When asked, “tell me what you do”, I typically respond with…“I am a focused and passionate marketer who believes that knowing the customer is key in developing strategies and communications. And, I use market intelligence and customer insights to drive those strategies to ensure client success and growth. And, while I consider myself brand strategist, I am hands on in the execution of those strategies. I immerse myself in the business – market dynamics, competition, customers’ needs/wants/pain points and challenges in order to provide solid recommendations, as I believe in not only integrated tactics, but integrated thinking as well.”
However, I have in the past been described by others as the “research guy.” Not a bad way to be thought of, but inaccurate. How did I get there? Mostly by taking a strategic asset or arrow in my quiver and using it as a point of differentiation in conversations with peers and prospects. And, because I believe that taking the time to gather market and customer intelligence to drive strategies is essential prior to any strategy work.
In essence, my focus is insights, branding and planning to help my clients create successful, enduring and growth-oriented companies.
What role does research play in defining a brand?
When I say brand, it could be your product, your service, or your corporation for example. It really depends on your company’s brand architecture. Understanding the role research can play requires an understanding of how different methodologies and advanced analytics can be applied to a variety of insights for use in developing brand strategies. Whether it’s determining the best combination of feature that your customers are most interested in, understanding competitive strengths and weaknesses, product positioning, opportunity markets for expansion, new product development or any number of strategic business issues and challenges, to help grow your brand.
When first thinking about implementing a research project, take into account…who, what, where, when, how and why. Who is your target participant? What information do you want to gather and how will it be used? Is it awareness of your product or service for example? Which is the best campaign to launch via a copy testing study? How are we going to implement the study? Where is the best place to engage with potential participants? Why do you want to collect this information? And, when is the best time to conduct the research? These are all questions that you need to think about when you're planning to invest the time and money in research. After all, you want to realize an ROI on your investment!
To start you thinking, below are five key research questions that can help define company growth.
1. Why do your best clients choose your product or your company? I asked this of two senior executives at a digital advertising agency at lunch one day and their answer was because “we get it done.” I said, "I'm sorry, what? That's your answer why your clients hire you, ‘you get it done?’" The guy picking up our lunch trays gets it done. In fact, most likely their competitors get it done too. In my opinion, there was no real point of differentiation in their answer. Think about it. Why did your best customers hire you? What’s the reason? Is it about the product? Is it about the service? Technology? Your people? Is it about the combination of all of the above? These are questions you need to have an answer to and if you don’t, a customer study might be in order to find out why so you can use these strengths to help differentiate your company and attract like-minded prospects.
2. Who are your real competitors? Now I've heard it before and I'm sure you have too, maybe even said it yourself, "We don't have competitors." I always say BS to that and you’re just fooling yourself if you believe it. Every company has a competitor. Are they direct or indirect within your current markets? Just because they don’t offer the same feature set or price point or distribution strategy as you for example, doesn’t mean they’re not a competitor. And, if you can’t answer the first question, you might not know the answer to this one either.
3. How do your potential clients see their greatest challenge? Understanding your customer's needs, wants and pain points is essential to creating solutions to address their challenges essential to their growth and yours. Research is the best way to gather this information to help you acquire new clients and retain the ones you have. Since in theory, you already have a good relationship with your customers, this should be a simple and easy task. For example, one-on-one interviews not only gives you a chance to gather the information you’re seeking, but also an opportunity to spend time with your client showing how much you value them.
4. What's the best way to market to your primary target audiences? Let me ask this question first, have you developed buyer personas for your target audiences? If not, then this is the place to start. My mantra has always been, “know the customer,” because without truly understanding their motivations and behaviors, building long-term loyalty becomes an extremely difficult proposition.
For example, if you're targeting an IT manager--and they're initiating the project, doing the evaluation, and making the purchase decision, then that target audience is easy to define. However, if the CTO is involved and their the one that initiated the project, but the IT manager is evaluating and is also the end user, but the CFO is the one writing the check, then we have three different buyer personas that we have to worry creating in order to know how to communicate with the various stakeholders during the sales journey.
Everybody is talking about the customer decision journey and sales funnels. Seems like you've always have to have a funnel these days. But what’s key is understanding at what point in time during the funnel are they consuming information and what kind of information? In a recent survey, 74% of business buyers told Forrester they conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase. This buyer dynamic changes the role of B2B marketing. And, it’s even higher percent for B2C. Therefore, if you're not communicating with your target audiences on a consistent basis and giving them the right content at the right time, you're not going to even be on the consideration list. Again, this is an area where research can play an important role in gaining the knowledge to help focus your marketing and content strategies for maximum impact.
5. What's the real benefit that your brand provides? How strong is your brand in the market? I mean, a lot of times we fall in love with our own products and services and then wonder why we're not getting the sales that we expected. So, again, if you don't know, this is another good place where research can come into play. What’s important here is making sure you define your brand and not let the market define it for you.
Bottom line: Research isn’t as costly as you might think. That’s usually the biggest stumbling block that I hear – “I can’t afford it” – before we even have a conversation. “Oh, it’s just going to be too expensive.” Or, the other question I hear is “what do I do with these new insights? How do I apply them and turn them into actions?” This is where a good CMO comes into play. Regardless of these questions, the question I suggest you ask yourself is, “can I afford not to conduct research?”
Take the time to be more strategic. Don’t be in a hurry to get the campaign completed or other tactics implemented. Instead of worrying about the cost of research, think about the wasted money if your strategy is off or your messaging is not addressing the needs of your customers. Or, you’re rolling out a new product that the market is not interested in.
Take it from a guy who’s been on both sides of the client-side and agency fence. An investment in insights goes a long way in your strategic approach to your brand and plans.
Want to explore how research can help defining your brand and marketing opportunities for business growth? I can help. Call me today at 949-858-9095, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or book at appointment directly from my website.