Consider Another Analytical Tool: Market Research

Smart marketers see the value of market research as a key way to identify opportunities and track program success. But the advent of instant information from online analytics seems like it could make a significant investment in market research questionable.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s time to rethink market research’s place and realize how valuable it can be to give context to your existing online analytics. Here’s why:

  • People respond differently offline than they do online. Contrary to what the media would have us believe, a world exists away from the Internet. People read newspapers and magazines; they see billboards and TV ads; they hang out at diners and coffee shops and waiting rooms; and they interact with each other face to face. Offline, a variety of factors can contribute to changed perceptions. Consider how you might respond to seeing a big billboard outside your office window every day for a month versus seeing it flash on your screen for a few minutes. These elements of persistence can have a deep effect on the responses people have to a brand. When people are offline, they can spend more time studying something and considering the meanings it may convey. Being able to tap into these offline perceptions via market research gives you added insight.
  • Market research can go much deeper into individual perceptions. Analytics tells stories about crowds and what they do. Market research can tell the stories of many individuals and what they think. The distinction may be subtle, but it rests on the reality of being able to identify the perceptions that make up a rich tapestry of how people react to stimuli. The transitory nature of analytics gives you a running tally of how your site performs, but that’s not a substitute for what visitors might be thinking in a larger context when they actually perform those actions. Seeing that a conversion rate is low doesn’t explain that users found your offline campaign misleading.
  • Market research can identify key customer-behavior drivers. A main element of sophisticated market research is the ability to tease out key attitude drivers. For example, a software vendor might find product security is a satisfaction driver. These drivers, derived statistically through multivariate analysis, allow you to identify and target specific areas. Knowing that security is a key satisfaction driver gives you the guidance necessary to update your home page with a security message or even start some optimization to determine how prominently to feature a security logo on a product page. Key drivers give you special insight into which knobs to turn to achieve your business goals.
  • Market research can track changes over time. People change. It seems simple, but often Web analytics show changes in site behavior (conversions up, abandoned carts down) without showing how the marketplace is changing. Establishing tracking studies that visit the same issues with the same defined population over time (quarterly, yearly) provides a model of how attitudes and key drivers may change. In the example above, security may be a driver this quarter but by the following year the market emphasis may have shifted to reliability. Seeing these changes in the audience across time can give you insights into what to emphasize as you keep your site fresh.
  • Market research can be done anonymously to provide information on your firm and competitors. How is the traffic on your competitors’ site? Do you know their conversion rates and which elements they currently optimize? It’s unlikely you have this information, but good market research can provide insight across all the key market players, not just your company. When research is done anonymously, the respondent doesn’t know which company sponsors the study; therefore, you can capture opinions about multiple companies. Your key satisfaction driver may be security, but your toughest competitor’s may be scalability. That gives you powerful ammunition as you tune your site with competitive messages.

Remember, some “classic” marketing tools remain relevant in today’s world of instant analytics. The combination of these with your ongoing analytics investment can make you even more successful at understanding your customers.

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