How to Do Marketing Research: Basics for Beginners

Research can tell you what is most important to your target audience.

There are things you can personally identify about your target audience, but marketing research can augment your observations with clear, unbiased information.

Even a little research can help you learn something new about your audience. For example, the audience may deeply care about something that you missed, or there may be a surprising reason why people have sought out your service that, if you shared more intentionally, would reach more people.

Using research will help you approach your plan more effectively by providing a fresh look that directly from your audience. Above all, even just a few hours of research can give you a feeling for the patterns of energy, and what your strong points are. It helps clarify a direction that can then be made strong and unified throughout your communications.

It is important to strike a balance between creating content that is appealing to your target audience and also true to your source of inspiration:

  • Balance objective research with your vibration
  • Guide your service by creativity, intuition, and inspiration

Keep these words from Swami Kriyananda in mind as you continue reading about marketing research: “Those who are best at what they do rely on their own inner strength and discrimination.”

Right language and keywords

Carefully chosen language makes your information relatable and enhances your connections with people. Language is the bridge that connects you with your audience. Thus, if your language isn’t right, your efforts to build relationships may go wrong. For example, the use of a word or phrase called jargon. Jargon is language used regularly within a group that isn’t readily understood by people outside of the group. Often, jargon eludes people as to what your message is, and deters those who would otherwise benefit from what you have to give.

Thus, it is your responsibility to ask people who are outside of your normal group perspective about how they might describe what it is you do, how they have found you, and what they would like to learn about. It will not benefit you to go full-steam ahead without looking back to check that you are creating a following as you do. Ask others what they need and how they would describe it so that they can be touched and inspired when they see your marketing messages for the first time.

One way to identify the right language and prevent misunderstandings is to test language in a search engine tool. Identify the right keywords or keyword phrases that your audience types into a search engine to find information online. To reach others and share in the most effective way, it is important to see how the language on your website relates to the language your audience would use in their search. You can then update the language in your communications, and design content like blog titles or social media hashtags that reflect what keywords you have found.

PRACTICE EXERCISE:

In a search engine, type subjects or questions your target audience might ask. Focus on writing common phrases worded differently than you would expect.

To identify what keywords to plug into the search engine, think about how your audience might refer to different topics. Try typing a few variations into a keyword search tool (such as Google AdWords) and look at the results. It’s a great way to get started thinking outside your normal frame of reference.

Get a feel for what the audience is asking, and how they’re asking it. Take notes as you practice the following:

  • What keywords are being used? Which keywords match the ones you use?
  • How well have you related to others?
  • Do you see how different words and phrases affect the type of websites that come up in the search? If you open some of these pages, you will see that each has its own vibration. Be sure the phrases you use relate to the right audience. It is better for everyone when searchers and searchees are rightly matched.

Types of Marketing Research

Think of marketing research as taking the opportunity to ask your audience directly about how you can be of help.

Marketing research typically takes three forms: surveys, focus groups, and interviews. The main benefit of using these research methods is that they provide a much needed—and sometimes overlooked—person-to-person perspective, which helps validate what online data (such as Google Analytics, explained below) is showing. Remember, online data only captures what is true for your current following, not the audience that you are yet seeking. Another thing that online data cannot do is tell you how to improve your site navigation or content.

A side-benefit of marketing research is that it allows you to share your services, vision, and core values, while also giving others the opportunity to provide feedback. In this way, a circle of giving and receiving is created, which allows your audience to feel how much you care about their thoughts and feelings. When the audience is heard, they are more likely to feel that they are co-creating with you, which allows them to identify more intimately with your vision. As a result, the likelihood that they will share is much greater.

Key Informant Interviews:

A key informant is a representative of your audience who has deep insight and helpful information to share regarding the subject or services you will are marketing. The interview is a way to open conversation to bring about new insights and possibilities.

To find people to interview, think of individuals have qualities akin to your target audience. It may even be someone who already supports your endeavor, in which case your interview would be a time to delve into why they support it. Based on the framework you have created thus far, you may already have an idea of what your audience is inspired by. If so, take the time to ask others how they feel about the current concept, and whether or not it accurately aligns with their experience.

It is helpful to record and transcribe your interview into a written document. Doing so, you can then decipher themes and common messages that appear. With those findings, you can establish a specific direction you want to take, and then create a survey to further clarify.

Surveys:

A survey is a list of marketing questions used to test the effectiveness of your messaging. Use the results from your interview to define what you want to gain from conducting a survey. Of the three basic methods of marketing research, surveys take the most time and effort. Gather an effective sample size of surveys to evaluate relative to the number of people you asked versus those who took the time to actually respond and analyze the results. Think about what things you would like to have feedback when creating the survey. You can even use the survey to test the rough draft of your slogan, graphic imagery, or communication messages.

Surveys are most reliable when one asks a large number of people a series of questions. The answers can then be gathered into a majority vote. For example, test a slogan or message by asking others to rate it on a scale of 1-5, and see how strong any given message was by seeing which one had the most 4’s and 5’s.

Questions about demographics (age, location, place of work) can also be the subject of a survey. Demographic related questions can determine similarities in the audience and indicate common deficiencies. You might even ask people how they heard about your organization. For example, did they hear by word-of-mouth, search engine, or social media? A few more ideas for survey subjects include surveys to determine where people go to get the information they trust, or what motivates them to act on what your offering.

The strength of a survey is that it is more reliable and statistically valid than a focus group (explained below), and it is useful for obtaining precise answers and ranking. You may find that more than one message is strong, for example, or that one message is stronger for only a certain demographic. Answers like such as these help you to fine-tune your marketing plan.

The trouble with surveys is that getting responses can be difficult. Fortunately, if there is a group of people who already feel like you are sincerely trying to help them, and who care about your success, they can be of great help. However, if you are starting from the bare beginnings, you may have to run a Facebook ad that offers an incentive for them to complete it. The incentive could be monetary, or it could be an interesting PDF booklet that relates to your endeavor.

Another way to improve the likelihood that others will complete the survey is to keep it short and easy to read. If you are using an online survey, you can give even more ease to the process by adding buttons and clear directions. (People like buttons because they are reminiscent of online games!)

Finally, it is important when using surveys to always have someone who has not seen it prior test it. The pre-test can tell you what is unclear so that questions and answer options can be refined.

Focus Groups:

Focus groups are made up of individuals that, together, represent a range of demographics that fit into your target audience. By focusing on an aspect of your service, they can help you find out how to better reach and serve them and others like them.

Focus groups provide less quantifiable data than do surveys because of their small sample size and group dynamics (specifically, the difficulty of having all demographics equally represented in conversation, and the likelihood of going off topic). Because of this, most researchers recommend that you stick to surveys and interviews for accuracy and resourcefulness.

All of the results gained from marketing research can be applied to have successful marketing. Use your findings to fill in any gaps, and to bring clarity to your marketing plan. Your results can also be used to create or revise content for a more effective marketing campaign.

PRACTICE EXERCISE:

Meet with your first interviewee to discuss the most inspiring and helpful aspects of your organization or service.

Here are some tips for your first interview:

  • Be relaxed. Remain natural and friendly.
  • Stay focused during the conversation by giving it a set amount of time.
  • Begin by letting the person know the purpose relative to how it might personally help, or what you feel will be most meaningful to his or her life.
  • Remain neutral and receptive. Be careful not to affect responses by reinforcing the answers you want, and discouraging the ones you don’t want. Help the person feel comfortable ahead of time by sharing that you will simply be asking questions and taking notes.
  • Offer the interviewee freedom to answer honestly and directly. The person should know that his or her experience, no matter what, is valid and helpful and that the more, the better—even if it means taking longer than the allotted time. It might be at the very end of a conversation that you get the spark of information you have long awaited!
  • Record the interview so that you can take notes and review key points.
  • Consolidate all of your notes and look for patterns. Patterns can show you the keywords or messages that are most meaningful to others. Start by underlining powerful phrases or key points that appear in interviews, then place them on a separate document and categorize the responses, tallying up when others give the same response or key point is repeated in more than one interview.
  • Here are some examples of open-ended interview questions or potential survey questions. Remember to ask what the interviewee thinks in addition to how he or she feels regarding different aspects of your content, slogan, name, story, core values, etc.

Sample questions:

  • What is it about our vision that inspires you?
  • How does our vision relate to the vision you have for your own life and journey? (This may prove the most important question you ask! Why? Because from this answer, you can design an entire marketing plan for success!)
  • What brought you to your first experience with [your brand or service]?
  • What were you searching for when you found us?
  • What were you going through at the time of your search? What made you decide to reach out?
  • What do you feel is (or will be) most helpful about what we have to offer? Do you feel you know who we are and what we have to share with you?

The information from your key informant interview can give definition to the surveys that follow.

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