Growth is the catalyst for any successful business. And key to scaling your business over time is ensuring your brand remains focused and relevant. Successful brands are those that keep a constant finger on the pulse of their customers. They’re growing and changing too, after all. That’s why customer research is so important.
It’s easy to get complacent, but if you’re not checking in with your customers at regular intervals, you could lose them to a competitor for reasons you never imagined. Ongoing customer research can prevent that from happening.
Attracting new customers is no different. To grow your customer base, it’s important to be constantly identifying the motivations, preferences, needs and buying habits of your target customers.
Once you have a solid understanding of what makes your customer tick, you can begin to hone your marketing and sales tactics as well. Let’s look at why customer research is so important, and review some ways to execute a research strategy that gives you a marketing edge with both current and future customers.
What is Customer Research?
Customer research is the process of better understanding the people your business serves. From interviews and surveys to focus groups and ethnography, customer research methodologies are designed to give you greater insight into customer motivations, behaviors, challenges, and objectives. Customer research is an integral part of a comprehensive brand research initiative.
Customer research is designed to reveal shared traits within groups, enabling you to segment audiences and define buyer personas for more targeted marketing efforts.
Buyer personas are generalized representations of your target customers. These research-based profiles describe who your ideal customers are, the challenges they face, and how they make purchasing decisions. Buyer personas should be shared internally across your business and should be instrumental in developing your marketing plan.
That’s really the key. Customer research helps focus your marketing strategy, so you can reach more of the right customers—saving time and money while increasing sales.
What Methods Should I Use for Customer Research?
Selecting the right methodology is a critical first step in any customer research process. The type of business you have and the kind of insight you need to glean will influence which method is used. Accurate customer research helps you make smart decisions about how to position and market your brand.
Knowledge, as they say, is power. Research gives you the power to influence consumer behavior by knowing how your brand is perceived by those who experience it. Here are some other tried and true customer research methods that yield actionable insights for smarter business decisions.
Customer interviews are the building blocks of qualitative research. Qualitative research is designed to reveal customers’ perceptions, beliefs, and motives through nuanced, in-depth exchanges. Reach out to loyal customers as well as lost customers. (It can be painful, yes, but it’s necessary.)
Work with a branding partner or agency skilled in setting up formal, in-person interviews whenever possible. The fact is, people like being heard—it’s human nature. Interviews let you leverage this fact to collect rich user data. Using this data, you can create hypotheses about your customer base that can be tested with wider-reaching quantitative research.
While interviews make up the foundation of qualitative research, surveys are the backbone of quantitative research. Quantitative research gives you statistical information from a wider range of participants.
Surveys enable you to ask a large sample size the same questions in the same way. The sample should be representative of the demographics of the broader target market so that those insights can be extrapolated across the audience as a whole.
Focus groups are a valuable qualitative research method that allows you to ask nuanced questions to a small group of participants, rather than one-on-one. These group discussions are led by a moderator with selected participants who share common characteristics (like, say, a group of professional women in their 30s).
The lively discussions that result from a well-run focus group elicit valuable insights into the perceptions and behaviors of customers within a peer group.
A methodology borrowed from cultural anthropology, ethnographic research has become a valuable tool for branding and marketing initiatives. Ethnography includes observations of consumer behavior in everyday life—either in work, home, or shopping environment.
By assessing user experience in a “natural” setting, ethnography yields insights into the practical applications of a product or service. It’s one of the best ways to identify areas of friction and improve overall user experience.
Also known as “brand perception surveys,” brand surveys help you understand how your brand is perceived by customers, prospects, and/or internal stakeholders.
The insights that emerge from brand surveys give you a better idea of how your brand is performing within the competitive landscape. Ideally, your brand survey should be designed to glean insight into the four human factors that determine brand affinity:
- Cognition: What ideas do survey respondents associate with your brand?
- Emotion: How do respondents feel about your brand?
- Language: How do respondents talk about your brand? (How would they describe it to others?)
- Action: How do respondents interact with your brand?
Brand surveys give you insight into the strength of your marketing efforts and whether your customers’ experience aligns with your brand narrative.
Customer research gives you a deeper understanding of what drives customer behavior. With that knowledge, you can begin to develop the business and marketing strategies that deliver results, ultimately saving time and money, and, of course, boosting sales.
Remember, customer research shouldn’t be a one-and-done endeavor. It should be part of your ongoing branding and marketing strategy and even incorporated into your product or service development. After all, understanding your customers and what compels them to act makes reaching and connecting with them that much easier.