It used to be only large corporations could afford to use market research. I spent most of my career with Fortune 500 companies, and it was not unusual to see annual research budgets of $1-4 million. Huge sums of money are spent in corporate America to try to understand customer behavior, customer satisfaction and customer preferences.
I could go on at length about whether or not these vast sums are well spent, but that’s not the topic for today. Today’s focus is how smaller businesses and those without vast sums to pay to market researchers, can collect data to guide important business decisions. There have never been so many great ways to collect key performance indicators. So, if your business is making decisions in the dark, I want to help you turn the lights on.
I’m not advocating research for research sake, so the first step is to determine and prioritize where research could help you improve your business:
- Customer Loyalty: Are you delivering an amazing experience so that your customers would never think of going to a competitor? Is your experience so great that your customers are actively referring you to their friends? Post-interaction or annual satisfaction surveys can be delivered online or via your website to track overall satisfaction with your company, get specific feedback on the top drivers of satisfaction and let you know what you need to do to improve. Add the Net-Promoter Score to determine how many “Promoters”, “Passives” and “Detractors” you have.
- Product Interest: Launching a new product or service takes a lot of human and financial resources. While there are no sure things when it comes to new product launches, it makes sense to validate your new product idea before making major investments. Online survey tools like Survey Monkey and AYTM allow you to construct high-quality surveys which you can send to your own customer list or use their large consumer panels to find target respondents inexpensively. Use this research to understand overall interest in your idea, willingness to purchase at specific price points and to get feedback on specific features and benefits.
- Brand/Audience Profiling: What do people think about your business? Your current customers may view you one way, while prospective customers may have a wholly different take on what you stand for. Only when you understand your target personas at the deepest level, can you speak to them in a compelling way and win them over to your brand. Online quantitative research as well as focus groups are good ways to get this depth of appreciation of your target and how they think.
While the research studies outlined above require tools and some expertise to use, there are a lot of data sources you can mine with no surveys. Doing detailed keyword analysis around a topic will help you gauge the level of interest (number of searches) and the specific words that are driving search volume. Depending on the information you collect, your own customer data can provide a wealth of information about the demographics of your current customer base and their purchase drivers.
Social media can also be a great source of market research. Set up alerts around your brand and your competitors to hear what people are saying. Monitor both the mood of the conversation (positive or negative) and the amount of discussion each brand is generating to get ideas on what it will take to boost word-of-mouth referral. You should also regularly track the number and quality of online reviews you and your customers receive as that is a good indicator of customer sentiment and can have a huge impact on consumer behavior.
Similarly, keep your finger on the pulse of what your key competitors are doing in terms of promotional activity and customer communications. This may provide ideas for effective marketing programs and help you better understand how and if their marketing efforts are impacting your business. Monitor your own website traffic and activity monthly and take steps to outsmart your competition online.
How to Use this Information
Market research project management is no longer just for large enterprises. Keep your finger on the pulse of your own customers and seize potential new opportunities with the plethora of tools now available for online research.