Here’s how I rank those four, Alwyn:
(1) Surveys. This is without a doubt the best way to break into a new market.
The challenge, though, is that Google isn’t too friendly to surveys these days, so you can probably only run a survey on Adwords if you already have an established site and an Adwords account running. Yahoo/Bing still allow you to run pay-per-click ads that link to a survey page, but in some low-volume niches it will take a long time to get 50 (or more) completed questionnaires.
(2) Forums (not blogs so much). As you probably saw in the Private Investigator module, forums can be an awesome resource for finding out your niche’s problems. The challenge with forums, though, is the time it takes to wade through all of the comments. Personally, I think the time spent doing this is worth it, though – because it gives you insight into your market that most IMers don’t have. And with Adwords effectively shutting down the best source of traffic to surveys, forums are rising in niche research importance.
(3) Feedback from customers. Because it’s “straight from the horse’s mouth”, this can be a great source of feedback. But my suspicion is that it might also be biased data, because it comes from only one source – YOUR customers. I experienced the downside of this last year, when I surveyed one of my lists on what they were looking for in a meal plan program. I collected their feedback, launched a product and…silence. But the product might have bombed also because of the way I promoted it when it was finished. Then I got bored and moved on! I’ll probably revisit it some day…
(4) Keyword research. KW research is great for getting an INITIAL feel for the potential of a market, but that’s all. When you do keyword research all you’re looking at is a bunch of numbers – you’re not getting insight into specifically what problems people are having. That’s why I use it as one of the first steps in doing niche research.
Hope this helps,