Traditionally, when large companies develop an idea, whether it’s a new product or a redesigned website, they start by hiring a market research firm to gather data about the segment and make recommendations before going to R&D. It’s a strategic, methodical approach… that is also incredibly expensive and time consuming.
Small companies like ours simply don’t have the resources for that, which makes it very tempting to skip market research all together and just dive right into the development stage. Don’t!
You’re not going to succeed without doing research. How else are you going to find out if there will be any kind of demand for your idea? Who will want to buy it? What size is that market? How might you position yourself relative to competitors?
How do we get closer to consumers and their pain points?
We are asking those questions every day here at ECHOtape, and we are testing some new research channels. For example, we are working with a digital agency who is helping us leverage LinkedIn, content and search. As part of that effort, we have an online campaign that sends a free roll of specialty tape to key markets in exchange for feedback and information about how customers are using our tape.
That’s just one effort, but we have outlined some more budget-conscious ideas below:
1. Ask Customers Directly. Whether you employ social media, email or the old-fashioned telephone, reach out to your existing customers directly and ask for meaningful input. What works; what doesn’t; how can we improve the current product? What features of the current product are most important or useful? What new features would customers welcome? Ask if they’ll be beta testers, trying the product or service for free in exchange for recommendations for improvement. Not only will this give you a wealth of data, it also creates the perception of your product or service being tailor-made for those customers; this is a powerful means of increasing customer loyalty!
2. Establish a Virtual Team. Collaborative software tools make it possible to create “virtual teams” of key contacts (including suppliers and partners) who can collaborate from around the globe. This user group operates as a forum for discussing issues of concern to customers—such as quality, performance, standards, and future development. The group should include representatives from a cross-section of a company’s customers, as well as from the company itself.
3. Use Voice Recognition Tools. Are you recording your customer service calls? Yes? Great! Now what are you doing with that data? Text analytics tools or voice recognition tools make it easy to study the wealth of information you’re already getting from customers. This software can be rudimentary or complex–anything from a word cloud generator to an enterprise solution. It works by uploading customer feedback from various sources–social media mentions, call center feedback or survey data, for example–and looking for themes.
4. Turn industry events into a research venue. The trade shows and conferences your company attends every year are an opportunity to talk with your target audience. Find out who will be attending and schedule face-to-face appointments, if even for a few minutes. Or, go one step further and create a tandem event. By leveraging this gathering of like-minded industry executives, you can gather key information about a specific segment of your audience.
5. Issue New Product Announcements. Have you ever noticed how the software industry always pre-announces their new products? It’s a key strategy that other industries are under-utilizing. For example, a company may announce a series of dates during the coming year when it will release new versions of products. The company outlines the new products and often offers customers an opportunity to provide input to the development process. While there are risks to the company in pre-announcing release dates, customers benefit from an ability to align their own development schedules to the planned release dates.
6. Get Involved in an industry association. Industry associations often offer access to copious amounts of research. While the cost might be more than you are willing to spend, it’s a fraction of what a market research company would charge for the same data. There is often a ton of information that can answer questions about the marketplace and where the industry is going as a whole.
7. Put the Shoe on the Other Foot. Your products aren’t about you… it’s about your customers. More specifically, it’s about their future customers and the success of those future customers. Put simply: Are your customers considering entry into new markets? What are they? Who do they serve? What’s missing? Only then can you decide if you have product development plans that are relevant to that new market.
What do you think: Is traditional market research dead? What are you doing differently to help your business grow?? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.