In the marketing world, we all know market research is critical to developing a strategic marketing plan, launching a product or service, launching a marketing and/or advertising campaign and much, much more. But often times, there is limited funding to support the market research that can result in skipping this critical step all together.
The good news is there are ways to gather data on customers, prospects, brand awareness and perception, the competition and the industry at large on a limited budget. While secondary research – research from a published source – tends to be the most cost effective, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to forgo primary research – securing data first-hand from your customers, prospects and influentials.
Secondary research can still be time consuming if done correctly, but the data is easy to gather through online searches. However, everyone has access to the same data – including your competitors – and it can be dated.
Competitors: Knowing the competitors, their positioning, strengths and weaknesses is critical to helping position your brand and products effectively. Select 3-5 of your key competitors and create a matrix that details what you want to learn from each competitor. Brand positioning and brand promise, types and quality of marketing/advertising/public relations campaigns, product/service offering and costs, what trade shows they attend, etc. are good information to help you effective differentiate your brand and your marketing strategy.
Industry & Trend Reports: There are pretty much analysts on almost every industry you can think of who write in-depth industry reports. These reports will feature everything from current and projected industry growth to competition and industry trends. These reports are available for purchase and can be very insightful. Also, many of the analysts are tapped by media for their expertise. If you discover a few key analysts in your industry, conduct some searches on their names to see if they have conducted any media interviews recently on their findings.
Media: Quality media sources (including trade media) and their news coverage provide excellent insight in the industry, competitors, trends and more. It will also provide a window into your competitors on how much proactive publicity and media relations they conduct and the quality news coverage they secure. Google news searches are an excellent way to find the news, but also single out a few key trade publication to conduct direct searches with.
Trade Associations: Trade associations are another great resource with industry information and trends. Most tend to have their own publications or newsletters that are easy to access. If you are a paying member, inquire about what research might be available to you.
Your Own Data: Consider what data you have available internally from sales to customer loyalty data, marketing campaign results (social, email, advertising, etc.), brand studies, customer service reports, sales conversation rates and more.
When it comes to primary research, there are two types of market research you can be conducting: qualitative and quantitative. Quantitative research (i.e. a survey) produces structured and statically sound data from a large sample size that is projectable for the entire population of the audience you audited. Qualitative research (for example, a focus group) is more subjective but provides more in-depth information about customers’ and prospects’ likes, dislikes, perceptions, etc. Think quantity – quantitative – or quality – qualitative. Both provide valuable insight for marketing planning depending on what you are trying to achieve.
Certainly, secondary research tends to be more cost effective than primary research, but there are ways to still secure this data that doesn’t require a significant investment.
Internal Audits: Your internal staff – especially your sales force, customer service representatives and anyone else on the front line – have excellent knowledge of your customers and prospects. Develop questions and audit them in person, you’ll be amazed at what they share.
Observation: Observing your employees and your customers interacting is a great way to learn more about what customers want and how employees are responding to their needs. This can easily be accomplished in person if for example if you are a retailer by simply sitting, watching and listening to interactions. Sitting in customer service calls and/or sales calls is a another great way to gather data.
Surveys: While conducting an audit with an external survey panel or purchasing a large database maybe not be in the budget, consider what databases you have or can easily access. Perhaps your sales team already has prospects in your customer relationship management software, you have a trade show attendee database, or a robust e-newsletter database you can utilize.
Media can also be a good way to secure data on a smaller budget. Trade publications often conduct surveys for various reasons. If you are an advertiser already, they might allow you to include a question or two into their planned survey at no cost. Or if you have enough budget, you can distribute your survey to the publication’s readership by purchasing an e-mail blast.
And don’t forget about social media to secure additional responses to your audit. It can be a fast way to secure projectable data depending on who your audience is. Use your internal staff to further the exposure of the audit by asking them to share on their relevant social channels.
Focus Groups: Focus groups are a great way to secure feedback on products, services or solutions. They can be conducted in person or virtually and can be successful with even a smaller, more intimate group of people. The benefit, if you have the right people and moderator, is allowing participates to interact and provide thoughts and opinions that build upon others in the group.
Media: Trade media and knowledgeable beat reporters are excellent sources of information. Reporters and editors are as busy as ever so it can be hard to track them down, but good reporters know their industry extremely well. In our experience, most trade media are open to sharing their knowledge on the industry, especially if you already have an established relationship. Trade shows and in-person meetings are excellent for this type of discussion, but you can have this conversation over the phone. Ensure it is clear you are only using this information for internal planning purposes.
Trade Shows: Trade shows bring more of your customers and prospects together than any other event. Seize the opportunity to audit customers and prospects on the show floor. Trade shows provide an opportunity to secure both qualitative and quantitate data depending on your need.
There are many market research opportunities you can use to create more strategic marketing plans, campaigns, etc., as well as creative ways to secure the research you need, when you need it. There is no need to let budget limit the opportunity.