I rely on marketing research to do my job as a marketing professional.  I’m constantly making tactical or strategic decisions and often rely on it to confirm hypothesis or inform my decisions. And although a percentage of my decisions have elements of ‘gut-feeling’ in them, they are predominately based on previous experience or gathered information – both quantitative and qualitative.

Solid research can help with developing a product, identifying a buyer cycle or buyer decision process, brand effectiveness and more. It is a fundamental skill set for any marketer and is like putting a V12 engine in your marketing strategy.

Primary vs. Secondary Market Research

Data is the backbone. Primary and secondary data are often referred to in market research. Primary being the data you have collected yourself, likely through your CRM, a client questionnaire or through general conversations. Secondary data is the information that is publicly available such as statistics and regional demographics. Secondary data is cheaper and is usually where people begin their research. Secondary data may also reduce the amount of primary data you require – so start there!

Surveys and Questionnaires

Data is often collected through surveys, questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups. Ethnographic studies can also be performed, but may be more costly and time consuming. The key is to be as objective as possible when doing research. (It is highly recommended to engage a market research firm to help you if you’ve never undertaken market research before.) Question order and formulation are extremely important, not to mention the analysis of the collected data. If your survey is online, there are survey software programs that offer helpful question formation and questionnaire layout such as Surveymonkey.com. Just make sure that you’re surveying the right people! Engaging an organization that has access to lists of qualified people can be essential – especially in B2B surveys. And offering some kind of remuneration for the survey completion can ensure better completion rates.

Social Media Research

Social media can offer some insight as well. You can better identify where you as an organization should be participating. It’s no longer a fact how people use social media and what channels are used for what. E.g. Instagram can a business tool for some, but for others it’s strictly personal and an organization may be seen as an intruder. Knowing how your target audience feels can give stability to your social media strategy.

Clean and Dirty Data

Any market research you collect should have a planned process on its retrieval. Being objective is key and very clear parameters should be set out to maintain as much quality control as possible. The process of cleaning your data will remove incorrect, irrelevant, incorrect and incomplete data and maintain consistency. It’s vital to base your decisions on good data!
Make sure to include time to research in your marketing plan so that you can maintain up-to-date information. Marketing research is on-going and the most impactful research is collaborative. As it can be time-consuming it’s best to start small and be specific. Keep records and plan to review all research at least quarterly to see if you can spot any trends.

Small business research

So, now that you know a bit about where to look for the data, let’s talk more specifically about the data you need as a small business.

Persona research

This is when you research everything around your target audience. You will need to find out both persoanl and professional details around this group and draw similarities to develop an individual that you can refer to in your marketing decisions.

Personal (age, relationship status, home type, education level, income, etc.)

Work (role, business type, typical day, frustrations, professional associations, decision-making process, preferred software, etc.)

Keeping your personas up-to-date with current pain points, frustrations, and professional interests is key. Your personas will directly inform your marketing copy and using your perona’s own language will have a higher chance of the message resonating with them. This is the most important piece of research for a small business.

Industry research

In the typical industry you serve you should have a handle on anything that’s happening. Things like growth, new tech, current articles, company mergers, industry events, to name a few will help you understand or recommend changes to your target audience’s focus. It will also show that you have a clear understanding on what is happening  and will inform some of your content.

Competitor research

Knowing who your biggest competitors are will help you talk about what makes you different (and better). And although in small businesses competitive insight is less pivotal thatn in enterprise lewvel orgs, it can still provide insights around how your competitors are marketing and if they are getting any traction with their audience.