Quality information about your customer base is one of the most important tools in your marketing toolbox. Describing your perfect customer is a good first step, but if you want to minimize risk and improve your chances of success, nothing beats good old objective data. When you want to really understand your customers’ needs and preferences, conduct a little market research.
Market research: gathering the information you need to make decisions about your business.
You can conduct research about your customers, your competitors, the larger business environment, and the effectiveness of your own marketing programs. But for this post, we’ll focus on researching your target market.
Market research can tell you key information about your customers, including:
- Their demographic profile
- What they like and dislike about your current products
- Their feedback on new products
And with some time and know-how, you can do it yourself. The key to successful research is asking the right questions and knowing what to do with the answers.
Survey Your Existing Customers
If you have a list of e-newsletter subscribers (that you’ve collected through your blog or shop), you could ask subscribers to participate in a market research survey. By surveying your past customers and blog readers, you’re gathering information directly from the source.
Websites like SurveyMonkey and Google Docs allow you to create an online survey for free. (I whipped up a quick survey on Google Docs if you’d like to see what one looks like.)
Caution: Make sure you have permission to contact the people on your List. If they haven’t opted in to receive emails from you, you can’t send them a customer survey.
Know your goals. Have a strong reason for conducting the survey, and keep your objectives in mind as you write every survey question. Start by clearly defining what you want to know. Only include questions that directly serve your goal — nothing extra.
Write clear, precise and short questions. Make it easy for respondents to complete the survey in a reasonable amount of time. Each question should ask for one piece of information only. Keep it focused.
Avoid bias. Don’t word your questions in a way that indicates your preference for a certain answer. Bias negates the value of your results — so edit your questions carefully.
Use multiple question types. When you create a survey, you’ll choose between multiple-choice questions, check-box questions, scaled questions, and open-ended questions. One one hand, scaled and multiple choice questions provide specific and quantitative answers. On the other hand, open-ended questions provide subjective and anecdotal answers, which might be the best way to glean the subtleties of consumer opinion. Each type of question is helpful — choose which type best meets your objectives for the survey.
Make sure anyone taking the survey can complete it within 5-10 minutes. If it takes longer than 10 minutes, you run the risk of respondents losing patience, quitting, or worse — giving inaccurate answers just to finish the survey faster.
If you can afford to provide a small giveaway to participants, you’ll likely guarantee a larger number of respondents.
Remember: In marketing, everything matters. This survey represents your brand. A great survey will help you learn about your customers, but a bad survey could negatively influence their feelings toward your brand. Make it relevant, make it respectful, make sure it’s free of typos.
Once the survey results are in, look for trends within the data. Use tools like Excel to play with the numbers. And remember to read all of those open-ended comments.
After you’ve analyzed the results of your market research, you’ll be able to develop a targeted advertising campaign, expand your product offerings, and take other steps to grow your indie biz.
Go Where the Customers Are
You can also conduct informal market research through observation. You can probably think of several brick and mortar shops in your local area that sell products similar to yours. Maybe you are lucky enough to live near a shop that sells exclusively independent design and handmade items! (Or maybe you live near an Anthropologie store.) Take some time to visit those independent stores and boutiques and engage in some quality people-watching.
Be on the lookout for your target market.
- What sort of person shops there?
- How old are they?
- What kind of cars do they drive?
- What type of customer comes out with arms full of packages?
- What type of customer browses, but doesn’t buy anything?
- Do customers look like they are buying gifts or something special for themselves?
By scoping out your local indie shops and galleries, you can gain useful demographic information about your target market.
Ask for Help
There’s no getting around it, designing a survey takes time. And if you don’t know the right questions to ask, or what to do with the answers, it’s worth your time to hire some help.