13 Cheap Market Research Methods You Can Do Yourself - dummies

13 Cheap Market Research Methods You Can Do Yourself

By Alexander Hiam

Here are some things you can begin to do for a new marketing campaign for your small business. Before you hire professionals, see what you can do yourself.

Compare your approach to that of your competitors

When you compare your marketing approach to competitors, you easily find out what customers like best. Make a list of the things that your competitors do differently than you. Does one of them price higher? Does another give away free samples? Do some of them offer money-back guarantees?

Make a list of at least five points of difference between your business and its major competitors based on an analysis of marketing practices. Now ask ten of your best customers to review this list and tell you what they prefer — your way or one of the alternatives — and ask them why. Keep a tally. You may find that all your customers vote in favor of doing something differently than the way you do it now.

Create a customer profile

Collect or take photographs of people (from Facebook or e-mail thumbnails, and with the individuals’ permission) who you characterize as your typical customers. Post these pictures on a bulletin board — either a real one or a virtual one like Pinterest (set this board to private because it’s definitely not for sharing beyond your marketing team) — and add any facts or information you can collect about these people.

Consider this board your customer database. Whenever you aren’t sure what to do about any marketing decision, sit down in front of your bulletin board and use it to help you tune in to your customers and what they do and don’t like.

Entertain customers to get their input

Entertaining your customers puts you in contact with them in a relaxed setting where they’re happy to share their views. Hold a customer appreciation event or invite good customers to a lunch or dinner. Use such occasions to ask for suggestions and reactions.

Bounce a new product idea off these good customers, or find out what features they’d most like to see improved. Your customers can provide an expert panel for your informal research — you just have to provide the food! (After they get to know you, they may be happy to give you ongoing quick feedback via a chat room, Twitter, or a group text message, especially if they use these media routinely themselves.)

Use e-mail to do one-question surveys

If you market to businesses, you probably have e-mail addresses for many of your customers. Try e-mailing 20 or more of them for a quick opinion on a question. The result? Instant survey!

If a clear majority of respondents say they prefer using a corporate credit card to being invoiced because the card is more convenient, well, you’ve just gotten a useful research result that may help you revise your marketing approach.

Always ask people for their e-mails whenever you interact with them, through your website or in reality, so as to build a large e-mail list.

E-mailing your question to actual customers or users of your product is far better, by the way, than trying to poll users of social networking websites for their opinions. Sure, you may be able to get a bunch of responses from people on Twitter, but would those responses be representative of your actual customers? Probably not.

Surf government databases

Many countries gather and post extensive data on individuals, households, and businesses, broken down into a variety of categories. In the United States, you can find out how many people earn above a certain amount of money a year and live in a specific city or state — useful if you’re trying to figure out how big the regional market may be for a luxury product.

Similarly, you can find out how many businesses operate in your industry and what their sales are in a specific city or state — useful if you’re trying to decide whether that city has a market big enough to warrant you moving into it.

If you want to use the web to explore useful data compiled and posted by various agencies of the U.S. government, go to the main gateway into U.S. Census data on households and businesses. This site is your portal to U.S. data from the economic census (which goes out to 5 million businesses every five years) and the Survey of Business Owners.

Establish a trend report

Set up a trend report, a document that gives you a quick indication of a change in buying patterns, a new competitive move or threat, and any other changes that your marketing may need to respond to.

You can compile one by e-mailing salespeople, distributors, customer service staff, repair staff, or friendly customers once a month, asking them for a quick list of any important trends they see in the market. (You flatter people by letting them know that you value their opinions, and e-mail makes giving those opinions especially easy.)

Print and file these reports from the field and go back over them every now and then for a long-term view of the effectiveness of your marketing strategies.

If you don’t work for one of the handful of largest and best-funded companies in your industry, then your trend analysis should also include careful tracking of what those giants are doing because they may be setting marketing or product trends that affect the rest of their industry. Tracking media coverage is easy on Google or other search engines.

Analyze competitors’ collateral

Print out or clip and collect marketing materials (brochures, ads, web pages, and so on) from competitors and analyze them by using a claims table. Open up a spreadsheet (or draw a blank table on a piece of paper or poster board) and label the columns of this new table, one for each competitor.

Label each row with a feature, benefit, or claim. Add key phrases or words from an ad in the appropriate cell. Include one to three of the most prominent or emphasized claims per competitor. When filled in, this claims table shows you, at a glance, what territory each competitor stakes out and how it does the staking. One may claim it’s the most efficient, another the most helpful, and so on.

Compare your own claims with those of your competitors. Are you impressive by comparison, or does a more dominant and impressive competitor’s claims overshadow you? Do your claims stand out as unique, or are you a me-too marketer without clear points of difference?

Research your strengths

Perhaps the most important element of any marketing plan or strategy is clearly recognizing what makes you especially good and appealing to customers. To research your strengths, find the simplest way to ask ten good customers this simple but powerful question: “What’s the best thing about our [fill in the name of your product or service], from your perspective?”

The answers to this question usually focus on one or, at most, a few features or aspects of your business. Finding out how your customers identify your strengths is a boon to your marketing strategy.

Investing in your strengths (versus your competitors’ strengths or your weaknesses) tends to grow your sales and profits more quickly and efficiently.

Probe your customer records

Most marketers fail to mine their own databases for all the useful information those databases may contain. Study your customers with the goal of identifying three common traits that make them different or special. This goal helps you focus on what your ideal customer looks like so you can look for more of them.

This store revised its marketing goal to find more people who share these three qualities. What qualities do your customers have that make them special and that would make a good profile for you to use in pursuing more customers like them?

Test your marketing materials

Whether you’re looking at a letter, catalog, web page, tear sheet, press release, or ad, you can improve the piece’s effectiveness by asking for reviews from a few customers, distributors, or others with knowledge of your business.

Do they get the key message quickly and clearly? Do they think the piece is interesting and appealing? If they’re only lukewarm about it, then you know you need to edit or improve it before spending the money to publish and distribute it.

Customer reviewers can tell you quickly whether you have real attention-getting wow-power in any marketing piece. Just ask a half dozen people to review a new marketing piece while it’s still in draft form.

Interview defectors

Your company’s records of past customers are an absolute gold mine of information that can be easily overlooked. Use these records to figure out what types of customers defect, when, and why. If you can’t pinpoint why a customer abandoned you (from a complaint or a note from the salesperson, for example), try to contact the lost customer and ask him directly.

Ask kids about trends

In consumer marketing, it’s best if customers think you’re cool and your competitors aren’t. Because kids lead the trends in modern society, why not ask them what those trends are? Ask them simple questions like, “What will the next big thing be in [name your product or service here]?”

Or try asking kids this great question: “What’s cool and what’s not cool this year?” Why? Because they know, and you don’t. For example, if teenage girls know what the next cool color combo will be, the way to find out is simple: Ask them what colors they want their room to be. (Or visit social media sites that skew toward younger members and see how they’re decorating their pages.)

Create custom web analytics

Web analytics are readily available for your websites and blogs, but they’re mostly traffic counts of various kinds. You probably want to know about sales, not just visitors. What are the most meaningful indicators of success on the web?

Just as you (hopefully) do off-line, track online sales, repeat sales, lead collection, quality of leads (measured by rate of conversion), sign-ups, use of offers (such as you may post on a business site on Facebook, for example), and overall revenue and returns from e-marketing. These numbers tell the story of your marketing successes and failures online and give you something to learn from as you go.