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Why research is your unexpected friend for business success

05 May 2020

When was the last time you undertook any customer research and insight activity for your business? Or put another way, when was the last time your marketing strategy was based on more than simply assumptions or historical behaviour?

Marketing research and insight was previously the cornerstone of any marketing plan for a business: It helped understand and analyse the market; provided insight into how your brand and business was perceived and ranked against its competitors; and how it was performing in the eyes of your target customer base.

These regular, annual data gathering activities allowed businesses to compare annual performance and monitor how effective their marketing strategy had been and what changes were needed for the forthcoming year to either improve, maintain or reverse results against set objectives.

Unfortunately, over the last few years, market research has fallen out of favour, for what marketing Professor and writer, Mark Ritson describes as ‘tactification’: the use or obsession of marketing tactical activities without any real strategic aim or bases. With most brands creating a presence on social media, that alone seems to provide enough ‘intelligence’ to gain an insight into their target market. Although social media does have fantastic uses – as the current crisis has proven, it isn’t a true representative of your target market. Also, as proven with various political results in recent years, any universal conclusions taken from social data, should be exercised with caution.

There are numerous marketing research techniques businesses can implement, and although larger brands can attribute decent budgets on very detailed research campaigns with a research company, I would argue that some research is better than none. For smaller organisations, focusing efforts and budget annually on a couple of methods, that are then used as benchmarks against future plans and performance is a good place to start.

Types of research

  • Surveys - A simple, cost effective way to target a number of closed or open questions
  • Interviews – Targeted, one to one conversations that can uncover lots of unknowns
  • Focus Groups – Carefully selected group lead by moderator to steer conversation around a product/service to gain insight/feedback. These can be costly and result in skewed data
  • Observation – Less expensive than focus groups and lets you see directly how a customer responds/reacts with your product/service

With any research, taking a representative sample is key for reliable data.  It is also important to remember, that market research without purpose or filed away without analysis is a waste of resource. The point of gathering useful and relevant marketing research is to provide the ‘why’ for what you do and provide, the subsequent analysis is the ‘what’. It will enable you to confidently make decisions on pricing, branding, targeting, communication channels and spend.

Although budgets and resources are undeniably stretched now, with many businesses facing their biggest challenge to stay afloat, understanding your customers and target market is even more important. People’s attitudes, spending power, focus, interests, needs and wants have all changed significantly following the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact and effect will continue to evolve.  

Ultimately it is the businesses that have their finger on the pulse of their consumer; the knowledge and insight of what their target market is thinking and feeling, that will avoid executing tone deaf creative campaigns that fall flat or wasted resources on  products or services that are no longer fit for purpose.

Top three takeaways:

  1. Market research does not have to mean implementing a large scale, costly exercise for the business. There are ways to implement a lean marketing research strategy for smaller businesses using the techniques mentioned above. Start with a clear objective and a strong sample to kick start the process.
  2. Use social media as part of a wider data gathering exercise, especially when it comes to social listening. What are the trends or events people are talking about and how do people engage with the brand? Remember it is often the loudest voices on social media that get heard but there are a lot of lurkers and inactive users behind the scenes.
  3. See marketing research as your friend – one who is honest, caring but critical when needed. But like any good friend, they do require attention and it is a two-way street where both parties have a role to play in making it a success.

Victoria Clapham is the managing director of Bevic Marketing Services. You can find her on Twitter @BevicMSL

Please note, this content is not produced by the IoD and therefore does not necessarily represent the views or thoughts of the organisation.

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