Your marketing will not be effective if you don’t deeply understand your customers. Market research is the best way to get close and personal with customers and is the foundation of an effective marketing strategy.
Market research is not just for big businesses, and it does not need to be expensive. In fact, with reduced budgets and restricted resources, smaller companies may have even more to gain.
Being small can actually be a real superpower when it comes to marketing to customers. Small often means being closer to your audience (easier direct access) and the ability to move quicker than bigger competitors (less red tape).
>See also: Marketing trends for small businesses in 2023
Market research will help your create content and craft messages that speak directly to the people you’re targeting. It ensures your marketing budgets are optimised and that your marketing efforts convert to sales.
Research can also identify market demand for your good or service before it launches, help you understand your customer – what motivates them and engenders their loyalty – and will always save you money in the long run.
No matter whether you are starting a business or running an established one, there is no excuse for not researching your target market. Knowing who is buying your products and how this can change over time will help you stay relevant and maintain demand.
Start with a marketing strategy
Research-driven marketing needs to start with a strategy. Your marketing strategy is the overarching plan that will drive your business forward. It identifies how you will create awareness about your product or service and when done effectively should generate steady demand for your business.
Your marketing strategy will include details on who is doing what, what tweets and Insta posts will be posted when, the design of the leaflets, the timing of press releases and more. It sets out what you are trying to achieve from the different marketing channels you use.
Understanding your customer with effective market research will also help you correctly position your product or service in the market and ensure your marketing reflects what your customers care about.
>See also: Marketing a new business
5 reasons why you need market research
Your marketing strategy needs to be based on solid footings – and this means understanding how to position your product or service with customers, ensuring your message resonates with your target market, knowing what channels to use and what content to create and finally how to keep your brand relevant.
#1 – Product positioning
Clearly, to know how to position your product or service effectively, you need to know who your customers are and what makes them tick. When you started your business, you probably gathered this information. But are your customers today the same people as they were last week, last year or 10 years ago?
It is common for the customer demographic of a business to change over the years, which is why market research will help to understand your customer demographic better. Customer behaviours also change.
Knowing who is buying your products (and who isn’t) will help you target customers better. Can you create a customer profile from the information you already know about your customers? If you can’t, you really need to update this knowledge.
Surveys and customer interviews are a great way to get new information and ensure you are correctly positioning your product or service in the market. You’ll find out why customers use your product over competitors (or vice-versa). What they care about (don’t forget to go beyond the obvious use or your product or service and ask questions about their wider interests) and why they are using your business or businesses like yours.
#2 – Speak your customers language
Understanding customers helps businesses communicate effectively. Speaking your customers’ language is key if you want good engagement and conversions from your marketing. Remember, the way you describe your offer and the value it brings might not be the same way customers would describe it.
The language and tone you use will differ depending on who you are speaking to. Are you speaking to legal professionals? Cool and hip teenagers from Generation Z? They don’t speak the same language.
Engaging in market research activities such as customer interviews can help you identify the right language and tone to use in your marketing materials.
When interviewing customers for research don’t put your words into their mouth, ask them to describe your product or service and what it helps them do in their own words. Plough what you’ve learnt back into your own marketing
If you want to understand your customers’ language, it’s also useful to look at where they hang out online (communities, forums, trade associations even LinkedIn). Notice how they write. Which words do they use.
#3 – Channels
If you are a small business, it might not be feasible to operate across all available marketing channels. Understanding where your audience prefers to consume content will help you focus on the channels that matter most to them.
To find that out you can start looking at what channels are preforming well for you now versus others. Most platforms have analytics that will help you. You can also ask customers where they consume content from their favourite businesses, what are their top three channels, and in what context do they use each (for example: Instagram on the move, TikTok in the evenings, newsletters during work time etc).
Remember, it’s always better to use a few channels really well than to spread yourself too thinly.
#4 – Content marketing strategy
You invest a lot of time, money and effort into creating marketing campaigns that you “hope” will work. But crossing your fingers isn’t enough and shouldn’t be the basis of any marketing campaign.
Does your audience prefer videos to words? Do they want tips or case studies? What questions do they typically have about your category?
Finding out the answers to these questions will help you spend time, effort and money on content that converts.
You can do that by asking your audience directly (social media, surveys) or by observing what content has performed well in the past and doing more of that type. How well did it go down? Was its message clear? Did customers like the imagery or the tone?
How customers reacted to a past campaign, help crafts your new one, improving its reach, engagement, and effectiveness.
Platforms like Answer the public are a great resource for small business too and showcase what type of things people are searching for in certain categories. It’s a great way to get relevant content marketing ideas for your business.
#5 – Brand
If you don’t quite have a handle on your brand, you need to ask yourself some questions – how do your customers perceive you? How does your brand stand alongside your competitors?
Market research can be used to improve your branding by exploring subjects such as:
- Personification: What characteristics do customers associate with your brand?
- Brand awareness: Are customers familiar with your brand? How well do they know it?
- Comparison: How does your brand compare to that of your main competitors?
You can seek the opinion of your customers on a wide variety of topics, such as the appeal of your website, what they think of the online buying process or your customer service. The more information you have, the better changes and improvements you can make.
Beyond effective marketing, market research can help your business on a wider scale. Whether it’s expanding and growing your business to deciding what features to release to the market first, getting customers involved early will significantly increase your chances of success.
>See also: Six digital marketing tools every small business needs
How to conduct market research
Market research need not be intimidating or expensive. You can begin with the tools you’ve got before calling in a professional.
>See also: Guidelines for conducting market research for small businesses
Start with desk research
You’d be amazed how much free information is just a click away on your computer. Big-budget consultancies publish quarterly and yearly trend reports about all sorts of subjects you can read for free. And trade associations, such as retailers’ association BIRA, publish free trends reports.
Something else you can do is set up a Google news alert for your business keywords (e.g., consumer + trends + report + perfume) to get new insights sent straight to your inbox.
Interview your customers
Talking to your customers is by far the market research method that generates the best insights. Identify people in your customer database and ask if they’d be prepared to be interviewed quarterly. All you would need is half an hour of their time and in exchange you could offer them a discount or a gift voucher. Talking to customers every three months enables you to track shifting sentiment. Avoid speaking to friends or family though – often they just tell you what you want to hear.
Ask the right questions
One of the biggest mistakes a small business can make is asking its sample audience outright whether they’d buy soon-to-come your product or service. People are bad at predicting how they might act. Also, they will probably always tell you what you want to hear. Instead, ask open-ended questions, such as – if you were researching a new perfumed candle product – “Tell me how you like to unwind before going to bed…” or “How important is the sense of smell to you? What kind of smells do you enjoy?”
Five tips for effective market research
- Preparation is crucial when you undertake market research. Think backwards. What are the kind of findings you are looking for?
- Good questions are key to gaining relevant insights. Spend time refining/testing to make sure responses will be relevant
- Think about your audience and ensure a large enough sample to be truly reflective
- Choose what method to use (qualitative or quantitative) and call on a credible researcher such as OnePoll – to help guarantee breadth and segmentation
- Once data is collated, plan time to review results; capturing trends/insights and then act on them
Katie Tucker is an experienced product leader with over 12 years’ experience leading teams and delivering stand-out products and services. In 2020 she founded Product Jungle, helping hundreds of businesses understand customers better. She is also a mentor, speaker, author and the pen behind the popular newsletter Jungle Juice
Her book Do Penguins Eat Peaches? And other unexpected ways to discover what your customers want will be published by Practical Inspirational Publishing in October 2023 and is ready to pre-order now