Special Feature

Build a Solid Foundation for Your Marketing with Affordable Research

By Jeannette McMurtry, MBA

June 4, 2007 -- One of the biggest mistakes small businesses make with their marketing efforts is to base their marketing messages on "educated assumptions."  Too often, we think our customers think just like we do; or purchase our products for the same reasons we would. Without actual feedback from customers, marketing becomes a game of roulette rather than an effective, revenue-building operation.

To boost your chances of creating and launching a marketing program that gets the kind of results you're dreaming of, you need to lay a solid foundation of facts. You need to know what messages, promises, and even graphic presentations are most likely to get your consumers to buy your product. Knowing what will motivate action is more important than knowing what they think about your particular ad campaign. Yet often, according to market research experts, David Minter and Michael Reid, businesses focus on the latter before the former, and thus waste some good opportunities to actually generate revenue from marketing versus just warm fuzzies from customers. This misguided focus, says Minter, is why so many marketing executives fail, and likely why the average tenure of a chief marketing officer is now down to about 18 months.

Getting good insight into what your customers' think and what they want and expect from you doesn't have to be laborious or a budget-breaking endeavor.

While market research may seem like an ominous task for small to mid-sized businesses, it doesn't have to be. Getting good insight into what your customers' think, what they want and expect from you, and what kinds of marketing messages are going to move them to action doesn't have to be laborious or a budget-breaking endeavor.

"If you want your marketing investment to pay off, you have to have the magic words," says Reid. "And you have to listen instead of talk. Listening to customers and then letting them respond to their own feedback is a solid method for getting inside the mind of your customer and learning what is likely to get them to do what you want them to do."

In their book, Lightning in a Bottle – The Proven System to Create New Ideas and Products That Work," Reid and Minter outline a simple yet effective approach to getting to the truth regarding consumers' shopping behavior. Following is a brief summary of some of the steps they recommend for businesses of all sizes:

  • Arm yourself with knowledge. Learn everything you can about the target consumer and the product you are selling them. Study the competition's offers and positioning efforts, as well as your past offers and positioning strategies to get an idea of what has worked in the past for your business category.
  • Based upon your knowledge of your target customers, develop some working theories for what might motivate purchase, e.g., what emotional  levers are likely to trigger action, what needs, desires, and so on. Create positioning statements or sales propositions that you can present to your customers for review.

    Listening to customers and then letting them respond to their own feedback is a solid method for getting inside the mind of your customer.
  • Present your new sales theories or positioning statements to your customers one at a time. Individual customer interviews produce the most accurate feedback, and avoid the trap of "group think," something that can easily occur in group settings or focus groups. Another reason this is the best approach, says Minter, is "because people buy on their own and not under the influence of others in most cases. We often get different answers and more consistency with individual interviews than we do in group settings."
  • Listen for new input. Too often we present ideas in a way that encourages others to tell us what we want to hear. This approach to listening to consumers doesn't get you any closer to successful marketing campaigns. If you truly listen objectively, you might learn that all of the ideas you are testing are wrong. And you will likely get some precise ideas as to what works when you let the customer tell you what the positioning statement should be. Listening needs to help you discover the reaction to your concepts, and gain ideas for new ones you might have missed
  • Determine the Impact on Revenue: Ask customers the golden question. "Are you going to buy this product based upon these promises and what are you willing to pay for it?" According to Minter and Reid, that is the nugget of truth that all market research must be designed to discover.

"This system of individual interviewing allows you to survey far less people and get accurate data," says Reid. "If you do 25 interviews and everyone says the same thing, the error range is quite small. If you do 400 surveys and 50% say one thing and the other 50% says another, the error range is typically the same. If you use this method, you'll find that most people are saying the same thing."

For Minter and Reid, this system has helped them develop market breakthroughs for Blockbuster Video, health care products, and trade associations such as the National Bison Association. Its also helps marketers perform much more efficiently for their companies.

Ask customers the golden question. "Are you going to buy this product based upon these promises and what are you willing to pay for it?"

"Marketing in general doesn't have the best reputation in organizations because it doesn't have a set of rules or processes like other departments such as accounting and human resources," says Minter. "If marketing is responsible for revenue, job security depends on having good methods to help you understand what is going to motivate or inspire consumers to behave in the desired manner."

Regardless of what size your business is, or what you do, market research needs to be a part of your marketing plan, whether you do it yourself or enlist the support of experienced marketing professional. The goal is to get a solid understanding of what is going to drive sales in terms of product design, offerings, and marketing campaigns. Without a clear, accurate knowledge of what will drive sales, you will diminish your chances of achieving a high marketing ROI for your business.


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