Market Research

All marketing starts with understanding your customers.  The best known avenue for this is market research.  However, it fits into a broader category of Marketing Information Systems (MIS).

Example MIS Calendar

Marketing Information Systems

1. Internal Data (periodic): review and analyze the results from your sales and marketing activities – including which customers buy what, when, where and how much,  as well as your database and analytic results.

2. Market Intelligence (continuous): set up automatic notifications for your business, competitors, industry trends and events.  This could include blogs, news alerts and articles, and social media conversations.  We recommend having the info either sent to you (e.g. email) or having a central place to check it (e.g. Google Reader) with calendar reminders to check it.

3. Market Research (point in time): collect and interpret both primary (e.g. interviews and surveys with your customers) and secondary (e.g. stats from the government or an industry association) information on your business, competitors and industry.

If you’re looking for more reading right now, here is one of my favorite white papers on market research specifically: How to Design an Effective Voice of the Customer (VoC) Insights Program.

Content Marketing: an analogy

There are many articles, blogs and more about content marketing. However, I find thinking of it in terms of an analogy helps in remembering all the moving parts.  If you have your own analogy, please share it in the comments below.

Your content marketing plan should work like a carousel.


There are 6 parts to the analogy: who, what , when, where, why and how. First, imagine the carousel in all its shiny, summer day glory and go through the experience mentally.  You’ve seen the carousel from afar and are drawn to it like a zombie for all the fun that its lights and colours promise (its branding).  You blindly outstretch your palm holding a crumpled ticket and pay the carny (you are the audience, or customer).  You walk up some stairs to reach the platform that the magical ride sits on (media is how you got there).  There is the plastic horse or unicorn or donkey to choose from (what you came for: the content).   Then it starts spinning and bouncing and jostling you about for hopefully longer than you waited in line (timing is everything).”

Now let’s transfer this carousel into a content marketing analogy: who, what , when, where, why and how.  In an order that suits the above story, here they are.

1. Who= audience (you paying the moola to take that 3.5 minute ride)

2. Where = media (the stairs that you climb to get to the ride)

3. What = content / copy / words (the unicorn you are riding)

4. When = editorial calendar (the ride is there on a Saturday afternoon in the summer because that’s what the audience wants)

5. Why = your marketing objectives and business strategies (the dome and foundation keeping the structure together)

6. How = execution of the content (tone and branding of the carousel)

Who and Where

The last step here is to put your new analogy to work for you. Imagine your content marketing plan for next year (or quarter, or month, or week). You’ll want to look at who you are targeting, i.e. what types of customers.  Where do they go, i.e. what media does your target market see and hear. For example, an international industry specific magazine article, an e-newsletter, a Facebook event, or a local radio station ad focused to their age group and gender.

What (Content)

Next, figure out what they care about. Notice that I did not say guess what they care about. Take your time here; it’s important. Do some research and digging into their values, likes, hobbies, needs, etc.  Remember that not all your content needs to be 100% focused on you and your product and your industry.  Think about the content you consume like the food you consume.  Yes, you need the bran and leafy greens but every once in a while a whipped cream-dipped strawberry and hot chocolate get the job done nicely.


Now that you know who you are targeting, where, and what you’ll be saying, take the 5 minutes to sketch out an editorial calendar so that you can commit to when you’ll be executing this content.

Note about editorial calenders

I personally put mine into my Google Calendar and set an automatic emailed reminder.  This also can be automated to repeat in daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly increments. For example, set a calendar event for “every second Tuesday of the month update Twitter with the best recipes for single moms (then follow up with metrics and conversations)” or “every 28th of the month reach out to a customer via the e-newsletter to get case study feedback (then add their contact info and results into the yearly folder)”.  

You can see that these content marketing editorial calendar events follow the “SMART goal” acronym: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.  A not-so-SMART goal would be “get lots of Facebook followers”. 

Why and How

I’m assuming in this blog post that you already have brand guidelines and your content marketing comes after deciding on the business and sales / marketing goals. If not, stop what you’re doing and write down the raison d’etre for your business. Please do this.  It will keep your strategies focused, and your team motivated.  Don’t use the permanent marker and write it on your kitchen table because it, like many aspects of your business, is a living breathing moving adjusting shifting and adapting plan.  Marketing is affected by sales, operations, customer perception, outside influences like politics, trends and social norms and much more. Be flexible. And make yourself a calendar reminder to, next month, come back and review your goals as well as your content carousel.

Am I ready to hire a sales person?

In our peer mentoring group this morning there was a question from a fellow entrepreneur, “How do I hire a sales person?” and my response was, “Are you READY to hire a sales person?”.

I recommend one of two options if you’re in a similar situation.

(Option A) Hire a professional sales person who will define and improve your sales funnel processes for you.  >> This is for the entrepreneur who hasn’t necessarily been diligent about tracking and documenting his or her sales model to date.

— In Option A, you have the benefit of leaving the new team member with a great deal of responsibility, and they will have the skills and experience to adapt their personal sales style to the needs of your clients.  However, it might come at a high cost.  And as an entrepreneur I’m guessing that you can’t afford that right now.  In comes Option B, which requires more work for you but less financial resources to accomplish (hopefully) the same goal.

(Option B) Hire someone you can mold.  >> This is for the entrepreneur who has a good idea of the current process and what needs improving, and who also knows what type of personality would be ideal for the sales role.

— In Option B, the upfront cost (e.g. wage or salary) is less than Option A, but it requires more work from you.  In this option, you also need a good grasp on what makes your sales tick along.  Here are some key questions you should be able to answer: Who is your target market – are you selling to an old boys club, individual stay-at-home moms, or businesses in a crisis, for example?  Who is the decision maker you need to get in front of – are you advertising to online laggards, are you marketing to businesses in the real estate industry, do you need to get a meeting with a non-profit president, for example? What skills does someone need to be able to sell your product/service – do they need an adaptability in their personality like being frank when dealing with a bottom-line driven manager or being delicate when someone’s job is on the line, or do they just need an outgoing personality with thick skin for those cold calling days, for example?

My last point regarding Option B refers back to when I said “the upfront cost is less”. Keep in mind (HR 101, people!) that different employees will be motivated differently and I recommend asking them just what they want.  Most employers assume that it’s MORE MONEY… but when asked to rank the influences on their job, more often than not it’s factors such as flexibility, autonomy, options for advancement, organizational culture, and environment.  Just ask them – you might be surprised!  If they are motivated by money, give them commission and slap those golden handcuffs on the employee that you’ve taken the time to train, mold, and grow.


Happy selling!


Agile Market Research


Agile development is a growing philosophy, and rightly so.  It offers a clean and simple framework to work independently and within the software team to deliver on a budget and timeline.  Below is a Wikipedia definition for those not familiar with it:

“Agile software development is a group of software development methods based on iterative and incremental development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizingcross-functional teams. It promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development and delivery, a time-boxed iterative approach, and encourages rapid and flexible response to change. It is a conceptual framework that promotes foreseen interactions throughout the development cycle.”


The market research process can also be an iterative and incremental process.  There are milestones where the process seams to stop in the audience’s eyes – for example, when a survey goes out and the respondents only see that one version of what were potentially many iterations.  These milestones are where the company is measured and certainly where a marketer measures much of his or her success.  If the survey was done right way, at the right time and to the right people, it can yield actionable and impactful results to better the brand’s sales.

Here are some first steps to get you on your way to “Agile Market Research”:

  1. Development – Initiate the project by defining goals.
  2. Modeling – Research and follow companies with high market research success.
  3. Methodologies – Define which methods/mediums will work for the target market.
  4. Systems – Create the systems to support these methods (e.g. Hootsuite for Facebook or Twitter, or MailChimp for an e-newsletter blast).
  5. Create – Put the first draft in writing.  This will change many times so don’t put too much pressure on yourself for the perfect wording, number of questions etc.
  6. Feature-driven – By embedding the features which you want to research into your goals, you’ve committed to improve them with the market research feedback.
  7. Open source – Share your first draft with colleagues and people outside of your industry (someone impartial rather than someone like your mother will give more realistic feedback – but I guess that depends on your mother!).
  8. Pragmatism – After your first field test of the market research, bring what you’ve practiced back to the theories of agile development to iterate the next better version of your questions in order to yield even more actionable results; you can always improve.
  9. Unified – The marketing department is not an island.  Make sure these results tie in with the results of the company and of the other departments’ individual goals for the most shareholder buy-in.
  10. Scrum – Share the status of the market research with the decision-makers, and identify any potential issues or places for confusion.

Congrats for taking the first step and getting a framework to work within.  Print this page and start today with a few sticky notes of action items for you to do this week.  Baby steps.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Is It Advertising or Content that’s Driving Customer Engagement?

Customers look (consciously or sub-consciously) for validation of company success before trusting them enough to click or try.  This was traditionally bought through advertising.  Remember the old saying that to make money you have to spend money?  Applies here.

However, in an age of scams, online fraud, brutal customer service, and cheap advertising, how can you or I trust a new company just because they have an ad?  We don’t simply look for proof of their big ad spends like we did back in the day: “I’ve seen their bus ads, heard their radio spots, and seen that flashy TV commercial; they must be successful to have that kinda dough!”

These days, if you see an ad then look up the company online just to see an archaic website, zero conversations nor points of expertise (blogs, articles, interviews, etc) then I’d ask myself, “Are they real – and what are they trying to hide?”

The credentials in this day and age have moved from awareness to content & conversation.

I’m not against advertising.  After all, Balance Marketing covers all your bases.  I’m just saying that you need to put your money where your mouth is – literally!  Invest in content marketing: words and thoughts from your perspective.  This means having something to talk about.  If you have a new product, mobile app, improved feature, funny executive interview, customer photos, or just insight, post it and post it now – before your competitor beats you to it.

This doesn’t have to be a huge company overhaul, new business plan, and hit to your budget – just get a part-time writer or social media junky to speak your language or teach your team the culture online.  Here are some easy steps to get you started today:

  • write out who your customers are (and please don’t tell me that you want to reach ‘everyone’ online – improbable unless you’re Google)
  • use industry-specific tricks and tips (e.g. if your customers ‘shop’ for your product/service: How Social Commerce Works: The Social Psychology of Social Shopping)
  • decide on the mediums you need to use, based on who your customers are, and yes these involve Facebook, Pinterest, Yelp, Flickr, and more
  • put together a publishing schedule by setting out some time to consistently have an online presence – can be as simple as this: Monday post a picture on Facebook, Tuesday Tweet about some upcoming industry events relative to my customers, Wednesday do some research for a blog about trends in our market/county/city…

By ‘consistently have an online presence’ I mean be there, for real, in person.  I once heard  (and will paraphrase here with apologies to the original author) that having a Twitter account and not using it is like dropping off a cardboard cutting of yourself at a party, leaving, then saying ‘I’m at the party!”

Have a drink, make small talk, chat about what you’re up to and BE AT THE PARTY!

If your customers see you advertised, then see that you’re real and contributing to the conversation, they’ll eventually become a powerful ally.  Putting your money where your moth is will drive true customer engagement.


The Hidden Job Market – Now Not-So-Hidden on Facebook?

I recently got 3 friends and acquaintances some interviews just by sending them leads from Facebook.  Easily done.

3 easy steps to the not-so-hidden “Hidden Job Market” through using Facebook:

  1. I use my own networks to see which stores, organizations, and pages my friends ‘like’ and if I admire the company I follow them, too.
  2. I then search out other Facebook pages that come to mind each day, and ‘like’ those.
  3. Next thing you know I’m seeing a post from a little boutique or agency each week saying something like “Hey friends, we’re looking for someone awesome to join the crew…” and I share away!

These little favours will help your reputation of being knowledgeable and connected – because you are (!) – and also have teensy weensy favours out there in the universe for your future Karma.

So don’t be weary of the hidden job market – be excited that you’re one of the very few who are actually tapping into it.  Also understand that it’s quicker and cheaper for employers so by the time it hits the job listings online or on their internal site, they’ve probably already asked everyone they know to keep an eye out and have slightly higher expectations now.  So if you hit that hidden job market and get a lead or interview, the interview process might well be quicker and more informal than if you’d applied for it through a ‘traditional’ source.

Ta ta for now, job hunters!

The Power of Not Being At Your Desk

I have worked in some offices that take the mentality of the following: Face In Front of Computer = Employee is Working, and Face Not In Front of Computer = Employee is Not Working.  I find it archaic, and a little sad that in an age of balance, rising workplace autonomy and millennials that this culture is still common.

Being a marketing professional myself, I find it especially difficult to convince fellow co-workers otherwise.  I hate having to explain that just because I went for coffee with a former colleague, went to the gym for 30 minutes, or Tweeted doesn’t mean I’m not working.

When meeting with a former colleague, for example, I always start out with a question like “What are you up to lately?” proceeded by conversations about business and trends in different industries like technology, advertising, design and more.  How incredibly valuable!  I then bring these ideas and projects that he or she is working on back into my work and brainstorm how it could pertain to my industry.  If you haven’t done this process, try it this week – it will open your eyes, believe me.  If you need some inspiration but don’t have the contacts to meet this week, check out the book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired By Nature by Janine M Benyus.  And oldie, but a goodie for sure.  It will give you some ideas of how people have looked at their surroundings, which at first glace have nothing to do with their direct work goals, then look deeper and differently at the surroundings to see possible applications or symbioses.

Let us not forgot that there are countless studies and books about exercise connected with productivity.  I would personally rather that all my employees do 30 minutes of yoga or running or squash a day to re-energize than try to force poor work out of them just to ‘be in front of the computer’. Find your stress release, and let it out my friend!  “Once you set the pace, the rest will follow,” from Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk about When I Talk About Running.

Lastly, my Twitter example.  If you’re in social media, and I recently read that 93% of marketers are, then you understand.  If not, I shall paint a picture for you: marketing is about trends – what is popular today might be a fad or a new industry tomorrow, especially online – and you need to know them to jump on them.  And sometimes you need to invent your own trends.  I’ve mostly seen this working with start-ups.  Coin a term, develop a new niche, or explore uncharted markets.  I constantly check social media channels like Twitter for changes in my city, my industry, my interests, my influencers and more – another great place for diversifying your mind and getting inspiration.

So please next time you see someone ‘missing from their desk’ please give them the benefit of the doubt and assume their only doing the best for themselves and their company.


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