Market research was once the purview of only big companies. If you weren’t a Fortune 1000 brand, investing in any form of customer research was outside the scope of what many businesses could afford. Today, advances in market research technology have opened a whole range of services to even the smallest businesses. Small enterprises and soloprenuers routinely test ideas before they take them to market, saving tens of thousands of dollars and years of time developing products and services that fall flat with the market.
If you haven’t used market research to help steer the growth of your business, here’s a look at how it can help you achieve your marketing, SEO, and financial goals.
How market research intersects with content and SEO
As the disciplines of SEO and content marketing have evolved in depth and richness, they’ve quickly intersected with the domain that’s traditionally been known as market research. Entrepreneur provides a helpful definition of market research: “The process of gathering, analyzing and interpreting information about a market, about a product or service to be offered for sale in that market, and about the past, present and potential customers for the product or service; research into the characteristics, spending habits, location and needs of your business’s target market, the industry as a whole, and the particular competitors you face.”
The roots of using data in SEO projects are largely analytics-focused. Analytics tell us where people are coming from, what’s working, and what opportunities that we can exploit in digital marketing. Market research plays a surprisingly similar role in traditional marketing, helping you get to know your market, follow the trends, and determine strategic priorities for your brand and market. In today’s online landscape, the distinctions are dissolving as market research and analytics blend to help form the data-driven underpinnings that guide both marketing and bigger business decisions.
Many of the ideas traditionally used by marketing teams have been coopted into the content marketing and SEO worlds. The better you know your audience, the more effectively you can create appealing content ideas, make formats decisions, handle positioning and placement, and promote the content. The more sophisticated your keyword analysis, the better your SEO campaigns and content efforts will perform.
And finally, a strategic market research campaign can help you make important business decisions — from adjusting your strategy, to taking a leading position in growing market trends, to honing your product development efforts. Here’s a guide to helping you amplify the impact of your existing market research program to help grow your business.
Launching a market research initiative to support your digital marketing campaign
If you’re reading this and thinking that you’ve been marketing online without the aid of market research, let’s start there. A solid market research campaign plays an important role in a successful marketing initiative by giving you’re the information that you need to focus in on your audience and content. The market research needed to support a digital marketing initiative has two main focuses:
1. Decoding your audience’s most urgent concern: Understanding your audience has profound implications for your marketing strategy and beyond. From the perspective of developing your content and SEO strategy, it helps you answer vital questions such as: who are your customers? What are their most urgent and pressing concerns? What factors are they focused on in terms of making a buying decision. This information helps you decide what strategy will reach them most effectively on every point from design and copy to keyword research and content deployment.For help determining this information, see “Are You Using Your B2B Marketing Personas Effectively?”
2. Focusing your content: Determining how your audience finds your site, what they read, and more is the core of a successful content marketing strategy. If you need more advice on this element of the discussion, I highly recommend you read 7 Ways to Find Out What Your Target Audience Wants and Create Epic Content.
It’s fair to say that this information can have far more reaching impact on the way that you do business. But it helps to understand the ways that businesses gather this information. Here are a few of my favorite techniques.
Keyword research: The world of keyword research is constantly evolving. What information are Google and Bing making available? What’s the best tool to dig in? Understanding what keywords matter for your space and how people are currently finding your site is invaluable information.
Website analytics: Your website analytics program, such as Google Analytics, can tell you a lot about your visitors. What’s their demographic information, what’s bringing them to your site, and what do they do once they’re there? Mining your website analytics can help fill in the picture of where the gaps exist in your online marketing strategy.
PPC-based research: Author Tim Ferriss, of The Four Hour Workweek fame, tells a great story where he used PPC advertising to test options for the title of his book. Using Google AdWords to test concepts and gauge interest in products and services — as well as refine the messaging in connection with these aspects of your business– is a smart strategy.
Auditing existing buyer data: You probably store a lot of information about existing customers, including who they are, how they buy, what they buy, when and where they buy, and what triggers that action. Mining your existing data will give you a very solid picture of who you’re selling to and the kinds of areas to focus in on in your research.
A/B testing: A/B testing is a kind of data gathering that lets you determine what’s most effective for reaching your audience. It can focus on e-newsletter headlines, designs for the landing page of your website, or the specific copy of a call to action. By pitting two options against each other, you’re able to determine which performs better and make incremental improvements to your website and overall marketing strategy.
What’s the role of competitor research?
Competitor research means slightly different things when taken in the context of SEO research and traditional strategic research. But ultimately the goal is the same: what’s your competition doing and how can you best them? Business and SEO are both competitive activities. Whether you’re competing for the top spot in Google or to make the sale doesn’t really matter.
In the broader world of business, it’s critical to understand your competition’s positioning and unique selling proposition. What are they going after that you’re not currently exploiting, and how does that play out in their product mix, marketing strategy, and overall strategic moves (e.g. hires, acquisitions, and branding choices)?
Comparatively, in the world of SEO, you want to understand how the competition is presenting themselves online, how their link portfolio looks, their content strategy, their target keywords, what social networks they are active on, and what their overall campaign approach looks like.
In both cases, this type of research helps answer a question: how am I different? When you find the gaps between what your competitors are doing and what the market wants, your own value proposition and strategy becomes sharper. Competitive analysis informs a lot more than just this one point, including the minutia of execution, but fundamentally it’s about helping you map the landscape and then determine how you’re different and market that effectively.
Market research impacts your product or service mix
Are you currently offering the optimal mix of products and services for your audience? Could your existing products break into a higher tier of sales if you make strategic improvements? Different forms of market research can help you determine that, and influence the future of your company’s product development and deployment efforts.
One of the most important is concept testing. Above, I alluded to Ferriss’ technique of testing whether an idea has resonance through testing on advertising platforms. Concept testing is a mechanism that works by allowing companies to test their product ideas with the public before investing tens of thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars into product development.
That’s right: before you take a dive into spending staff time, mental energy, and development dollars, you can determine whether the purchase intent and market potential are worth the investment. More mature companies conduct product studies to figure out how best to modify and update products to capture the most value over the long-run. Either way, market research impacts your business holistically by helping you determine which products to focus on.
A note on data analytics package overdosing
Today, we live in a world where every aspect of your business can be tracked. Geotargeting lets you monitor customers’ activities while they’re in your store. A heatmap can show you where people look and click when they visit your website. Google Analytics can track thousands of small behaviors and translate that into actionable data.
But the fundamental question that every entrepreneur needs to ask is: what’s the minimum dose of data collection that I can do to make smart decisions about my digital marketing and my overall strategic choices? Further, what information will you actually take action on? By taking a lean approach to data collection a la Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, you’ll focus on collecting the data that you really need without getting bogged down and risking information paralysis.
Market research and data collection share one significant factor: they give you the information that you need in order to move forward and connect effectively with your customers. The best strategies are customer-centric, and data collection always goes back to helping you get to know them better and serve them better. The right information can help you structure your business model, shape marketing campaigns, design products, and market in a way that serves your customers while growing your business.
In what ways has market research helped change the way you run your business and campaigns? Let me know in the comments below.