What is market research, anyway? Well, it can mean a lot of different things – but it always involves learning more about your industry and customers so that you can choose the right kind of marketing, at the right time. That makes it a vital step for companies working on their marketing, and it shows: The latest reports from IBISWorld show that the market research industry is at $23.3 billion and continues to grow!

As you might have guessed from those numbers, that means market research can quickly grow expensive, depending on the types of data you need. Traditional types of market research can involve focus groups, in-depth reports (which can make excellent infographics, but are still costly), and many hours of work to gather information. The better the research, the more resources it takes.

And that brings us to our big topic for this episode: Lean marketing research, a more efficient version of research that’s a great choice for smaller businesses with more limited budgets. This strategy uses the latest technology and focuses on quality of research over the quantity. It’s inspired by the similar cost-saving tactics of the lean startup model, which uses these methods to make running a new venture more affordable.

Okay, but what does this mean, exactly? Scott Albro on Topo has a great collection of five principles that guide lean marketing research that all growing businesses should know when collecting primary data – that is, data that they are creating themselves as they study their own markets. So let’s look at these principles and what actions they lead to for the most efficient market research you can get!

1. Customer Access

Primary marketing requires direct access to your customers so that you can gather specific information from them (without annoying them). Start with the resources you have: Do you have email lists, social media contacts, or similar contact information? Then you’re in a great position to send out surveys or questionnaires to customers and leads. This is quick and low-cost with tools like Survey Monkey or Google Forms, and we have experience creating these kinds of surveys in the past to help clients begin.

2. Focusing on Quality Instead of Quantity                           

High-quality, primary research has a lot of advantages: You’re finding out exactly what your target audience thinks, instead of just what the trends say. While surveys can help gather a lot of simple information from many sources, it’s also important to gather complex information from a limited number of sources. The best way for small businesses to do this is through interviews, both formal and informal. We can help you find the right tactics for starting these conversations and finding the key customers to talk to!

3. Observational Research that Leads to Collaboration

There are two types of observational research, and both are very powerful:

·      Overt: Overt observation means asking customers if you can observe them directly interacting with a new product or prototype to see how they use it. This takes time to set up but yields amazing information.

·      Covert: Covert observation means studying customers “in the wild” without them knowing about it. Customers may act differently this way, and it may be a better choice for certain types of products or services.

We also like to advise companies to take things a step further and then collaborate with customers about what they like about your products, and what they would change if they could – sort of like the information interviews we just talked about above!

4. Continuous Cycle of Research

Lean marketing research and lean startups require fast changes and continuous research. That means immediately implementing what you learned from a product, and immediately starting another research cycle to see how customers are responding to your changes or any new factors in the market.

For smaller companies, the easiest way to do this is just keep on doing the steps listed above. Find a few customers each week you can talk to about your business. Keep on gathering information as you go.

5. Analyzing and Sharing Insights so They Become Actionable

Lean marketing research is now providing a stream of useful data! What are you going to do with it? How are you going to tell other decision makers about what you’ve learned? Common options include:

·      Customer journey mapping: How are your customers making decisions? Where do they start when looking for solutions, and how to they make purchases?

·      Customer personas: Create personas about how your customers are acting and share them with your marketing team!

·      Customer reactions: When planning business strategy, use your data to predict how customers will react to particular changes, as a way of showing whether that change is worthwhile or not.

This is a lot to start doing all at once! Remember, the first step is always talking to your customers about their needs and how they see you as a business partner. When in doubt, start some communication!

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, that’s why we’re starting our COACH program at 21 Handshake – to determine exactly what strategies are right for your business, and help point your teams in the right direction (next week, for example, we’re talking about branding!). If you want to learn more about COACH, you’re in luck! We’re offering a COACH beta program right now for a limited amount of time. For $99, we’ll offer coaching services for you or someone on your team for 9 whole weeks to create a blueprint your company can follow into the future! Apply now at 21handshake.com/coaching.

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