Area Market Potential

Companies face the problem of selecting the best territories and allocating their marketing budget optimally among these territories. Therefore, they need to estimate the market potential of different cities, states, and nations. Two major methods of assessing area market potential are available: the market-buildup method, which is used primarily by business marketers, and the multiple-factor index method, which is used primarily by consumer marketers.

Market-Buildup Method. The market-buildup method calls for identifying all the potential buyers in each market and estimating their potential purchases. This method produces accurate results if we have a list of all potential buyers and a good estimate of what each will buy. Unfortunately, this information is not always easy to gather.

Consider a machine-tool company that wants to estimate the area market potential for its wood lathe in the Boston area. Its first step is to identify all potential buyers of wood lathe in the area. The buyers consist primarily of manufacturing establishments that have to shape or ream wood as part of their operation, so the company could compile a list from a directory of all manufacturing establishments in the Boston area. Then it could estimate the number of lathes each industry might purchase based on the number of lathes per thousand employees or per $1 million of sales in that industry.

An efficient method of estimating area market potentials makes use of the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) System developed by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. The SIC classifies all manufacturing into 20 major industry groups, each with a two-digit code. Thus number 25 is furniture and fixtures, and number 35 is machinery except electrical. Each major industry group is further subdivided into about 150 industry groups designated by a three-digit code (number 251 is household furniture, and number 252 is office furniture). Each industry is further subdivided into approximately 450 product categories designated by a four-digit code (number 2521 is wood office furniture, and number 2522 is metal office furniture). For each four-digit SIC number, the Census of Manufacturers provides the number of establishments subclassified by location, number of employees, annual sales, and net worth. The SIC System is currently being changed over to the new North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), which was developed by the United States, Canada, and Mexico to provide statistics that are comparable across the three countries. It includes 350 new industries, and it uses 20 instead of the SIC's 10 broad sectors of the economy, changes reflecting how the economy has changed. Industries are identified by a six-digit rather than a four-digit code, with the last digit changing depending on the country. The first information based on the new system will be published in early 1999 in the new Economic Census data.35

To use the SIC, the lathe manufacturer must first determine the four-digit SIC codes that represent products whose manufacturers are likely to require lathe machines. For example, lathes will be used by manufacturers in SIC number 2511 (wood household furniture), number 2521 (wood office furniture), and so on. To get a full picture of all four-digit SIC industries that might use lathes, the company can use three methods: (1) It can determine past customers' SIC codes; (2) it can go through the SIC manual and check off all the four-digit industries that, in its judgment, would have an interest in lathes; (3) it can mail questionnaires to a wide range of companies inquiring about their interest in wood lathes.

The company's next task is to determine an appropriate base for estimating the number of lathes that will be used in each industry. Suppose customer industry sales are the most appropriate base. For example, in SIC number 2511, ten lathes may be used for every $1 million worth of sales. Once the company estimates the rate of lathe ownership relative to the customer industry's sales, it can compute the market potential.

Table 1.7 shows a hypothetical computation for the Boston area involving two SIC codes. In number 2511 (wood household furniture), there are six establishments with annual sales of $1 million and two establishments with annual sales of $5 million. It is estimated that 10 lathes can be sold in this SIC code for every $1 million in customer sales. The six establishments with annual sales of $1 million account for $6 million in sales, which is a potential of 60 lathes (6 X 10). Altogether, it appears that the Boston area has a market potential for 200 lathes.

The company can use the same method to estimate the market potential for other picking 400 of the most innovative to test on 100 nationally representative primary grocery store shoppers. The consumers see a photo and brief description and are asked (1) whether they would buy the product and (2) whether they think it is new and different. Products deemed both unique and "buys" are dubbed "pure gold." Products that are just unique but not desired by consumers are dubbed "fool's gold." AcuPOLL's pure gold list in 1997 included "Hair-off Mittens" to remove hair from women's legs easily, Uncle Ben's Calcium Plus rice, and Shout Wipes stain treater towelettes. Fool's gold products included Juiced OJ (PLUS) Caffeine, a potent cocktail of caffeine-laced orange juice; Lumident ChewBrush, a toothbrush that can be chewed like gum; and Back to Basics, a "microbrewed" beer shampoo that starts with malted barley so you can put a "head" on your head.37

For business buying, various agencies carry out buyer-intention surveys regarding plant, equipment, and materials. The better-known agencies are McGraw-Hill Research and Opinion Research Corporation. Their estimates tend to fall within a 10 percent error band of the actual outcomes. Buyer-intention surveys are particularly useful in estimating demand for industrial products, consumer durables, product purchases where advanced planning is required, and new products. The value of a buyer-intention survey increases to the extent that the cost of reaching buyers is small, the buyers are few, they have clear intentions, they implement their intentions, and they willingly disclose their intentions.

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