The Importance of Marketing ResearchWednesday April 26th, 2017
While Silicon Valley often glamorizes the “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach, it is important to “measure twice, cut once” when it comes to building your marketing strategy.
I’ve noticed a repeating theme in many of my recent conversations with potential digital marketing clients. Here’s how the (abridged) conversation goes:
Scene 1 – A Sales Meeting
::Conference room. We see a long, wooden conference table, currently seating four. Two solemn gentlemen in suits sit across from two “creatives.”::
We’re looking for a marketing partner to update our website and online marketing presence.
Great! We’ve helped many businesses do exactly that.
Ok. Can you tell me about your process and how quickly we can get this going?
Sure. We start with a six week consultation during which we:
- Profile and interview your target audience
- Compare your digital presence with your competition’s
- Audit your customer acquisition funnel & process
- Create a digital marketing plan
Six weeks? I can’t wait that long. Can’t you just skip that first part and figure it out as you go?
I suppose we could, but it’s really important to understand your audience before we begin.
Well, I know my audience. Can’t I just tell you about them?
Listen, I completely understand where this sentiment is coming from. “Six weeks!? And how many thousand dollars?” And that’s before driving any new business. “And what am I supposed to do for marketing during those six weeks?”
Valid concerns indeed, but I don’t believe the best answer is to dive in head first without checking how deep the water is. The graphic metaphor is intentional. It can be dangerous and costly in terms of both brand equity and more tangible resources like time and money.
I’m going to do my best to show why it’s important to begin with an in-depth research phase. For the sake of (relative) brevity, I’m going to focus on just one piece of this equation, the target audience research.
In my experience, most businesses don’t know their customer as well as they think they do. That doesn’t mean their perspective isn’t valid, just that they often don’t see the whole picture. Here are a few examples of what I mean.
Most businesses don’t know their customer as well as they think they do.
Are you targeting the right audience?
We recently worked with a tech startup offering a useful product photography tool. Naturally, they focused their marketing efforts on photographers. They built their content strategy around photography tips and tutorials on how to get the best results.
Through our interview process with their customers we quickly realized that it was actually marketing and ecommerce professionals who most often made the purchasing decision. These people didn’t care about the details of the actual photography process, that was someone else’s problem. These people are simply looking to make their product pages more engaging, to increase conversion rates and purchases. So, a distinct shift in the content strategy was necessary.
Do you know what your audience thinks is important?
We are currently working with a business that is very proud of their B-Corp status. They wanted to make it a central part of their marketing message. Knowing that modern buyers are leaning in a socially conscious direction, they thought this would build goodwill with their audience.
We surveyed their audience and found that the majority of them didn’t know what a B-Corp was. Based on this knowledge, we focused their messaging on the underlying ideas of what being a B-Corp means, instead of the title itself. Had we not learned this fact, they could have spent a fortune on promoting an idea that doesn’t connect with their audience.
Do you understand the customer buying dynamic?
A few years ago we worked with a startup that was attempting to make online dating safer by providing a “safe dating certification” process. This certification was to be paid for by the individual (presumably males), so that they could show potential dating prospects that they were in fact a normal, safe person to date.
When we asked several males whether they would pay for this service, they found it offensive that they should have to prove that they weren’t creeps. It’s even worse that they would have to pay for it. They were the good guys after all! They even expressed that they would think twice about meeting someone who asked them to do so.
On the other side of the equation, women said that they would feel uncomfortable asking someone to go through the certification. It felt a little like calling them a creep. Not a great way to start a strong relationship. Needless to say, the product-market-fit was problematic.
Listen, I know this isn’t a new conversation. Mike wrote about the value of market research on the Brolik blog almost two years ago now. It is something that keeps coming up, though. I feel that this “move fast and break things” approach is encouraged by the idolized entrepreneurial culture that comes out of Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and Uber.
Does it really come down to six weeks? Of course not. If we had no other responsibilities the research could be done more quickly. But many of the companies I talk to haven’t had a strong digital marketing strategy in their entire history, and have spent months vetting agencies, so why is it such a rush all of a sudden?
In my experience the urgency is usually artificial. A desire to move quickly outweighs the need to be thorough. The prospective client isn’t opposed to the research itself, just the idea that they are paying for several weeks of work that doesn’t directly impact business growth. The reality is that it does.
When developing a marketing strategy, thorough research can save significant resources and heartache.
These are only a few examples of how thorough market research can save significant resources and heartache, but there are many more. Each company and industry is different, but the thorough approach and keen eye of an experienced agency can uncover a lot about how your business connects with its audience and fits into the market landscape.