Three reasons why you need research at the front of your marketing plan

I used to think as a marketer, you had to know what good marketing was in your “gut” – it was all about the “feel” of something. If the copy is sharp and the design edgy, it will sell. I was wrong. Feel is important – but it’s not the whole picture. In reality, it should be balanced with an equal amount of research. Unfortunately, research suffers from a lack of sex appeal – do you see anyone in Mad Men researching? Well, okay, Faye was brought in this season, but I think we all saw how seriously she was taken. Plus, it’s often overlooked or dismissed due to cost and time. It shouldn’t be. Here’s three reasons why marketing research is an essential first step in your marketing plan:

1. You need to know your customer. It’s not enough to have a good product – customers don’t care. What they do care about is how that product is going to help them. Your job is to tell them. You can’t do that if you don’t have an idea who your customer is. Finding out age, gender and income level is a great place to start. David Meerman Scott has some great posts on finding and creating buyer personas – taking demographic and other information about your customers and creating a real “person” out of them. It’s much easier to market to one person than it is to a group of nameless faceless people – and for the sake of your brand, isn’t it better if that person is an actual representation of your customers, instead of your CEO or VP of marketing? (I’m sure they are great too, but I doubt they accurately represent your entire customer base.)

2. Without research, you don’t know if your intended message is actually reaching the customer. You could be talking about your product in third grade language when your customers read at the college level – or vice versa. In my journalism classes I was taught to write at a 6th grade level, because apparently that’s the average reading level of Americans. Does your customer understand your witty references, or are they flying right overhead? If you’ve ever seen the TV show Gilmore Girls and know nothing about pop culture, half of what they say on that show will make no sense. If you have customers in the UK and you use American slang, they might not get it. Now, that doesn’t mean everything you write will resonate with every customer, but if you have a general idea of your customer base, you have a better idea of what might work and what might not in copy and design.

3. You can’t set targets without having something to compare.  You might think it’s great that you’re selling 100 widgets a day, but if the company down the street/in the next town/around the globe doing the same thing is selling 500, does that change your perspective? It might. It might not. Maybe your widget is special. Maybe you’re happy with 100 and have no desire to grow. But, that ought to be a conscious decision you make as a business, not a consequence of not paying attention to what’s happening in your market.

You’ll notice I didn’t write a blog post about how to overcome the time and money barriers for research. You can, in certain ways, but that’s not the point – you need to do it regardless of the barriers. It a necessary part of your plan. See last week’s post – if a global company can do a rebrand in four months and still research, so can you.

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