families, and acquaintances. Looking where people store their grocery purchases can reveal what makes up their category consideration set. Learn more about the “category of me” here. Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that this behaviour is a credible, full on ethnographical study, but it may lead to a spark that will allow you to pursue or confirm a hypothetical insight that you have been working on. Again, if this feels embarrassing, be open and honest. If the person knows you well enough, they will know that you are being curious in the interest of knowledge rather than being judgemental!

7. Podcasts.

Today’s most popular podcasts tend to focus on entertainment or true crime. However, dig deep enough and you will many relevant business, educational, societal, technological and science podcasts that can reveal valuable insights. Pick something that sparks your initial interest but don’t be afraid to drop it if you feel the podcast is becoming laborious. The beauty of the podcast is that you can dip in and out and listen during mundane or personal times like doing household chores, commuting, or exercising. We all have different learning styles, and some of us learn more by listening to the expert voice, who often appear more accessible or relatable, particularly if they can deliver their content in an unscripted fashion.

8. LinkedIn.

With an audience of 660 million professionals and 17 million global thought leaders, LinkedIn is bound to provide you with some content to inspire or develop your category insights. You will benefit from keeping on top of content posted by your immediate network, be it articles, blog posts, referrals or attendance notices for relevant conferences or webinars. In addition to accessing insights and industry news, you can pick up on opinions and seek advice, either directly by posting publicly or indirectly by contacting via direct mail. Make sure to expand your horizons and join as many interest groups and forums as you can.  You never know what you will learn from these or who you can make contact with.

9. Twitter.

Twitter is an excellent medium for social listening research especially if you are interested in the latest consumer chat about a particular product, service, or issue. In this respect, Twitter can be a useful tool for gauging immediate sentiment and to keep track of ongoing conversations between customers and brands. While it can be difficult to garner an insight just from a micro blog, many companies post links to relevant articles or use Twitter as a gateway to refer you to other areas of interest.

10. The Traditional Media.

We would be wise never to discount the traditional media channels like television, newspapers, radio, and trade journals as valuable sources for category insights. Sometimes the insights come by accident, if you just happen to be flicking between channels or the radio announcer happens to mention a topic that gets your attention. Try to be curious about scheduled programmes or content that you know is coming up.

TV programmes often contain category related content across their schedules within news programming, factual, current affairs and even entertainment genres. For example, within food, the BBC’s "Eat WellFor Less" can often reveal hidden gems about peoples purchasing and consumption behaviour. Channel 4’s"FoodUnwrapped" sometimes throws up some interesting food trends or global
insights regarding culinary habits.

Radio programmes, particularly news and talk formats will regularly feature industry experts who give their views on prevailing topics. These can be revealing if a publisher or author is using the medium to launch a new new piece of research. Follow this trail to lead you to the report, they are often freely available.

Nearly all daily newspapers are now available online, carrying either free digital or subscription only content. The business sections are always worth a browse plus some newspapers employ consumer affairs correspondence who often have their fingers on the pulse. Don’t forget the culture and lifestyle segments, particularly at weekends. Similarly, trade publications have stepped up their game during the pandemic with many making their content freely available. Trade journals will always have spotlight features on specific categories and many carry editorials, data and insights from service providers.

There you have it. 10 free ways to help you to build your category insights. The list is by no means exhaustive. Also, there is no guarantee that an insight will be initially obvious. Like always, the more you dig beneath a data point, opinion, observation, or fact, the greater the insight will become. Insights often develop from a combination of different sources but once it explains the observation and is actionable, then you are almost there.

For more on the list or to have a chat about insight development, book a free consultation via the Enquiries Page.

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