Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Want to Know What’s on Your Customers’ Minds? Ask Them.

As children, many of us were taught not to worry about what others think of us. In marketing, we practice the exact opposite. We place a great deal of importance on market perceptions, customer satisfaction, and brand image. How can we determine whether or not our offerings are on the right track?

1) Ongoing conversations with customers – This should be a continuous practice regardless of whether or not you have specific research questions. Social media is a great way to foster this input. Be sure to include non customers, as they are likely facing challenges that can become opportunities for your firm’s future development.
Note- Pay close attention in these discussions rather than seeking only answers to the questions you make explicit. The dialog could reveal an untapped market opportunity.

2) Secondary market research – At least some of the information you need may already exist. It is likely that others have asked a similar question and done the heavy-lifting for you.

3) Primary market research – Custom research is advisable when you need to take the pulse of the market for the purpose of making decisions about product or marketing strategy, sales promotions and campaigns, branding, market expansion, etc. and when secondary research does not exist to answer your specific questions. You can choose to conduct this in-house or to leverage the expertise of a market research agency.

If you decide to design and execute the research yourself, DIY tools such as those provided by Research Rockstar will come in handy. Be sure to leverage best practices in experiment and/or survey design and to hone in early on the research questions you need answered and your expected outcomes.

Regardless of how you pursue market input, remember that market dynamics change. The information you’re gathering today may no longer be relevant next year. We've experienced this recently with changes to the macroeconomic climate. Customers are applying different criteria to make decisions. Maintaining close ties with a smaller group of customers and prospects who have an interest in your success and can serve as advisors will help you determine when to refresh your research. Learning about—and from—your markets is an ongoing process.

So while our childhood lesson to disregard what others think does not carry over into marketing, we can definitely apply the advice that when someone picks on us (or gives us input into how we can improve our offerings or our brand), it is because they are interested.

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