- Chris Haycock
Walk a day in your customer's shoes
If you want your website to be successful, then you'll need to lay down the groundwork to ensure that it stands the best possible chance of winning customers.
Your website might have been designed by the world's best web design company, but one thing is for certain in business - cash is king, and that means you'll need to understand your niche, your unique selling points, your market, and your individual customers so that you can build or improve your website to fit their needs.
If you want to start your website without this insight, then the best that you'll achieve is a 'stab in the dark', resulting in a site that converts no customers.
Why undertake market research?
Would you try to start a new business by yourself - from scratch - without knowing if there's a market for your products?
Similarly, you shouldn't operate a website without first understanding more about how it will sit in your marketplace.
It's quite common for website owners to start selling to potential customers without asking them what they want. It is essential to understand the needs and motivations of your customers before you start to market online, so that you avoid making some very costly mistakes further down the line.
To get a better understanding of your customers' needs, you'll need to undertake 'Market Research' to see if your product or service is viable.
By getting to know your market, you'll get a much better understanding of how your website fits in to the market.
A lot of people think about conducting market research, but give up because it sounds too expensive and complex. But it's easier and more cost-effective than you think. In most cases, you can do all your market research without spending a penny.
To sum up:
- Market research is an essential task for any business.
- Missing it out can lead to costly marketing further down the line as you try to attract customers.
- It'll stop you from 'scattergunning', i.e. shooting in the dark for business.
- It'll help you to identify how to reach the most suitable audience.
- It enables you to determine what your message is going to be.
- It tells you what strategy you need to reach your audience.
Market research on a budget
There are many market intelligence agencies in the UK that specialise in analysing market intelligence and trends, but unless you've got very deep pockets they can be very pricey. Of course, the research you can gain from using these companies (such as Mintel, IBISWorld, Key Note and Plimsoll) is priceless, but with individual reports costing £500 or more they can exclude many small businesses with little - or no - budgets for research.
Don't get your wallet out too quickly, though.
Here are some ways to collect some valuable market research for little or no cost.
Yes, Google. It's a fantastic place to start your market research, and it's free.
Search for blogs, forums, advice columns and publications for your industry. Use these websites to find out what types of people use them, what they buy and how they buy.
Find out what sort of things they complain about. Is there a common 'pain-point' that often crops up time after time?
Jot down how you think your product or service can help these people solve their problems.
Use Google Trends to find out what is being searched for online. Google Trends is a great tool that will help you discover what your market is searching for, and it's fantastic for getting valuable insights into your future customers. The tool allows you to select industry categories to give you a more in-depth overview of search trends in the UK. For example, if you're going to be selling babies' clothes you can see search 'peaks' and 'troughs' according to the time of year.
You can use it to research your competition, a product, or a service. It's well worth spending some quality time finding out more information how you can use Google Trends as a valuable research tool.
Quora.com is a question-and-answer website where questions are asked and answered by their community of users. Many companies are now using Quora as a resource for research, information and market research.
Created in 2009 by ex-Facebook employees, use of the site has grown exponentially. By searching for what people are asking about, you can get a unique insight into your target market's pain-points and concerns.
Use Quora to learn from others, discover tips from industry experts, uncover concerns with your target customers, and find out what people are asking about your product or industry.
We'll look at other Q&A websites later on in the course, and how to use them to your advantage.
Study your competitors
Make a list of your competitors, and visit their websites to see how they communicate with their customers. Sizing up the competition is important so that you begin to know what you're up against.
- How do they attempt to solve their customer's problems?
- What aspects of their websites do you like.
- What don't you like?
- How do you think they could be better?
Use Google again to search for other websites that may mention your competitor's business name. Are there any complaints or common problems?
What makes YOU better than your competitors?
Use your library
Your local library will have a stack of great research for most industries, especially if you live in a major city where the libraries are more comprehensive.
Some libraries stock Key Note, Mintel, Datamonitor and other market research information, meaning that you can save literally hundreds of pounds in research costs.
These keynote reports cover virtually every industry and niche, and contain market trends, psychographic data, insights, demographics, projections etc.
Mintel Reports cost thousands to buy. But a lot of major libraries allow you to use them - FREE. While you can't take them away, you can sit there for a few hours and get a unique insight into your market. Some libraries allow to to save the information onto a flash drive so you can take it away to study later.
Everyone I've told this to has been able to discover a huge amount of incredibly useful information for their marketing strategy.
Within the library you can also find plenty of industry-related magazines, books, periodicals and journals that can help you understand your target market.
For as little as £50, you can get access to ready-made communities of people who are willing to provide feedback on your business idea.
Several online survey companies have sprung up over the last few years that allow you to create and launch surveys that give you insights into your marketplace.
Here are some survey companies to consider:
- Toluna - get access to a community of over 9,000,000 people who will provide feedback and air opinions
- Vivatic - A UK panel of more than 300,000 members sourced from a variety of channels representing a broad cross-section of society
- Netigate - Used by over 2,000 companies worldwide, Netigate allows businesses to analyse feedback in real-time from their community network
- Survata - Create a survey, Survata will target consumers to answer it, and you get answers. Per-response pricing, which starts at $1 per answer
Yes, good old Facebook comes to the rescue once again.
Facebook is a great way to discover what people are already saying about your product or service. One of the best ways of gaining valuable insight is by following experts in your chosen field, or your competitors. By listening to the experts and by reading the comments that people are posting on your competitor's business pages, you can get a better understanding of their concerns and motivations.
A little-known technique for estimating the market size is by using the Facebook Ads tool. Just go to 'Create Ad' and change the settings under 'Who do you want your ad to reach' so that it matches your target market. This will give you a good insight into the volume of people that may be interested in your products.
Talk to potential customers
If you have access to people who you feel would be interested in your product or service, then it costs nothing to ask for a volunteer's feedback on your idea.
Once you have their attention, explain your business proposition (your Elevator Pitch). Explain the benefits of your business (benefits should always precede the features), and ask the volunteer how much they'd be willing to pay for it.
If possible, put together a prototype or visual representation of what your product will look like, even if it's just a sketch at this point. It will help you to convey your idea. Then - and this is the most important part - stop talking and start listening. Don't get defensive if the volunteer is negative about your idea. There's probably a very good reason.
Use their feedback to make improvements where necessary, as well as gaining a valuable insight into your target market.
Other ways to collect market research
Focus groups - invite a select group of people that fit your target market to be part of a focus group, where you sit down and ask them a series of questions about your product/service, their current pain-points, their motivations for resolving these problems, and feedback about your website/products.
Observational research - watching how someone uses your website can reveal very insightful information about how people use it. Invite several people who have never used your website before to sit down in front of you and use your website. Create a list of 2 or 3 goals they they should achieve (such as buying a product, subscribing to your newsletter, or downloading a brochure. Watch how they use your website, and learn from their experience.
Questionnaires - you can collect questionnaires by mail, online or by telephone.
- Use Google Trends
- YouTube Trends
- Google News
- Shopping Insights
- Google Alerts
- Google Predictive Search
- Mintel and Keynote Reports at a library
- industry magazines
- trade exhibitions
- existing customers/clients
- focus groups
Outsourcing market research
If you are willing to pay a premium to get your market research, you can use a professional company to gather your research. The Research Buyer's Guide (http://www.theresearchbuyersguide.com/) is the only directory of professionally accredited market research providers in the UK, and is worth visiting if you're interested in outsourcing your market research needs.
The ICG has also published a list of professionals (http://theicg.co.uk/connect/) who are qualified to undertake thorough market research.
Once you've walked a mile in the shoes of your customer, you'll get a much better understanding of how to convey your marketing message.
You know who they are. You know where they are. You know what their problems are, and you know what motivates them into buying.
Believe it or not, by doing this you're already ahead of most other business owners who fail to take this critical step.
Other market research tools
As if all these methods aren't enough, there are other tools available that can help you with your market research. Let's take a look at some of the best research tools out there.
Built by Google, the Consumer Barometer is a tool that can help you to understand how people use the internet across the world. There are several tools available, including Graph Builder, which enables you to create your own custom analysis to understand how people use the internet, Audience Stories where you can learn about the internet's role in the lives of your audience, Curated Insights which give you beautiful charts for analysis, and Trended Data, allowing you to see how internet access and device usage across the world has evolved over time.
Google Surveys are a fantastic way to get valuable insights into the minds of your target market. You can use it to gather insights about your customers to make smart decisions about your marketing activities in the fraction of the time that traditional market research takes.
Design a survey online and tell Google about your audience. They'll then get you results in no time at all, from real people.
Think with Google
Yet another remarkable tool from Google, 'Think with Google' is a series of research white papers, tools and resources to help you understand your customers.
You can uncover the latest marketing research and digital trends, download data reports, guides, infographics and articles designed to help you with your customer research.