Business owners, first-time entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders alike can agree that audience research is critical throughout different stages of owning a business or running a nonprofit. It begins before a new business owner opens their doors and is important during big company changes. Or, leaders may find a need for this type of research ahead of a targeted campaign. Most often, organizations conduct audience research to gather two overall categories of information. First, they discover who their audience actually is and what drives them. Second, they gather opinions, sentiment, ideas, decision drivers and more targeted audience demographics when they need data for specific business initiatives.
So, where do you start and how do you obtain all this information? It’s not as difficult as it sounds and can be done using a wide range of methods, and with large to small budgets. Read on to learn more about four research outlets we frequently use here at Obsidian.
Study online platform analytics
Social media, email marketing, website analytics and data from industry-specific websites (think customer portals) all offer broad insights into audience habits. Gauging what people engage with and react to most on social media might inform business owners what customers are most interested in. If that aligns with most visited pages on your website, that connection may tell you to focus additional communication and marketing efforts on that product or service. In contrast, if you pick up on negative data, like an unusually low open rate on a marketing email, it could indicate your chosen topic didn’t resonate with your audience. Utilize digital data to inform your communication and marketing strategy.
Conduct focus groups
Need to find out if your audience understands your brand? A focus group can tell you. Do you want feedback on a potential new service offering? Focus groups will help you decide if it’s worth the effort. Would you like to know how customers felt about a particular experience? Gathering a small group to share details will tell you if your plan for that experience went as it should have. Focus groups can be organized and conducted by a trained professional who understands how to structure questions that garner unbiased feedback. But, if you’re working on a limited budget, there are resources online to guide you through hosting your own. Sites like HubSpot and The National Fund for Workforce Solutions offer blogs and tools with tips and step-by-step guides.
Utilize survey tools
Similar to a focus group, a survey can reveal all kinds of information. While there are some best practices to keep in mind, generally organizations can gain laser-targeted feedback through surveys. Research surveys are most commonly hosted digitally through platforms such as SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, Qualtrics or Typeform. Some organizations may consider mailed surveys or phone calls depending on the audience and information they are seeking. There are benefits to each of these, but things like structure and length should be considered. For example, a lengthier survey will usually garner more response if there is a “reward” for completing it, such as a small gift card or discount on a purchase. And, when conducting phone surveys, remember that most people will want to keep those short.
Hire a research professional
Securing a vendor for research may seem like the most expensive option, but it doesn’t always have to be. If handling the research all on your own seems daunting and you’d rather trust a professional, they will be able to work with you to find the best solution. The type of research and the time it will take them to conduct activities and compile a report will help determine the budget. If it’s too costly, a great research professional will be able to offer an alternative. You may also consider phasing your research in buckets to spread out the cost.
Every business is founded on some type of research, and it’s an essential part of a long-term business journey. Even in the smallest of instances, organizations can gather information through research interactions. Whether you’re launching an online survey or simply asking a customer at checkout for feedback, aim to capture information often and consistently. Research is a foundation and what you do with it after matters!