Marketing research often gets a bad rap for being too analytical, too time-consuming and too complicated for the non-researcher to understand. There is no doubt, for the untrained, research can be tough to fully grasp, especially research intended to help predict how something will happen (e.g., how many customers will purchase of a new product). But, as we note in our Marketing Research tutorial, if marketers want to feel comfortable relying on the results of information obtained from research, then research must be valid and reliable. Only then can the data gathered be useful for helping with marketing decisions. Yet, understanding the concepts needed for research results to pass the necessary tests of validity and reliablity is not easy. It often takes a highly trained and experienced researchers to make sure this happens. If the research is conducted by someone with less experience or education, then the results obtained from research may prove to be useless.
While many critical marketing decisions require research be obtained using strict rules, there are many other types of research that offer insight into what is happening in a market without being highly scientific. A good example are studies of market trends, which look at actual results of something that has already occurred, as opposed to predicting future results. Most of the time these studies are available to anyone (albeit sometimes for a fee), rather than being something the marketer must collect by doing their own research. What is nice about trend studies is that looking back at where things were some time ago may offer hints about what will happen in the future. For instance, when looking at trends of market competitors and how they have fared over a specified timeframe, two big questions come to mind: 1) why have the successful ones succeeded and 2) why have the unsuccessful ones failed.
A great example of this can be seen in this story from the Washington Post. It reports on an 18 year history of the top 20 Internet properties in the U.S. by year going back to 1996. While the results are only for traffic rankings in December of each year, the information is still fascinating. Only two properties out of the top 20 listed from 1996 are still in the top 20 now (can you name them?). A number of the 1996 properties were educational institutions, which is not surprising since that is where the Internet was born, while a few others are long gone (remember Prodigy, Infoseek or Webcrawler?).
The information is presented in a table showing how sites have evolved over time. Overall, this is not only a fun stroll down memory lane, but also a good example of how market segments have evolved. For instance, the 1999 list shows four Internet search sites, Lycos, Excite, About, and AltaVista, that would be dead within a few years thanks to Google's innovative search platform.