You gotta know your customers!

I’ve been thinking a lot about market research lately, and how important it is to know your customers. Some companies are flying blind when it comes to offering and advertising their products or services. Here’s a few tips on why and how to get to know your customers!

Meet their needs and solve their problems. It may seem obvious, but how are you going to meet their needs if you have no idea what their needs are? Some companies think that because they sell a certain product, they don’t need to find out about their customers’ needs. But just because you fill a niche, you’re not off the hook! Take Zippo for example. I just saw an article about Zippo changing their marketing strategy, as their sales have been falling. They have focused on pocket lighters for the majority of their existence, but have recently started moving into female-friendly and outdoor-friendly products. By recognizing that their products were being used in different ways, they were able to gain more market share and expand their business. Talk to your customers and find out what they need.

How do I talk to my customers? There are many ways to speak to your customers, but the biggest point is to listen to what they’re saying. Don’t go into research trying to prove a hypothesis about what customers like and dislike, just be open.

–          Focus Groups: Focus groups involve speaking with a small group of the target demographic, usually in a moderated session. The moderator asks guiding questions to open up the discussion, and keeps the conversation flowing. Taping these sessions gives companies the opportunity to view facial reactions and other body language, and to accurately record spoken responses. Maiden Form used a focus group when their sales were falling, and found out that their target demographic of young females viewed them as a brand their mom would use! They quickly re-worked their strategy and sales started rising.

–          Surveys: Surveys are great because you can reach a large number of people to ensure a strong sampling of the target demographic. Once you receive the responses, you can use statistical analysis to figure out the most important problems your customers face. You can also use surveys to determine ways to improve your solutions to those problems. ConstantContact and Survey Monkey are two services that make it easy for you to set up online surveys.

–          Usability studies: There are two ways to view this: Is my solution useful? Is my solution usable? Let’s take a look at the first question. You need to make sure that your product or service uniquely solves a customer’s problem. Coming into an established market is difficult, so you need to make sure that you have a unique value proposition. You also need to make sure your solution is easy to use. My favorite example of this is the label, “some assembly required.” I know dads around the world shudder at this phrase, as it usually indicates hours of work with obscure tools. Instructions and usage should be customer-friendly, and you need to do testing to figure this out. Focus groups can act as a moderated testing situation, where participants are given product examples and asked to rate them on different aspects. For software and other technology, a Beta version usually reveals bugs in the product. offers a low-cost remote usability service that is perfect for website owners. There are many ways to figure out if your product is useful and usable, and these must be included in market research.

Market research is not a one-time endeavor, but rather a continual process of understanding your customers’ needs. So, how does your company stack up in the market research category?

2 thoughts on “You gotta know your customers!

  1. Pingback: Pride Goes Before the Fall » Consciously Corporate - When business is your life.

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