Customer research is never complete.
Whether you think you know your customers well or not, you can never tick customer research off your to-do list.
Customer’s expectations, needs and habits are always adapting. Needless to say, you can’t get too comfortable in your brand-buyer relationship.
There’s always change on the horizon.
Luckily, there’s no need to be afraid of customer research or the constant attention that it demands. Customer research often happens naturally. Plus, it’s a tiny part of a wider market research practice that isn’t as complicated as it sounds.
What Is Customer Research?
Customer research is the practice of collecting data about your target audience.
This form of research is formal and informal. As a company, you will inevitably build a database of customer information, giving you insight into your core demographic and buyer’s journey. Yet brands can also intentionally find information about their customers.
As a result, companies become better equipped to attract and satisfy their target market.
In marketing terms, customer research enables you to effectively address objections, confidently attract target customers and successfully convert visitors.
In recent years, customer research has become even more important. Where competitor research might have once dominated, customer research now reigns. Brands are now customer-centric, meaning our buyers usually call the shots.
What Comes First — Customer or Product?
As with the old-age saying — what came first, the chicken or the egg? — customer research begs the question: what comes first, the customer or the product?
In other words, which do we decide first: what to sell or who to sell to?
As with the perplexing question about poultry, there is no definitive answer.
Most businesses will start with a product in mind that’s usually the answer to a problem. However, to notice the problem, an entrepreneur must be aware of the customer who wishes for something new.
The same is true in marketing, where we can be researching for product development or customer engagement purposes.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. It’s the process of binding both buyer and product together to form the perfect fit.
Customer research helps us to achieve this.
After all, the more we know about a target audience, the more likely we are to create marketing materials that speak directly to them.
How to Do Secondary Customer Research
There are two types of research — the most common being secondary research.
Secondary research is the practice of looking at existing resources to make new conclusions.
You can find resources online, in libraries and internal documents. In fact, there could be a whole heap of data lying around your office that you and your team are currently ignoring.
Some of the most common forms of customer research are:
- Monitoring forum websites — Where better to get covert data about customer opinions? Sites like Quora and Reddit are packed with customer discussions and accounts. If you dig deep enough, you might even find reviews of your own service and product that could reveal some eye-opening — and potentially shameful — information.
- Conducting keyword research — We all know customers these days are used to doing their research online. So, it makes sense to start at search engines to get into a customer’s psyche. Keyword research allows marketers to discover the most common search terms. In turn, we have a better idea of what advice to give.
- Reviewing blog and social comments — You don’t have to look too far to get customer answers. Some customers are vocal about telling you exactly what they want. Social users and blog readers will give you a snapshot of what your audience thinks by leaving a comment. Well, at least your most extroverted audience members.
- Accessing trusted sources — There’s no shame in piggy-backing on the data others have already compiled — so long as you reference reliable data that comes from government-type sites such as the Office for National Statistics (ONS). These large-scale studies available online can prove a useful resource for those without a big research budget.
- Installing Hotjar — In secondary research, you want to optimise the data you already have. Technology can help you to do this. Applications like Hotjar can work in the background of your site to provide real-time analysis of how visitors navigate your site.
- Analysing competitor reviews — Sometimes, customer research and competitor research overlap, as in the case of reading competitor reviews. Part of customer research is analysing how the same customer segment interacts with your direct competitors, as well as with you. Is your target audience frustrated with a competitor? Could this frustration act as an opportunity for you? What is your competitor doing better? And how can you improve upon this?
How to Do Primary Customer Research
The second form of research is primary research.
Primary research is independent research where you don’t rely on any existing information to get results.
Instead, you put together a study or an activity that will generate data.
Although primary data arguably takes more time and effort, the results are worth it. You’ll be left with unique data that gives you a competitive advantage and can even earn you some press opportunities if you decide to make it public.
Here are some ways to conduct primary research:
- User Testing — Whether online or in-person, getting a group of preliminary users to review your offering is the simplest way to get direct feedback. As a result, you can angle your product’s promotion, adjust the price tag and make minor improvements before release. You can use applications like Ping Pong to recruit online testers. If you’re looking to receive in-person support, you should pull together a panel of people to give verbal advice.
- Focus Groups — This is the act of getting a bunch of your customers together — usually via an incentive — and having them chat about your brand. The key to focus groups is the focus, duh. You’ll want to act as a mediator asking open-ended questions about the focus of the session. You shouldn’t be swaying the conversation or influencing opinions. But it is your job to direct the conversation to where it’s most productive. You might create a focus group to analyse your website usability, your customer service or even the launch of a new product. The value here derives from the discussion itself and the ability to see how different customers interact and influence each other.
- Observation — This is the simplest form of primary research. But it can easily go wrong. You’ll need to be wary of any personal biases and the ethics of covert research. With that said, observation can provide some of the most insightful information as people are unaware of their participation and are more likely to be whole-heartedly honest.
- Split Testing — This method, also known as A/B testing, is popular amongst marketers. The idea here is to directly challenge two concepts — whether that be a logo, a page format or an advertisement. Some customers will see test A, while some will be exposed to test B. The results provide a direct comparison of how each concept works in practice. This primary research solves any squabbles and helps any indecisive folk out there.
- Public Surveys — Conducting customer surveys is an oldie but a goodie. You can use online platforms such as YouGov or Google Surveys to reach a representative group. In this way, you can generalise your results. You can also collect data the old-fashioned way through a form or oral interview.
How to Do Effective Customer Research
Despite knowing what customer research is, plenty of marketers still get it wrong.
For any type of research to be effective, there are certain rules to follow. In customer research, the following guidelines apply:
- Data Accuracy — Whether you’re collecting or reviewing existing data, you’ll need to make sure the data is accurate. Does it come from a trustworthy resource? Is it representative of your audience? Is the study ethical?
- Personal Bias — Research should remove personal bias, yet in some forms of research, prejudice can prevail. Make sure that if you’re asking questions, they’re written fairly and aren’t overly suggestive. If you’re conducting an observation, you should try to be as impartial as possible.
- Buyer Personas — The result of your research is important, so use it. In customer research, we often form buyer personas that take the most common elements of our target audience to create an ideal customer profile. This profile could include demographic features like age and gender, as well as characteristics such as behaviours, values and job roles.
- Analysis and Awareness — Messy data without any context is useless. Gathering your data is only the first step. After performing customer research, you should analyse the results, present them in a way that’s easy to understand and make your team aware of your findings.
Ultimately, you want your research to be ethical, accurate and insightful.
Successful research should allow you to fix a problem and take action.
A good test is to ask yourself whether you feel confident with other people referencing your research. Would you be willing to reveal your results to the public? Could you comfortably answer any questions raised by your boss? Does this data make sense to everybody? Is your entire team drawing the same conclusions?
If the above questions don’t panic you, you can be confident you’re on the right track with customer research.
Remember, customer research isn’t a standalone activity. As such, there’s always room for improvement each time you undertake new research.
Some forms of research, like observation and plucking statistics from sources, can be done daily.
Other forms of research should be visited every quarter or when you’re thinking of making a big change in your marketing.