Today, the process for performing market research to understand your current customer base and get to know prospects is much easier than it used to be.

Quick, free research tools exist online right at your fingertips. Let’s explore them together.

→ Download Now: Market Research Templates [Free Kit]

Understanding Your Current Customers

Effective online market research starts with understanding your current customers. This empowers you, as a marketer, to identify and engage with similar buyers in the future.

1) Start with the basics

Gathering data on existing customers helps you understand who they are and will lead to discovering how to reach them. An effective way to get started is to determine what subgroups (niches) exist within your target audience, and to create buyer personas. Use sites like the U.S. Census Bureau to gather data about your target audiences from the 2012 Economic Census and information by state, city, age, business, geography and more.

2) Review your fan/follower/subscriber statistics

Marketers need to know what interests their customers and where they are spending their time online. Demographic and psychographic information is made available to you via Facebook Page Insights, Twitter Analytics, Pinterest Business Analytics, YouTube Analytics and more.

These sites and others (i.e. TweetStats, HootSuite Social Analytics) provide customizable reports to help you understand social media RIO. Use Followerwonk to analyze specific social media profiles of your customers to find out who they follow and what their interests are. For discovering sources of web traffic, visitor bounce rates, e-mail open rates and more check out Google Analytics, Piwik, Clicky, Hubspot’s Marketing Grader, and MailChimp’s Subscriber Activity Reports.

3) Evaluate, organize and archive customer feedback

To effectively market and sell, you have to know the needs and frustrations of your ideal customer. It is likely that your existing customers have already provided you with feedback in the form of testimonials and comments.

Sites like Foursquare enable companies to “claim” their business or location to gain access to more detailed user insights (i.e. reviews, comments). Check your business’ web-owned properties to see what your customers are saying about your products and services.

4) Check out your competition

By taking a look at your competition’s web presence you can gain a better understanding for what tactics they are using to build relationships with customers. Find out what works for them, what doesn’t, and most importantly, how you can do better.

Getting to Know Your Target Audience

Getting to know your target customer empowers you to prioritize your time, engagement efforts and budget most effectively. Let’s explore some quick, easy tactics for performing market research on the fly and get to know just who these people are.

5) Learn from user statistics

Ask yourself: Where are my company’s target audiences the most active online? Are they participating in forums, reading blogs, tweeting, or engaging with peers on LinkedIn? Perhaps the answer is: all of the above. Thankfully, most online communities provide user statistics (i.e. Instagram Press, Twitter usage, YouTube statistics ) enabling marketers to easily prioritize where they invest their engagement efforts based on the existence of populous audiences. Customer trends and studies are available at Pew.com, Scarborough and Arbitron.

6) Check your Sent folder

Your sales team members’ email Sent folder likely has a treasure trove of information just waiting to be mined. Because your sales team is constantly responding to questions and inquiries from potential customers, parsing this data will help you understand the needs of individuals at companies that you’ve yet to do business with.

7) HubSpot’s Social Inbox

This can help you organize your contacts’ social media profiles and get a grasp on conversations they’re having.

8) Ask questions

It comes as no surprise that an effective way to get to know your audience is by asking them questions. Present yourself with this challenge: How creative can I be at proposing questions?

  • Get to know your ideal customer’s needs, wants, buyer behavior, demographic insights, messages they respond to and more, by using an online survey tool like SurveyMonkey. As an incentive to complete the survey, you can offer potential customers something in return for their time or send them some company swag
  • Every day, millions of users ask their friends questions on Facebook. Facebook Questions is “a feature that lets you get recommendations, conduct polls and learn from your friends and other people on Facebook.” This tool is no longer available for Pages, but marketers can still pose questions to fans in posts and get answers in comments.
  • Take to the Twittersphere! Pose a question to your followers with instructions to include a custom hashtag in their answers for tracking audience participation. Encourage followers to retweet your question to solicit feedback from a larger audience for more exposure.

9) Discover conversations through keyword search, hashtags and trends.

Google Search is the most-used search engine on the web, handling more than three billion searches each day. While social media platform search fields aren’t as sophisticated as Google, they too use keywords to yield search results, and remain useful tools for getting to know potential customers.

10) Engage with Communities

  • Twitter Lists: Create your own list (curated group) of Twitter users (often grouped by interests) or subscribe to lists created by others.
  • LinkedIn Groups: Places for professionals in the same industry or with similar interests to share content.
  • Facebook Groups:Facebook users create and/or join groups based on their desire to connect and share information about similar interests.
  • Pinterest Group Boards: These group boards are by invitation only. As a marketer they represent opportunities to to learn about what potential customers (fellow group members) want and what their other interest are.
  • YouTube Categories: Choosing a YouTube category, which range from DIY to Sports, takes you to a page of videos chosen by YouTube editors where you can find YouTube users with large audiences.
  • Google+ Hangouts where group conversations are synced and Google+ Communities, where you can create private groups of friends or join public communities for discussing your passions.
  • Reddit: A social news website where users determine a piece of content’s value/popularity by voting it up or down. Content entries are organized by areas of interest called "subreddits," enabling marketers to find users who share content relating to their industry.
  • StumbleUpon: A website that finds and recommends web content to its users. Features allow users to discover and rate web pages, photos, and videos that are personalized to their tastes. A marketer’s goldmine for finding segmented audiences.
  • Forums & Message Boards: Though forums and message board use has declined in recent years, they still provide opportunities for learning about target audiences. Yahoo provides a comprehensive directory here.

 11) Find Discussions

  • Twitter Trends: The most popular topics of conversation on Twitter (in real time). Check out Trendsmap for a breakdown of real-time, local Twitter trends anywhere in the world.
  • Trending on Facebook: Discussions people are having on Facebook, based on keywords in posts and comments.
  • YouTube Trends:Discover insights related to your target audience by reading this platform’s detailed reports on trends in user behavior.
  • Pinterest Pins: Find members of your target audience on Pinterest by searching for “pins” that include keywords related to your industry or product/service.
  • Instagram Hashtags: Identify users who share photos and experiences with their audiences pertaining to your industry. Instagram users find and connect with each other by searching for hashtags, which are included in user photo captions. This makes it easy for marketers to find prospects to engage.

 What are some other ways that you perform market research? Share your strategies in the comments section below!

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Originally published Jun 2, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017

Topics:

Marketing Data Keyword Research