No matter the product or service category, the battle for market share is intense these days, which means knowing your customers inside and out is more important than ever. That’s why big brands often have the best consumer intelligence tools at their fingertips and the ability to conduct in-depth market research studies whenever the need arises. But how can you become consumer fluent without an enterprise-scale budget? Don’t despair, you can get valuable consumer insight and keep the budget under control.
By harnessing your existing sources of feedback and carefully leveraging other resources across the market place, you can benefit from the answers to the questions that matter most to you and make your research dollars go further than ever before. Here are 5 tips to get you started:
1. Conduct research every day. Yes, every day! Sounds expensive? It doesn’t have to be. I’m not talking about a barrage of surveys and focus groups here; instead this is about taking advantage of everyday interactions, observing behaviors, and starting conversations. Sounds good, you say, but how? It’s all about engaging the people and processes that already exist to serve (and get to know) your customers better.
This requires that the front line employees are trained and encouraged to support the plan and it means there must be a place where notes and observations can live and be shared. For example, imagine if you could capture the thoughts, wishes and regrets that your customers experience every day? You can because your sales associates work with them each day yet, too frequently, those insights walk back out the door with the customer or are only captured well after the fact through store receipt surveys and the like.
When your team is consumer-focused, and supported with a simple, scalable system to easily capture the vital intel, individual insights become trends, and isolated comments can become themes.
2. Tap into your customers’ commentary – Your front-line staff isn’t the only group of people hearing the real story. Customer commentary resides everywhere. The customer experience – good and bad and yes, sometimes the ugly – is shared all day, every day, via Facebook, Twitter, online ratings and reviews, call center transcripts, and customer service emails/notes. All these voices across all these media provide a level of qualitative feedback that is personal, valuable and real.
Too frequently, people get overwhelmed and feel like their only option to glean insight from these streams is to invest in huge customer experience and listening platforms with massive data aggregation capabilities and a slick dashboard. A word of caution here: it doesn’t take long to get completely bogged down by the amount of content you can capture this way, so don’t bite off more than you can chew. You can walk before you run. If you own these feedback assets, start analyzing one or two yourself through a cost effective text tool and by reading though some of the commentary, or do a small pilot with a firm that specializes in this arena. There is often a treasure trove of information in these existing feeds. You should begin by scratching the surface and seeing what’s there.
3. Do your homework. It’s amazing how much existing research can be found with a simple online search, or by activating a trade subscription or association membership. Industry information that is available to association members is typically highly relevant and focused. And chances are, a reputable trade group in your industry has already invested in asking many of the same questions you are seeking answers to. People are constantly publishing research. Spend an hour getting a sense of what’s out there. It might not be exactly what you are looking for, but it will significantly narrow your focus and allow you to dial in on what you don’t know, and focus your research budget accordingly.
4. Collaborate and crowdsource. Ideas are conceived, funded and executed in a more inclusive and collaborative fashion than ever before – take advantage of this cultural shift by taking your questions directly to your customers, and by working and talking with others within your industry, your geographic region or up and down your vertical. Even competitors can be viable collaborators when you share a common goal through omnibus research or industry studies. This is commonplace in trade groups that commission research to advocate for the collective good of the industry. The resulting mindshare can yield new insights, uncover uncharted concerns and keep your industry out in front of a dynamic consumer base.
Crowdsourcing via platforms such as Facebook or Instagram continues to gain popularity as a very effective way to get consumer insights and engage with your audience at the same time. To obtain actionable intelligence about existing and emerging market trends, be sure to ask straightforward and specific questions. For example, a yoga studio that wants to expand its schedule might ask its social community about preferences for class type, time and date before securing a new instructor to meet those needs.
5. Ask the experts. Research experts are always looking for ways to merchandise their thought leadership (in publications like this one), so log on and read up. People love to share knowledge and discuss their point of view. Along those lines, many research professionals are willing to talk one-on-one to share their experience and best practices in research methodology. It’s amazing what a 10-minute call with a researcher can do to point you in the right direction, from helping you choose the right approach, to giving you some ideas on how to ask better questions to tackle your objectives.
The consumer audience is more dynamic, active and engaged than ever. Lucky for all of us, they are also far more open and prolific providers of feedback. You can make the most of what’s already out there with a little bit of focus and a resourceful approach to your research strategy.