Thursday, November 20, 2008

Marketing Research for Small Businesses

One of the reasons small businesses have a reluctance to do marketing research is that without proper planning and execution, the client can end of with a bunch of facts that don’t necessarily lead to actionable strategies and tactics. If marketing research isn’t going to give you something you can use, why do it?

For the small business person with the commitment to better understand their customers and prospects, here are some marketing research techniques to help them.

Secondary Data Analysis. This should always be the first step. Take a look at all the information already gathered by someone else. It could prove very useful and just might alleviate the need to fund more expensive primary research.

Experience Surveys.
In this exploratory technique, a person who has considerably more experience in the specific area of interest is interviewed about their area of expertise or previous market experience. A good interviewer can make this search for "best practices” very productive.

Case Studies. Another business may already be doing it better (or worse) and it might make sense to do an in-depth study of their progress. Here you may also be looking for “best practices,” but from a situation rather than a person.

Pilot Studies. This is a broad term that includes focus groups, one-on-one/in-depth interviews, and a variety of projective techniques.

Focus groups.
Probably the best known and most utilized of all techniques. They are most appropriately used to generate new ideas, get initial reactions to concepts or probe attitudes regarding a problem situation. It takes a skilled moderator to make them truly productive.

In-depth interviews with only one respondent at a time. Some issues can be discussed more candidly in a more private atmosphere than in a group setting.
Projective techniques.
These can be helpful in getting a handle on attitudes and motivations when the respondent may not want to be completely honest about their motivations. Asking a prospect why someone else might want to try a particular store, could help in understanding why people choose (or choose not) to shop that store. Or you can provide a brand name or other word to a customer/prospect and ask what words/brands come to mind. Try asking your customer to complete a sentence about the store. Projective techniques, which have become popular in the Account Planning discipline, may seem a bit like psychotherapy but can reveal wonderful nuggets of wisdom for the small business owner willing to listen.

This quantitative technique doesn’t have to cost a fortune and you can do them in Questionnaire or Personal Interview formats. Make sure your questions/directions are clear and unbiased and that you allow adequate response opportunities. This form of research used to be very expensive but nowadays, with Survey Monkey, it is very inexpensive to do.

The most popular marketing experiments are test markets and many small businesses just can’t afford this research technique. The Simulated Test Market variety is also too expensive for most small businesses.

Go get a clipboard and watch how your customers shop. I think you will learn more if you just observe without them knowing what you are doing. You can then do an in-depth interview after you have observed them to question whatever you found interesting in their behavior.And there are other techniques, too.

Before you begin any research project, however, make sure you have a clear idea of exactly what you want to know and what you will do with that information once you get it -- whether you get the answer(s) you were expecting or not. That way, the money you invest in research will help your marketing expenditures yield the return on investment you want.

[This article first appeared in GSA Business. Photo used under the Creative Commons License courtesy of Flickr.]

No comments:

Post a Comment