You're not going to succeed at business without doing market research. How else are you going to find out if there will be any kind of demand for your idea, who will want to buy it, the size of the market not to mention how you're positioned relative to competitors? The good news is that gauging customer sentiment doesn't need to be expensive. That's according to Adam Rossow, partner with iModerate, a Denver-based qualitative research firm which has conducted more than 250,000 one-on-one conversations with client customers in the 11 years the company has been around.
1. Turn industry events into a research venue.
The trade shows and conferences your company attends every year are an opportunity to talk with your target audience. Find out who will be attending and schedule times to get face-to-face with these people, if even for a few minutes.
2. Use a text analytics tool to study the wealth of information you're already getting from customers.
This software can be rudimentary or complex--anything from a word cloud generator to an enterprise solution. It works by uploading customer feedback from various sources--social media mentions, call center feedback or survey data, for example--and looking for themes. "A lot of companies are drowning in consumer commentary, but are not taking advantage of it," he says. "So if you don't have anyone looking at all the commentary already in your feeds, put someone on it and give them a text analytics tool."
3. Collaborate with other companies to glean insights about consumer sentiment.
It can even be competitors, as long as you're comfortable with the fact that everyone involved will be getting the same insights. For example, a company in the media entertainment industry that wants to know how audiences are consuming TV could team with one or more of the television networks. "If you really need that research and can't afford it you can team up with other like-minded companies in the field to try and get at it," he says.
4. Use social media to crowdsource your research.
Use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn to ask simple questions of your fan base. "NPR puts questions on its Facebook page or tweets them out and gets answers that way," he says. "It's not going to be the most robust research, but depending on your objectives, the level of bias that you're OK with, and if it's the right audience, it's a good way to get simple questions answered."
5. A/B test your messages.
Whether it's an email, digital ad or tagline, test the waters with a couple of versions to see which ones are getting the most engagement and click-throughs. "The downside is you might not really know the motivations and the reasoning behind why one message is doing better than the others, but at least you can [understand] which is the best performing," he says.
6. Become involved in an industry association.
These kinds of memberships often offer access to copious amounts of research. "There is often a ton of stuff there you can get your hands on that can answer some pretty general questions about the marketplace and where the industry is going," he says.
7. Use DIY tools.
SurveyMonkey and GutCheck are a couple to check out. "The one thing that I'd caution against is launching those things without having any idea how to ask the proper question and what kind of methodology that's called for," he says.
8. Log all your customer input.
Any kind of feedback you're getting from customers--whether in person, through your call center or via social networks--should be captured. You can't study customer problems, habits and lifestyles if you don't harvest and store that information.
9. Start small.
You don't need to talk to thousands of people if 20 or 30 will give you a good idea what direction to head.
10. Find what's already out there.
You may be surprised what you can learn by searching the internet for studies that have already been conducted. For example, a wealth of data exists on Millennials regarding how they like to be engaged, what social networks they use and more. While the research you find may not be specific to your industry, you're wasting money if you're asking questions that have already been answered.
"You want to use research to either confirm a hypothesis or to get to a new place, where it's true insight and your company takes away something new that you didn't know before," he says.