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.

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.

When

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.

Agile Market Research

Software

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.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agile_software_development

Marketing

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.

TTFN

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