If you’ve ever looked to a competitor and wondered how they seem to predict trends before they happen or know exactly what their customers want, the answer isn’t magic. It’s market research, and it’s an important part of building and growing your online business.
Market research is not a clever term, it’s a fitting one. In a broad sense, market research is any action you take that gathers feedback and insight into consumer’s purchasing behaviors or preferences.
Once you have this information, they can help inform other marketing and business development strategies. For example, if the research looks solid on that new product idea, it’s time to get a marketing strategy in place and start creating video marketing content.
You’ve no doubt heard of “market research companies” which can gather this information for you. This is an option, but it’s one that may require a bit of a budget. If you’ve got the means, hiring a pro is always a solid decision.
However, if that isn’t an option, relax. There are a few great ways you can conduct market research yourself. You’ll gain valuable information and won’t break the bank in the process.
If you’re an online business, this can be a little difficult. However, for offline businesses, there’s no better way than going straight to the source: your customer. Try to sample a broad range of customers. For example, a restaurant may have customers who are primarily “lunch” customers as opposed to dinner. They may have “bar” customers who don’t tend to sit at a table, etc.
Invite a group of 10-15 of your customers (no friends or family!) for a small lunch or informal gathering. Create a list of questions and listen intently to their feedback. If you’re looking for insight on a new direction or product, lean heavily in that direction. If you’re looking for feedback on a specific business process or procedure, go there. It’s up to you, but make the most of your time.
Customer satisfaction surveys are great for an online business that doesn’t get a lot of face time with their customers. These can be created for a relatively low cost with a service such as SurveyMonkey or you can skirt the cost and do a low tech version with Google Forms.
The same basic rules of customer interviews apply. Create a list of questions and gather feedback from your customers. These forms can be emailed directly to your contact list (you are creating a contact list, aren’t you?) or sent after a customer places an order, etc.
If you’re an online business such as an e-commerce website or an app, user interface is an important part of the experience. There are services available such as UserTesting.com where real people are paid to test your app or website.
This can cost a little bit more than the other methods. A less expensive workaround is to get your customers involved in the testing in exchange for a discount code, free shipping, or more. Employees can provide valuable feedback as well.
The goal of any market research plan isn’t just to ask questions and gather feedback. It’s also to analyze the results. To that end, the questions you ask will depend largely on what you’re planning to focus on.
For anything related to a business process such as placing or returning an order, you want to focus on the customer’s experience. Was this easy to figure out? Did it take longer than expected, etc?
For actual product feedback, focus on usability or experience. Did it work as you imagined? What could be improved upon, etc?
You can ask several different types of questions but do NOT be too broad. Your goal should be to gather specific information that is actionable. Does this dish taste good? Why or why not? Did this product meet your expectations? Why or why not, etc. Always leave room on any survey or in an interview for customers to expand further on their thoughts.
Not every piece of feedback should be taken as Gospel, and not every piece of advice should be followed. However, all should be listened to and considered. As a business owner, it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. You love your business and the way things are can just make sense to you. It isn’t always the case for the customer.
If you’ve ever watched Gordon Ramsay’s show “Kitchen Nightmares” you’ve seen how sometimes restaurant owners aren’t aware of the problems that exist all around them. It can take an outside set of eyes to help them see what needs to be done.
Market research is best conducted at the outset of any new business when a major change is being planned, or to validate current processes. For new businesses, you’re looking to validate your idea and confirm that there is a market for your product or services.
For a major change such as new products, you also want to validate that there is a market for it and that your existing customers are interested. This can be a new product launch, a restaurant changing their menu or anything else that may be seen as a major change.
Lastly, market research helps to validate your current business processes such as your marketing strategy. Is your content resonating with your audience? Find out what type of content excites them and on which platform they engage with you the most. Are they responding best on Twitter or Facebook? How much do they love your video marketing content and would they like to see more?
All of this information can aid you in making better marketing choices and firming up your content strategy. Armed with that information, you can create more meaningful content that will jive with your audience and put you in a better position moving forward.