In the wake of disruption and uncertainty, it has become more critical than ever for business owners to truly ‘know their customers’ — to understand how their needs, expectations, and behaviors are changing so they can best pivot their products and services to meet them. One way business owners can familiarize themselves with these changes is by mining customer insights through data-driven online research.
There are many cost-effective ways that you can conduct market research. From internet polling and survey tools to cloud apps and online services that provide essential insights, numerous strategies and solutions make it possible to surface actionable data in minutes. Below you’ll find seven ways to gain access to the information you’re seeking with a minimum of time, effort and expense.
1. Analytics and Data Mining Tools
From customer purchase patterns to time spent on your website and number of emails opened, data mining tools and analytics platforms can provide you with an in-depth look at your commercial operations. By using these solutions, which come built-in with a host of online services or can be purchased from third-party software developers, you can gain vital business insights. When choosing a provider, make sure you look for tools that surface key insights such as:
- amount of user clicks, downloads or purchases
- conversion rates and cost per conversion
- daily, average and lifetime revenue per user
- frequency with which shoppers buy
- how much customers spend
- internet sources which have referred traffic to you
- number of customer interactions per visit
- time spent on your app/service/site
- repeat visitors and bounce rate
If you are interested in other data, you may pay extra for services such as performance comparisons against industry benchmarks or competitors. However, analytics and research tools are increasingly becoming baseline features for many services, and competition in the space is fierce. Numerous alternatives exist for virtually any need that can help you get the information you need free of charge, or at a highly-competitive price.
2. Polls and Questionnaires
Easy to implement via email, pop-ups or social networks, custom questionnaires can now be assembled in minutes. Likewise, several online providers can help you quickly gain insight into customer satisfaction levels or how well your products/services or promotional efforts continue to resonate. Whatever your preferred approach, myriad free/paid apps, software plug-ins, and cloud-based tools — including popular videoconferencing solutions, which even let you poll meeting audiences in real-time — can each provide critical insight at minimum expense.
Do be aware, though: Customers are increasingly being bombarded with requests for feedback at every turn. To increase participation rates, consider incentivizing customers by offering free rewards (i.e. complementary downloads, discounts or offers) for participation. In addition, make a point to let them know their contributions are valued, and follow up upon concluding your research to show how their input has helped you make positive changes in your business.
3. Online Focus Groups and Panels
Online public opinion and research providers can also help you assemble sample audiences to source feedback from in the form of paid focus groups consisting of members of your target customer audience. A search for “online focus groups” can help you locate them in seconds. These providers, which offer paid incentives to participants (which can range anywhere from $5-$25 per contributor on up), will help you assemble a panel of respondents who fit your preferred customer profile.
Once enough participants have signed up, the provider will then manage the process of collecting and gathering feedback via online forms, mobile chats, social networks, video interviews and other digital channels. Findings are then provided in the form of detailed reports (charts and graphs, and commentary or suggestions from panelists) outlining customer feedback.. Using these findings, you can make more data-driven decisions on business and marketing strategies.
4. Advance Access and Early Product Testing Programs
Audiences may appreciate the chance to be the first to test new products, services and solutions free of charge, and can offer suggestions that can help shape these offerings for the better. That’s why it’s important to provide your most ardent fans with advance access and encourage early trials of solutions while they’re still in development. Not only can doing so help you build goodwill with customers, it can help reinforce that their opinion matters.
It can also help you source vital feedback up front that can help shape new initiatives and experiences for the better. A group of early testers can help you track down potential hiccups, locate possible areas for improvement and spot opportunities or challenges that you may have inadvertently overlooked.
Advance trials also provide the chance to see how well new solutions or initiatives are connecting and how customers are utilizing them in a real-world context, while there’s still time to adapt and refine your offerings before launching them. Early testers won’t just feel rewarded by the opportunity to participate in these cost-effective market research programs—they’ll also appreciate the chance to provide you with detailed information and insights that your business can translate into big wins in the marketplace.
5. Targeted Online Surveys or Quizzes
Want to ask specific audiences (e.g. doctors, lawyers, or local retail shop or restaurant owners) specific questions about current needs or requirements, like their preferred approach to online billing or computer security? As ever, numerous online service providers can help you connect with these individuals and pose targeted queries to them. Just a few of many variables you can control in addition to questions asked and target sample size can include factors like income level, industry, geographic area and more.
Of course, while the price per respondent increases with the number of audience filters that you add, it’s still possible to gain significant insights at a fraction of the cost of hiring a traditional market research provider. High-tech services also offer the benefit of deep online integration, so you can auto-analyze results to pick up on patterns, surface actionable business intelligence or easily export findings to other favorite apps.
6. Crowdsourcing and Customer Recognition
Want to know what audiences are thinking, or which industry trends are top of mind for them? Invite them to offer input and feedback on new concepts, trending topics, or possible areas of interest for your organization by submitting questions, comments, suggestions and feedback through your social media channels and website. You can incentivize these contributions by shouting out memorable submissions online, or featuring community members in various promotional programs that you elect to run. Similarly, if you have questions about logos, product packaging, slogans, pricing structures and other common business queries, you can also put them to the public for a vote, inviting audience members to weigh in.
A group of early testers can help you track down potential hiccups, locate possible areas for improvement and spot opportunities or challenges that you may have inadvertently overlooked.
More and more small businesses are working to build online communities and forums around their brand (which can be powered by free blogging, message boards and community management tools) for just this reason. It not only helps build brand loyalty for your firm, but also helps your company create a virtual sounding board to bounce new business ideas off of.
7. Connect with Industry Thought Leaders
Whether well-known authors or leading authorities in a field, top experts are often willing to share their insights and opinions in exchange for publicity. Ask yourself: What channels (corporate blogs, online video series, custom publications, etc.) could you create that helps provide this exposure, and can help you gain complementary or cost-effective insights in return? Using these forums, you can gain access to and input from many of the top minds in your industry. As an added bonus, these interviews and sit-downs are often of great interest to others, creating opportunities for you to generate some publicity and promotion for your business surrounding them (and any subsequent findings) as well.
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