There was a time when the Don Drapers of Madison Avenue changed the fortunes of businesses with their vivid stories and catchy jingles. Not anymore. The last decade has seen thousands of businesses achieve phenomenal success without the help of fancy creative agencies. Cold, clear and accurate data has taken the top spot in marketers’ lists of must-haves for a fruitful campaign. Knowing industry trends means marketers stay on top of their game and offer users relevant messages that translate into direct results. And the best approach to know where the industry is heading is to undertake some first-party market research yourself. Consumer research is one of the most comprehensive and continuous marketing activities; it begins right from the time you start thinking about launching a product or service. And it’s not just the case for consumer goods manufacturers. B2C and B2B businesses need to conduct a fair bit of marketing research before they start conducting their business. In this article, we will discuss several methods, ranging from conventional to technical, to up the ante of your research process. Field Surveys Ever had university and college students stopping you and requesting you to fill in a questionnaire? There would be a string of personal and sometimes nonsensical questions, but sometimes you went along for the sake of that free sample of an interesting new product. Field surveys are one of the oldest and most accurate methods of marketing research. They allow companies to identify their target market and get their views without much distraction (other than the state of hurry). However, as you can imagine, it is also a time consuming and effort-intensive method – probably not an option for SMBs. Some tips to make the most of surveys: Before finalizing your survey forms, do a little test within your team, family or office to see if you are going in the right direction. Don’t ask too many personal or irrelevant questions just for the heck of it. The more focused your survey, the better will be results. Avoid open-ended questions that can confuse you instead of helping you gain insights. Phone Surveys This is one of the fastest methods to do market research but the trick here is to get the undivided attention of your interviewee. To do that effectively, you have to be persistent, actually interested in the conversation, and emotionally intelligent and vary your tactics for each call. Several websites like Whitepages.com and Peoplefinders.com allow you to get people’s public records such as date of birth, marriage records, property, etc. so you can segment your target audience based on this data for the purpose of calling them. However, be warned: telephone surveys of existing customers are more reliable than those of random people whose details you’ve acquired using data services. Caveat: Don’t get carried away with telephone (or even email) surveys. If your target group is in Wisconsin don’t bother with people in Utah, even if you have their phone numbers and other data. Online Forms In the digital world, it’s possible to build market research forms with incredible ease and finesse. Collecting data online is extremely cost-effective; and there are numerous means to get precise results. There are several websites, dashboards, apps, widgets and resources that you can use to gather feedback and information via email, social media, or your own website and blog. Tools such as Google Forms and 123 Contact Form allow you to build forms not only for surveys but also for event registration, orders and invoices, polls, donations, etc. – regardless of your business or industry – with plenty of customization and integration features. This means you can use them with social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, email marketing software like MailChimp and AWeber, helpdesk applications like Zendesk and CRM tools like Salesforce and Zoho. Testing Testing is one of the most effective, and yet underutilized methods of marketing research. Traditionally, marketers gauged customer reactions to pricing changes as well as set final prices by selling the same product at different prices in different stores. And of course if you have an online store, there’s a plethora of tools you can use to test what works – Optimizely provides good options for A/B testing and split testing if you’re starting out. When doing split or multivariate testing, make sure you fully understand the risks. There are opportunity costs involved. Also, a lot of people can get justifiably annoyed if they find out they are getting higher-priced or inferior products. Landing Pages Closely related to online testing are landing pages – therefore they deserve a mention here. The only way to keep milking your digital properties – including your website, app, online ad campaigns, and content – for ever increasing conversions is to keep tweaking your landing pages. Read that again. Whether you’re an online apparel retailer or digital media site selling subscriptions, you need to research what customers arriving on your site expect and build your product pages accordingly. Spaces is a DIY ecommerce platform that lets even beginners hit the ground running with optimized online stores. Focus Groups Market researchers gather a small target group of 5 to 15 people, get them to try out the product, ask a few questions and try to gauge their reactions. This is a valuable technique to arrive at a product-related decision. Auto brand Chevrolet has used it to great effect so far. Further, a moderator need not be physically present for an effective focus group discussion to take place – it can be conducted remotely by teleconference or videoconference too. Visual User Testing Not unlike focus groups, user testing allows you to test your ads, videos, software or mobile apps through real-time webcam or screen recording. One of the most popular platforms for online user testing is the aptly named UserTesting – it gives you detailed analysis of people’s interaction with your product or ads. This is more of a visual research technique and you need to have knowledge of information architecture, UX/UI standards and best practices, as well as be good at deciphering reactions to get the most out of it. Social Media Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn allow you to do market research using polls and ad campaigns that can be directed to a particular set of people, segmented by their demographics, location, likes and interests, job profiles, etc. There is a lot of information online on how to set up apps and forms for social platforms, so I don’t think it bears repetition that here. Google Analytics Google too has amazing features that provide insights for your marketing research. For instance, it allows you isolate a group of people categorized on the basis of their age, location, income, likes, etc. and then find out their reactions to your emails, ads and surveys. Google Analytics gives us a helpful Cohort Analysis/Report, using which it’s possible to study the browsing and buying habits of a group of users who have all taken a particular action or share specific traits. You can examine the effects of your (long and short) marketing campaigns on these users, monitor how their responses change over time, and gauge how that affects your revenue. Parting Words There is a lot of market research already available online, and a few periodic studies stand out in this sea of data. Not only do they have a more incisive approach than others, they’re also widely used as yardsticks to judge the efficacy of new marketing campaigns. However, nothing beats data that you define and gather for yourself. Don’t stick to just one or two of the above methods or just online resources. Figure out a mix of primary field testing and secondary online testing that works for you. And while you’re at it, remember: criticism of your products or services can be extremely valuable; don’t become protective, take it personally, or ignore it. Market research is a science, and if you follow all the rules you can’t go far off the mark. Images: “ Market Research/ Shutterstock.com“ ________________________________________________________________________________ Tweak Your Biz is a thought leader global publication and online business community. Today, it is part of the Small Biz Trends stable of websites and receives over 300,000 unique views per month. Would you like to write for us? An outstanding title can increase tweets, Facebook Likes, and visitor traffic by 50% or more. 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