Many times, when people think of marketing, it’s the activities that come to mind - social media, blogging, events, email campaigns, and advertising. However, before conducting those activities, it’s essential to have a marketing strategy to understand how the company will focus its efforts. A key component to establishing a proper marketing strategy is conducting market research that provides important information about the target market and the overall business landscape. It’s essentially the lay of the land.
Is conducting market research complicated?
The short answer is no. It’s critical to develop a unique selling proposition (USP) and target it towards the right audience so we’ll need a lot of information, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. A simple four-step process will get you through the market research exercise.
Let’s get started.
Step 1: Identify the Audience and Create a Buyer Persona
A buyer persona is a representation of your ideal customer. It often includes demographics such as age, race, religion, gender, family size, ethnicity, income, job titles, and education. It also includes their behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.
You may find that your business has more than one buyer persona, depending on your range of products and services. Just be aware of which persona you’re targeting at any given time. Your messages may not make sense to one group over another. Segment your buyer personas, so you’re more productive when marketing to them.
As your business grows, your audience may evolve. Revisit this step from time-to-time to stay current with your marketing strategies.
Step 2: Research the Competition
All businesses encounter competitors, whether directly or indirectly, your business is continually competing for your target audience’s attention. Remember, competition is good because it leads to innovation with better products and services. With that said you should never avoid your competitors. Always keep a pulse on what they’re doing and what they’re offering.
Also, researching the competition will help to define your unique selling proposition by comparing what makes your product better and different from theirs.
How to find and learn about your competitors?
1. Search engines – the easiest way to find your competitors is to search for similar keywords and phrases that represent your business. Whether it’s physical or strictly online, you should be able to find them and visit their website to see their offerings.
2. Social media – If it’s a business-to-business (B2B) company, check out their LinkedIn page to get a sense of their size and analyze the types of posts. If it’s a business-to-consumer (B2C) company, visit their Facebook page, and Instagram feeds.
3. Ask your customers – it doesn’t hurt to ask your customers if they’ve ever done business with your competitors. Ask them about their experiences compared to their experiences with your business. Customers want to be heard, so they’ll often give you an honest answer.
4. Tradeshows and conferences – a great place to check out the competition is at an event where they have a booth. This will give you a sense of what products and services they’re concentrating on along with how they conduct themselves.
5. Call or visit them – want to know about that B2C store, go there and pretend to shop, see how they treat you, or have a friend go there and do some reconnaissance. If they don’t have a physical location, then call them. Stay anonymous and ask them the difficult questions. You’d be surprised by the type of information you can gather.
Step 3: Engage with Audience
At this stage, it’s time to contact your audience. If you haven’t done so already by asking them about the competition. Two common ways to gather data are through surveys and polls. Both can be conducted in person, over the phone, or online sent as an email message or on your website.
Surveys are an excellent option for asking multiple questions. However, don’t make it too long, or they might get bored or frustrated and abandon the survey before it’s finished.
Polls are good for asking one quick question with multiple choice answers. They’re easier to participate since it’s really just one click, and then the audience can see the results after making their choice.
Of course, if you have the time, why not just call your customer and have a conversation. If they’re willing to talk, you’d also be building up a relationship with them. This builds loyalty to your brand.
Step 4: Analyze Findings
Now it’s time to analyze the data you’ve collected on your target audience and competitors and put a brief report together. This step can be daunting, but if you’re able to answer your original questions about your buyer persona and unique selling proposition, then you’ve succeeded. You may have even discovered a few extra pieces of information to help on your marketing journey.
Conducting research can be challenging and sometimes time-consuming, but you need to realize that every successful business does it. With this valuable information, you can now create a plan for marketing your products and services.
This twenty chapter e-book includes research and planning, along with a breakdown of content, digital, and events marketing strategies.
Brian Lundgren is a marketing professional, musician, and family man living in the Southeast region of Massachusetts.