Market research and product development

by Business Case Studies on Wednesday 26th November, 2008

Market research is about finding out what customers and consumers think, want or need. Market research helps businesses decide on what new products they will offer. Sometimes research helps to develop a better product to increase market share, as in the case of USA scientists who believe they have come up with a new development for golf balls.

It has been known since the 19th century that golf balls with rough surfaces fly better than smooth, new ones because air flows more easily over a roughened surface. This is why the surface of a golf ball is dimpled. The dimples can halve friction, or drag, in flight. Scientists at Arizona State University have used a set of super computers – the kind of extreme computing power usually reserved for predicting global weather patterns or the behaviour of sub-atomic particles – to analyse the behaviour of a golf ball in flight. This is acknowledged as a highly complex aerodynamic problem. The computers ran for 300 hours before the scientists were able to see the exact flow of air around the ball and its dimples in flight. A ball hit by a top golfer typically reaches 160mph and spins backwards 2,000-3,000 times a minute. This backspin generates the lift that keeps the ball in flight and so is crucial to a long drive. Too much spin, however, produces excessive turbulence – dimples reduce this risk (The Sunday Times, 23 November 2008) 

Clinton Smith of Arizona State University's development team said:

'For a golf ball, drag reduction means the ball flies farther. The long-term goal is to optimise dimple design and realise the lowest drag possible by comparing designs' (The Sunday Times, 23 November 2008).

Market research shows that worldwide, 60 million golfers spend £1 billion a year on balls so the effort involved in developing a new golf ball for such a lucrative market seems justified. Golf balls developed using the new technology could allow club golfers, who do well to achieve 250 yard drives, to match the 300 yard current average drive of Tiger Woods. Britain has more than 4 million golfers, of whom 1.7 million play at least 12 times a year. John Bushell, director of Sports Marketing Surveys, a market data consultancy for the sports industry, said:

'People always seek out the latest kit, so a ball offering greater distances and accuracy could be in huge demand' (The Sunday Times, 23 November 2008).

Read the Times 100 case study on The Food Standards Agency (FSA) to see how it used market research to develop food labelling. The FSA was set up by the government in 2000. It reports to the government but is run by a board on behalf of the public. This ensures that it acts independently in the interests of consumers. It works with a number of stakeholder groups to achieve its vision of 'safe food and healthy eating for all'. The FSA uses primary and secondary market research to help it provide up-to-date information for its stakeholder groups.

Read also the Times 100 case study on Intel to see how its research and development leads to new product development:  Intel combines product innovation with a market focused approach. As internet content becomes more sophisticated, more computing power is needed. The computer chips inside computers need to keep pace with that demand. Intel is best known for producing the chips that deliver this increased computing power.

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