You can learn a lot from product failures. In 1982, Toothpaste Brand Colgate decided it would expand its brand by launching Colgate Kitchen Entrees, frozen dinners for the busy consumer. In 2000, Heinz debuted a brand new ketchup -- it was purple. In 2005, Pen and Lighter maker Bic entered the market with a new line of disposable underwear for women. Finally, remember the infamous Gap Logo redesign of 2010? Each of these product marketing attempts failed for different reasons, but it's pretty safe to say that all of them could have benefited from better market research before getting rolled out to the public.
When companies develop an idea, whether it's a new product or a redesigned website, marketing research is often the first thing cut due to time or resource restrictions. It's understandable. Working with marketing research firms can be incredibly expensive and time consuming. If you haven't done research before, it can be tempting to skip it and dive right into the development stage.
But the truth is, there's a lot of research you can do on your own and without much budget or training at all. Here are some low-budget ways to factor a research stage into your next project and give your product, idea, or designs much better footing.
1) Interview Prospects and Customers
Cost: $0 - $50
Nothing is freer or more valuable than a conversation. We tried this ourselves a few weeks ago -- HubSpot invited four customers into our offices to join us for lunch and tell us what they thought of our software.
We were pleasantly surprised at how willing and forthcoming they were. Prompted by some questions, they gave us priceless insight into what's working for them and what's not in the HubSpot marketing platform. That one conversation spun off a handful of different projects that will make us better as a company.
You can't extrapolate public opinion from four individuals, but you can get a sense of which direction to pursue in future research or your product development. Building an ongoing message-testing program can take some time but it's entirely achievable.
How to Set It Up:
How you set up your customer interviews will depend on the kind of company you are. If you are a software company with beta tests running, you can tap that beta group for interview subjects. If not, here are a few ways to find people to talk to:
- Take to social media: Ask for volunteers to join a conversation to help you shape the next iteration of your website, product or marketing. Tell them approximately how long the conversation will take and any qualifications you have (customer/non-customer, role or industry, etc). Offer a gift card or other reward as a thank you. You only need a handful of people to get worthwhile insights.
- Ask your customer-facing coworkers: If your company has account managers, support reps, or other staff who work closely with customers, ask them for recommendations of a few who might be willing to give feedback.
- Include a link in customer communications: Whether it's a newsletter or an invoice, you can include a call-to-action to provide feedback through a short interview. Offer a small gift certificate or reward for participation.
Questions to Ask:
You can customize your customer interviews however you want, but here's a list of common questions you can ask to help you nail your product positioning and understanding of the market, including ones like:
- What challenges stand in the way of getting your job done?
- What are your top three headaches right now?
- How would you describe this product to a boss or client? How would you describe it to your mother?
- What other types of [product category] have you tried? What were their strengths?
- In what situation would you recommend us over another company and visa versa?
2) Run a Content Strategy Survey
Cost: $0 -$50
Which is better: ebooks or webinars? Is it worth writing a 20-page ebook when a 3-page tip-sheet will suffice? What makes someone download or read a piece of content? Analytics can help you get at answers to some of these questions, but it's good to supplement that with direct feedback from your audience.
Every few quarters, HubSpot will run a content strategy survey to get a sense of what topics and formats interest our audience. What we've found is that our audiences is a living and evolving thing. Your interests change over time and we want to be right there to meet them.
How to Set It Up:
We teamed up with SurveyMonkey to create a content strategy survey that anyone can use. If you want to run a content strategy survey you can use our template to start and add in questions or tailor it to suit your needs.
In addition, if you use both SurveyMonkey and HubSpot you can actually create email segments based on the responses and serve up only the content that matters to each. Regardless of the survey tool you use, below are some of the questions we like to ask about our content strategy.
Questions to Ask:
- How often would you want to receive information from our company?
- When reading content from companies, which tone do you appreciate? (Select all that apply)
- When you share information about companies and the products or services they offer, which of the following do you use? (Select all that apply)
- In what format do you prefer to read your content?
3) Run User Testing on Your Website
Whether you're heading into a redesign or maintaining your website through small tweaks, ongoing research into what's working and what's not can help you raise the productivity of your site. You can get a lot of information about your site performance from basic analytics about which pages are converting the best or garnering the most consistent traffic.
In addition to basic analytics though, there are some free and low-cost tools out there to help you run user testing on your website. These tests will get you feedback on more nuanced elements of your site -- things like the design, copy positioning, and/or layout are all great elements to test.
How to Set It Up:
There are a number of tools out there that you can use to get feedback on your designs or positioning. In the past we've used both UsabilityHub and UserTesting.com to help us test out assumptions on our site before a redesign or homepage refresh.
Questions to Ask:
- What is the first thing you look at on this page?
- Where would you go first if you wanted to take the next step?
- Is this page trustworthy?
- How likely would you be to explore this site (rating scale)?
Small investments in market research can go a long way in your marketing. In addition to these basic approaches, there are a few tools you can use to research major shifts in buyer demographics or trends, including:
- FedStats: This site publishes government statistics, like statistical profiles of states, cities, and counties.
- The Census Bureau: This site gives you access to census data.
- The Census Bureau's Quick Facts: This site gives quick facts about people, businesses, and geography.
The moral of the story here is that market research doesn't have to be expensive or time consuming -- with the right tools, you can have get great insights in a short amount of time.
What other research techniques have you tried on a shoestring budget? Do you have any recommendations for other tools or websites for conducting marketing research?