6 Places to Dig for Customer Insights

Looking for information on your target market?

Icandothattoo-dog-digDo you have your ear to the ground when it comes to your customers? Are you struggling to find out where the bones are buried, so to speak, on ways to better understand your target market? In the age of information, everything appears to be but a click away; yet even when you know what you want, it can be daunting to decide where to start. If your a new business starting out, or an experienced veteran of your field, keeping an eye on the changes of target market attitudes, desires and priorities is a regular search that your company should always be performing.

So how do you get your paws on the insights of customers today, so you can provide tomorrow's solution? With so much ground to cover, where do you start? Below are six potential resources to start digging away at. Depending on your time & budget, you may want to start slow with two or three, or develop a plan for hitting all six.

1. Develop Your Own Data. Are you tracking your past & current customers? Are you asking them for feedback in the form of survey, or monitoring clicks on your website? Have you analyzed the data of what has been selling, or noticing patterns about where they stop before clicking “check out cart"? Even if your starting client pool is rather small, looking after internal information is a must. By working to better understand the customers & clients you have, you provide an opportunity to improve relationships, while gathering insights into your businesses's weaknesses and strengths. For better security and privacy practices, don't do this one on the fly: be deliberate about what you're collecting, where it's going, and what specific solutions your data is intended to achieve.

2. Social Media. Funny thing: people talk about what they like and what they don't like. If you haven't set up a Twitter list to track competitors, clients and industry keywords, this is the time to do so. If you've got the cash to spend, consider buying an Ad on Facebook, or talking to Gnip or uberVU via Hootsuite. If you want to conserve funds or start small, use a poll or create a group discussion thread.

3. Newspaper, Magazines & Blogs: From "what are people talking about" to "what are people talking about, in detail - preferably with links to more insights." A good publication is selective about the information it presents to match the interest of the intended audience, and if the audience is your target market all the better. A bonus of this information is that it comes in a wide variety of consumable media. Need a break from reading? Check the news on tv or browse youtube for favourite channels. No time to stop & stay in one place? Listening to a radio show or podcast as you're on the go may be just the ticket.

4. Government Resources. If you Canadian, you’ve connected with the Canada Business Network right? If not, do so now! The stronger your business, the better for the local economy you’re helping to build: most governments offer advice and services geared towards helping entrepreneurship grow, including access to market research by way of census data and access to public record. Other examples include business.us.gov, and the European Small Business Portal. If your country is not on the list, head down to the nearest library: odds are they can get you in touch, and may have further resources of their own!

5. Market Research Firms. Market research firms, including SmartPoint, IPSOS, and IDC .The advantages of hiring a firm or consultant are innumerable: they typically have access to information sources you don't, they save you time digging, and are typically experts in what they do, with more savvy skills on reading & interpreting the details. A market research group can go right to the source, using focus groups and other research methodologies, prepared with the right questions that provide the best insights.

6. Word Of Mouth & Networking. Old-fashioned? Perhaps. Effective? You betcha. If your clients are local and on the ground, you need to be too. Talking with industry experts, particularly those in industries you service, isn't to be ignored. Perhaps a new trend is hitting the online world by a storm. Are they ready for it? Keep a handy notebook, either digitally or paper whenever you go. Even a simple chat while out walking the dog could lead to surprising new information.

Finally, a word to the wise: customer insights is just as much about finding the problems that plague your market group as it is about what they want in the world. To use the quote often attributed to Henry Ford, if he asked what customers wanted they would have said a faster horse. Yet had Ford asked his customers what problem they wanted solved, they would have likely answered “a faster way to get around” - a problem his automobile was happy to solve.

Image credit: Stephen Routh

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