The next best thing to customer market research…

July 28, 2010

Market research has always been my favorite part of marketing.  The idea of using research to uncover what is in the minds of your target customers — their beliefs, their needs, their ways of thinking — to create better products or stronger messages really excites me.  I’ve always viewed research as the key to solving a complex puzzle of customer needs and a brand’s benefits.

With this perspective, it is probably no surprise that I am often recommending to my clients that they conduct customer research when they are facing marketing challenges or decisions.  Research, when done well, will typically help them find the answers they are seeking.  Most of my clients agree with my recommendation, but budgets or timing tend to get in the way for some clients and prevent the research from taking place.

In those cases, I often help my clients search for the next best source of information and ask, “Well, what do the rest of your employees believe?  What does your employee research tell you?”  And, most of the time, I get a blank stare and a reply something along the lines of “I don’t know.  We’ve never asked them.”

In theory, this response surprises me.  It would seem so easy for organizations to leverage their employees to understand their perspectives on the organization’s brand, products/services, messages, and positioning since the employees work with customers and understand the business.  However, in practice, I can’t say that this is unexpected.  After many years working in marketing for a variety of companies, I don’t think I ever completed or fielded brand market research as an employee.  The fact that conducting employee market research is a rare practice should not imply that it isn’t valid or valuable.  For organizations that are unable to complete customer research to inform their marketing decisions, employee research is the next best option because it can be done very quickly, inexpensively, and it can provide real insights.

Two arguments for not conducting employee market research are:

  1. The employees are biased because they are so close to the business.
  2. The employees may not be honest in the research for fear that their comments will impact their jobs.

However, I believe that the biggest reason why organizations don’t conduct employee research is that they simply do not think of it.  As for the two arguments listed above, they can be address with the following:

  1. While employees do have a unique and perhaps biased perspective, those who deal with customers regularly most likely have a good understand of what customers are thinking and what they need.  This perspective is valuable to understand.
  2. Creating an anonymous or “safe” process to conduct research with employees so that they feel comfortable providing their thoughts does not have to be complex.  Anonymous surveys through online tools such as Zoomerang or SurveyMonkey or the use of external moderators are simple and budget friendly ways to ensure employees feel enabled to share their true thoughts and feelings.

With all of this in mind, I would even recommend that organizations that do conduct customer market research regularly also consider conducting employee research periodically.  The two pieces of research together will yield very powerful findings that will likely lead to better recommendations and decisions overall than if just one form of research was completed.

Employee research is certainly no perfect substitute for customer market research, but it nevertheless is a very important tool that organizations can easily and should employ to help them make better marketing decisions.  Especially in cases where an organization is deciding between employee research or no research at all, the organization should leverage employee research.  In the absence of customer market research, the cost of not leveraging the employees’ perspective will likely exceed the basic costs of conducting the in-house employee research.

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Why Should I Believe You? The case for Reasons to Believe.

April 5, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I received my qualitative research moderator certification from the Burke Institute in Cincinnati.  The Burke Institute is a renowned market research education institution, and its qualitative research certification process includes participating in two week-long intensive (and not inexpensive) courses.

While I enjoyed the courses thoroughly, the primary reason I attended the courses was to be able to say that I am a certified focus group moderator.  Prior to attending the certification courses, I had quite a bit of experience moderating focus groups and using the results from focus groups to inform decisions for my brands, but I did not have very much “proof” of my skill sets outside of some client referrals.  I knew that if I wanted to augment the qualitative research part of my business, I needed to provide my prospective clients with some proof or a “reason to believe” that supported my claim that I could deliver objective and insightful research results.  The fact that I am now a certified qualitative research moderator provides my brand stronger credibility that I can deliver the benefits of well-executed qualitative research.

Just as having a set of compelling brand benefits and a brand character are critical components to a well-defined brand, having reasons for your target customers to believe that your brand can deliver its benefits is equally important.  Reasons to believe are facts that provide credibility to your brand as they explain how or why your brand delivers its benefits.  Therefore, every brand benefit should have a corresponding reason to believe to support it.  Additionally, as with all other brand building components, reasons to believe are strongest when they are relevant to the target customer in some way.  Here is where customer research and understanding continue to be a key input into the brand development process.

Aside from providing believability and authenticity to your brand, reasons to believe differentiate your brand from competitors.  Most brands that have similar benefits do not have the same reasons to believe, and even if they do share some proof points, the total package of reasons to believe for each brand is sure to be unique.

With all of this said, I find it intriguing that many organizations fail to focus on or communicate their reasons to believe to their target customers.  Many brands have strong supporting evidence of their benefits such as a dedicated history in the industry or an unmatched emphasis on quality, but they do not communicate it.  Other brands need to invest in creating proof to support their benefits such as utilizing spokespeople or attaining some form of accreditation/endorsement.  In either case, leaders of brands should spend some time thinking through their brand’s reasons to believe and how to effectively communicate them as emphasizing a brand’s reasons to believe will lead to a more credible and differentiated story for selling the brand’s benefits.


7 free tools every brand or marketing manager should use daily

July 16, 2009

As I have been making the transition from being a brand manager for a large company to being a brand strategy consultant in the last few months, I have had a thirst for information in a way I never had before.  As part of my quest to become a better, more informed, and up to date resource for my clients, I have been leveraging a lot of free information and tools.  Some of these tools (such as newsletters), I collected in my inbox for years while I was a brand manager and rarely opened.  Other tools are ones that people have introduced to me in the last several months.

Recently, some of my friends in brand or marketing roles for companies have been asking me how I seem to be so ‘in the know’ about marketing trends, new products, or the latest technologies.  They know that this is information that they should and would like to know, but they don’t think that they have the time it would take to stay on top of it.  They are too bogged down in managing their brand projects and fighting daily fires, and they don’t know where to begin.  If this sounds a little like you, read on. 

Below is a list of 7 free tools any marketing or brand person at any company should use on a daily basis. 

  1. Marketing Daily News– Email newsletter every weekday that summarizes breaking news across industries in branding & marketing.  Published by MediaPost which also has many other free newsletters for various industries, targets, trends, technologies, and types of marketing professionals.  I subscribe to about 8 or 9 in total from this source.
  2. Brandweek Daily Insider – Email newsletter every weekday summarizing new brand campaigns, new products, latest research across many industries.
  3. GMA Smartbrief – Email newsletter every weekday summarizing top news in the Consumer Packaged Goods industry.  Even though it is focused on the CPG space, there is still a lot of learning to be leveraged from this publication for all marketers.
  4. Adweek Creative — Email newsletter weekly covering all news and trends in advertising content and messages.
  5. Google Alerts— Monitor your own brand and company as well as your competitors in the news and in blogs using this tool.  You receive an email with all of the clips daily, weekly, or as they happen.  Set this up under Google News.
  6. Use an RSS feed like Google Reader for blogs– Set this up to monitor your favorite marketing, industry, or customer target blogs.  In a future post, I will have a list of my favorite marketing and brand blogs to subscribe to.
  7. Twitter Search and an RSS feed — Monitor what people are saying about your brand, company, competition, industry, and category by setting up searches in Twitter.  Once you set these up, you can have them come into your RSS feed.

Going through this list will probably take about an hour to get through per day. 

I know that this big time investment, but I guarantee that the time investment will generate a positive ROI for the brand and your career.   You’ll naturally leverage new case studies and best practices in your marketing plans.  You’ll be better positioned to preempt the competition.  When your competition does act, you will be able to respond more quickly.  You’ll have a better idea of what is going on with your customer.  You’ll be the first to bring new ideas to the table.  You’ll be considered very well informed and a thought leader.

Try out these tools and let me know what you think.  And if you stumble across any other tools that you find useful that should be added to this list, please post a comment.  I’m still learning too.


The tragic irony of cutting marketing in a recession

June 4, 2009

Do you ever have one of those days when it seems that the things you read and the conversations you have revolve around a particular theme?  I am having one of those days.  The theme is the tragic irony of companies cutting marketing spending during a recession.

 This theme surfaced this morning in a conversation I had about the unfortunate tendency of not for profits eliminating marketing spending during a recession, and then again when I was reading an article in AdAge warning CMOs about the dangers of cutting marketing resources

I call this theme a tragic irony because it really is about a company’s well intentioned actions bringing about a fatal result.  A company might decide to cut investment in marketing in an attempt to save money, but in doing so, it cuts off its ability to drive revenue. 

 What you are really cutting

At its most basic level, marketing is all about communicating with your consumer to understand what he needs and then to help him satisfy those needs.  You can satisfy his needs by either showing/telling him how your product or service helps him or by developing new products or services that better meet his evolving needs.  If a company decides to stop or reduce marketing in a recession (when consumers are reviewing every purchase with more scrutiny than ever before), how can it expect to keep its current consumers and revenue streams, let alone appeal to new ones?  More importantly, if a company decides to stop or reduce marketing, but its competitor continues marketing, it is likely to lose consumers to the competitor who is better engaging them.

 Consider reallocation before cutting

With all of that said, I definitely understand and recommend the idea of directing marketing investment towards the most efficient and effective marketing tools in a recession.  A recession isn’t necessarily the time to get overly ‘experimental’ with marketing tools to see what works.  Investing in the tools that are proven to work with your consumer is a strong strategy when money is tight and the future is uncertain.  The key is that a company continues to invest in marketing, and perhaps just chooses the very best tools.  This is about a reallocation of dollars within a marketing budget, not a reduction of the marketing budget.

To companies out there who are currently considering making cuts to their marketing investments, I urge you to reconsider.  You are taking a treacherous path.  Marketing is your way to keep your relationship going with your consumer.  Cutting off or reducing that relationship will cut off or reduce your revenue, and that seems tragically ironic.