research

“How do you know what messaging to use in a marketing campaign?”

“Where should I advertise?”

“Do I need to have a Twitter account?”

Not surprisingly, I get asked marketing questions likes these quite a bit by friends and family that are businesses owners just like you and me.  And this is always my response:

“I don’t know.  Have you done any market research?  Have you asked your customers?”

This is typically followed by looks of terror, disgust, or sheer panic.

Marketing research has a bad wrap for being boring, cumbersome, and a waste of time and money.  Focus groups, phone solicitors with a stuffy script, endlessly long surveys that produce meaningless statistics…these old school ways have given market research a bad name.

The bottom line is that if you are marketing without asking your customers or prospects about their wants or needs then you are marketing blind.  Sure, you may get lucky.  But chances are you are spending a lot more time and money on ineffective marketing.

Good news!  Today, it’s much easier to conduct market research than in the days of dollars mailed out with paper surveys. We have more opportunities to connect with customers, prospects, and lost customers than ever before.  And each time you communicate with a customer it is an opportunity to gather feedback.

Here are three simple ways you can incorporate market research into your everyday.

1. Strike Up a Conversation with the People Around You

Here’s a little secret.  People love to talk about things that matter to them.  And chances are, you are surrounded by your customer demographic in your day to day life.  You may even have friends and family that fit the bill.  When I start a new marketing project, the first thing I do is think about who I know that is the target demographic.  Then I call them up, message them on Facebook, send them a text.  Maybe I can get a few minutes on the phone, or maybe I can take them to coffee or lunch and pick their brains.  And better yet, maybe they will give me the names of a few more people that I can reach out to.

I’m also guilty of asking random strangers.  My mom owned a business and growing up I remember her actively recruiting people, such as waiters and store clerks.  As a pre-teen, I was typically embarrassed out of my mind when she did this, but now, I employ the same outgoing, tactics for market research.  Thanks, mom.

Now, I’m not saying loiter in the parking lots or store aisles where you think you’ll reach prospects (ie, don’t become a stalker), but if the opportunity presents itself, strike up a conversation.  Ask them their opinion. It’s amazing what you can learn in a 5-minute conversation.

2. Use Social Media

Social media offers a number of options to gather intel from customers and prospects. The key with social media is to focus on one question or subject at a time.  You don’t want to get complicated and you don’t want to spend your time refereeing your posts.

Facebook groups are a great way to segment your customers and prospects on social media.  You can create user groups for various brands, product segments or even customer demographics.  Groups are a great place to post a feedback question, start a discussion, or post a poll to get quick feedback.

In the B2B space, Linked In Showcase pages and groups are another way to gather conversational intel.  You can use your Showcase pages to segement customers and post specific content to that demographic.  You can also create user groups on Linked In, or participate in industry user groups where you can facilitate discussions.  Industry groups are best used to gather general information versus specific information about your product or service – it is frowned upon to pitch products or be too salesy in those groups.

3. Pepper Your Customers With Survey Questions

If you are in the Midwest and have shopped at a Meijer store recently, during the checkout process, you have been asked a survey question.  It pop’s up on the credit card reader screen – “Were you satisfied with this shopping trip?”, with a Yes and a No button. It’s very basic.

Not only does this give a little warm fuzzy at the end of your transaction.  “Oh, they care about me!”  It allows them to track trends over time.  And, if they really want to, since they know who you are, how often you shop, what you buy, which stores you use…all based on your credit card purchases (yes, they do), then they could pinpoint individual’s shopping experience and look to improve them.

The point here is that you can add simple survey questions at almost any touch point with a customer.  On your website, during the sales process, during a transaction, in a product shipment, and of course, in the aforementioned world of social media. You don’t have to send out a long, 100 question survey to collect data.  You can keep it simple and be strategic about how and when you ask.


I love market research and feel that strategically it is one of the most important things that a business should be doing.  Unless, of course, you can read minds or have a crystal ball.  And if a marketing agency or consultant walks in your door and doesn’t talk to you about researching your market first and foremost, find someone that does.

I do think that the traditional means of conducting market research are still very beneficial, but they can be costly and become outdated quickly.  If you have the ability, combining annual surveys and more intensive research with quick hit tactics, like the above, is a winning combination.  Otherwise, by starting with a few simple ways to gather meaningful information from your prospects, customers, and non-customers will help guide your business in the right direction.

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