Truly transformative ideas are beautiful. Suddenly there's something new in the world. There's a new way of making, doing, saying or selling something. All it takes now is to bring it to market and the rest will be business history.
Our wiring as humans makes us fall in love with ideas, particularly our own. The cartoon light bulb goes off and we're ready to change the world. But unless we're billionaires hunches aren't enough. Before we make the leap into an unknown future it might be prudent to find out just how brilliant our idea is.
Traditionally this has been time-consuming and expensive and therefore the province of big brands and major marketers. For infant enterprises the costs have been prohibitive.
Web 2.0 has changed all that. It's now possible to get answers in days rather than months and at costs that are a fraction of those associated with traditional methods.
There are companies that offer online market research and are able to deploy a series of questions to respondents across the US and you can get feedback in less than a day.
So what do you want to know?
Think about this one carefully because five well thought out questions are always better than ten that are hastily put together.
Remember that the people who'll be filling in your questionnaire believe themselves to be worth listening to. Don't insult their intelligence. Don't expect them to remember buying decisions they made months ago and don't drive them crazy by asking questions which are impossible to answer.
A question like, "Which is more important to you, ease of use or security?" is bad because anyone rational is going to want to answer both. In many circumstances, a consumer isn’t going to want to make that trade off.
Instead, ask your respondents to rank ease of use and security separately on a scale of, say, one to seven.
Quantitative questions like these are great because they can be easily aggregated and statistically analyzed to understand how the group as a whole responded to the question.
Qualitative questions can also be used on a survey and allow for far richer answers from respondents which can give much more insights into their thoughts. The downside of using qualitative questions is that many people faced with a white box to fill in with words of their own choosing will just click away.
It's all down to the design of the questionnaire. Simplicity and clarity are key. Each clicked answer comes from a real live person. That person is giving you their time. Someone who's already said they're not interested in tablet devices isn't going to appreciate a question about interface design. Show some understanding and don't ask the wrong people the wrong question.
Question groups can be designed to focus in on your particular target market or to take soundings from the whole country. Questions about competitor price points can help position your own product or service. Questions which delve into a respondent’s knowledge of a market can tell you if you're talking to a potential customer.
Online market research allows startups access to tools used by every major brand in the US at a cost that is a mere fraction of traditional methods.
It's possible to take that brilliant, beautiful idea you had last night and fire it in front of fifty people who aren't your friends or family and see if it's really going to be The Next Big Thing.
And if your idea can be summarized into three questions it can cost as little as $30 to get those insights.
No-one pretends that research is the answer to everything. The Ford Edsel, a marketing disaster of half a century ago, was put into production based on the soundest research principles. They researched the fins, the grille, the headlamps, the mirrors, the dash and the speedometer. The one thing they didn't research was the whole car.
Online market research allows us to test an idea in its infancy before it has had time to attract time, budgets and people. It helps us to distance ourselves from our creations and see them in a detatched and disinterested manner.
It can kill an idea or give it life. It can reveal new markets, new insights, new customers and indeed new products.
Showing there are a hundred people out there who agree that a product with this new feature is top of their shopping list can be the essence of a winning pitch.
Knowing you have ten thousand customers out there waiting for launch day can make the night before a lot less fraught.
All of which may well lead to another great idea.
Geoff writes for AYTM, who provides online market research for small businesses and startups. AYTM allows you to create market research surveys specific for your business and get quick responses from their market research panels.