Digital Marketing Research: Moving Beyond Hunches With Real-World Data
13 minute read
If people didn’t trust their intuition and gut feel, the world would exist without the luxuries of electricity, airplanes, WiFi, and pocket-sized super computers we now call iPhones. However, not all of us possess the entrepreneurial brilliance of the likes of Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, or Steve Jobs whose ‘gut feel’ decisions have driven their success over the years.
Whilst we’ve still been conditioned to trust our intuition, we also know the importance of research, data, and information to help validate those business ideas that stir and bubble from the right-hand side of our brains.
Even though you may think the idea is going to be a huge success, until you’ve entered the research phase, it’s just another idea that may or may not work.
Duncan MacDonald described it best by saying, “The common facts of today are the products of yesterday’s research.”
The worst thing you can do is enter business blindly, and until you’ve conducted a deep-dive marketing research plan, all you have is a hunch. And if it is the wrong hunch, it could end up costing you more than you bargained for.
This guide has been designed to help you use real-world data and digital marketing research to move beyond these hunches and set you up for business success.
You will learn how to quickly and confidently validate your new business venture, allowing you to accurately articulate whether it’s worth your investment.
This guide will demonstrate how you can successfully qualify a new business idea or offering through thorough digital marketing research by:
defining your market research objectives and what you want to achieve
creating a plan
gathering your data
analysing your data
presenting your findings
making decisions or acting on the data.
What’s The Problem?
Without conducting market research, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Marketing research is an ever-changing process. A handful of problems in the way some companies and individuals conduct market research prevents them from reaching the best possible outcomes.
Entrepreneurs often embark on developing new products based on a hunch. This leads to sinking thousands, potentially millions, of dollars on something that nobody wants. Just because you believe there’s a demand for something, doesn’t necessarily mean there is.
There is a plethora of tools available and deciding on which to use can be an overwhelming experience. Once you do decide on which to use, you may find there is a hefty subscription fee but it still doesn’t give you the exact data you need to make an informed decision.
Many people don’t follow a single, defined approach to conducting this research. Taking a haphazard approach provides incomplete findings, and you may find yourself stuck in the ‘analysis paralysis’ phase, going further and further down a rabbit hole of endless research without having anything to show for it at the end.
Misunderstanding the process for translating data. How do you quantify the data that you’ve collected?
Often people can’t answer important questions such as “is this a worthwhile business idea?” or “how much demand is there for my product?”, even after conducting extensive market research. And when large amounts of money is involved, this is incredibly concerning.
Why This Matters?
It matters because researchers have more access to high-quality research solutions than ever before. Researchers are in fact spoiled for choice when it comes to the amount of information available.
No longer do you need to wade through mountains of data to come up with questionable insights as part of the traditional “marketing research” process. There’s a wealth of information at your fingertips, if only you know where, and how, to look.
Investment in the research stage can pay for itself 10x over in savings realised later, saving you from heartache down the road.
What’s The Solution?
The solution involves adopting a rigorous and systematic approach to marketing research that can be followed quickly and cost-effectively by taking a digital approach.
1. Define Your Market Research Objective
The most crucial part of beginning your digital marketing research journey is taking the time to define your objectives with specific measurable outcomes. Begin by asking yourself what it is that you want to achieve.
The clearer your objectives are, the easier it will be for you to identify the best research methods. Make sure your research objectives are aligned to your business objectives and show why you need to conduct this research.
Set a time frame and budget that you can allocate to this research. Timeliness is everything so you may want to consider employing a professional digital marketing agency to help with your digital marketing research.
2. Create A Plan
The next step is to develop a concise plan that takes into consideration the below components and processes
There’s a vast range of methods that can be used to identify data, so creating your plan may be overwhelming. You will likely find some methods are more well suited to your previously identified objectives than others.
Start with defining your buyer persona. What does your target demographic look like?
Once you can isolate these specifics, you will need to find a representative sample size of this buyer persona to target. A maximum sample size of 1000 people will give you accurate results without having to stretch your costs or time.
The benefit of using a representative, rather than random, sample is that your final results will be more conclusive. You know you have asked specific questions to people who would engage with your product or service.
You might decide to sample your professional network, friends, family, or to leverage an existing business database. There are even online research companies that can help you for a fee.
No matter what plan you develop, conducting a survey should be considered a fundamental element. The sooner you can secure a sample size to survey, the sooner you can begin really understanding how your business idea will be received. We discuss the specifics of surveying later in this article.
When creating your plan, consider the optimum mix of primary and secondary research.
Primary research is firsthand information on your market and its customers. Examples might include surveys, interviews, or observations.
Secondary research, however, might include data from public resources, commercial sources, or internal sources.
Using both will give you a more comprehensive research process.
3. Internal Analysis – SWOT
Conduct a SWOT – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats – analysis before looking at your surrounding environment and competitors.
Strengths – what factors give your idea a competitive edge?
Weaknesses – what factors could be harmful to the success of your idea?
Opportunities – what opportunities are available to grow your idea?
Threats – what factors jeopardise the success or growth of your idea?
4. Environment Analysis
Now it’s time to develop a wider understanding of current market conditions and the existing demand for your product. This will give you an insight into whether your new potential business venture has a chance to succeed. Here you can deploy a variety of methods to help validate your business venture.
Surveys are an effective gateway to better understanding your buyer persona. They provide an excellent opportunity to get a consensus on the questions you need answered.
Online surveys are among the quickest and easiest way to gain a real understanding of what and how your potential customers think. They can also uncover potential opportunities and issues with your idea. There’s a host of platforms, such as SurveyMonkey, to help distribute your survey to your existing email database, as well as across social media, your website or by custom URL link. If your database is lacking, SurveyMonkey, as well as many other companies, can provide you with an audience.
The more people who complete the survey, the more valid the data. Increase the likelihood of this by:
keeping your survey short and sweet
being clear, direct, and avoiding long-winded questions
offering an enticement to complete your survey, leveraging an exclusive offer or incentive
keeping your survey online, which improves accessibility and decreases effort.
Carefully consider the types of questions you ask and whether they should be closed- or open-ended.
Closed-ended questions include a predefined list of answers – like multiple choice. They provide structured, clean, data that is easy to analyse. Open-ended allow the respondent to answer in their own words, and provide qualitative data that offers you more insightful responses on a case-by-case basis.
For the most conclusive results we suggest using pairing closed-ended questions with open-ended ones to better understand and address your quantitative data.
Think of Google as your best friend. It has a suite of free tools that allow you to gather data from the world’s largest search engine.
Use Google Trends to identify what is in demand. Google Trends analyses the popularity of search queries across various regions and languages, and can help you track the popularity of search terms over time.
The Google Keyword Planner, which can be found in your Google Ads suite, can analyse search volumes on the product and industry you want to engage with. Simply enter your keywords to identify average monthly search volumes, how competitive the keyword is, and a suggested bid price if you do choose to run Google Ads.
The simplicity and accessibility of these tools make them an obvious choice to include as part of your digital marketing research process.
Using Google Trends for market research
You don’t need to do all the legwork yourself. There’s a huge amount of resources readily available to help you validate your business venture.
You can find information from a range of websites including, but not limited to:
Not only will this alleviate some of your workload, but you’ll also be able to see how others conducted their research to help guide your process.
5. Competitive Analysis
To properly qualify your potential business idea, it’s imperative to gain an understanding of what else is out there already, and what your potential future competitors look like.
In doing so, you’ll be able to easily identify their strengths and weaknesses, and develop strategies to beat them.
A thorough competitive analysis will give you insight into your competitors’ business operations.
What are they selling? What are their selling points?
Do they have specific promotions, and what are these?
How often do they advertise?
What channels do they advertise on?
Competitor sales process discovery
What process are they using to sell their products?
What conversion actions do they have on their website and via their marketing? Do they have brochure or ebook downloads, form submissions, newsletter signups, free trials, or free demos?
What platforms do they use?
How active are they?
How engaged is their audience?
Competitor search traffic volumes:
How much website traffic do they get? Is it through organic search or paid?
What trends has their website traffic experienced over time?
Competitor domain strength:
How much authority does its website yield?
How many backlinks and domains are leading to their sites?
Are they high quality or low quality links?
Once you know the specific things you plan to investigate, follow these steps and tips to complete your competitive analysis.
Step 1. Determine your competitors
You’re probably aware of a few of them already, and a simple Google search will help you identify more. Try searching for keywords related to your product or service and see what companies show up. Divide them into two categories, direct and indirect. Focus on direct competitors offer a product or service that operates in the same geographic region as you that could pass as a substitute.
Step 2. View your competitors’ websites individually and in-depth
Analyse every element in detail, including what you like and what you don’t like.
Does the website function easily?
What message have they chosen to deploy? And is it effective?
Step 3. Gather insights from your competitors’ website traffic
Use tools such as SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz. These platforms let you enter a host of domains and compare data side by side. Look at the amount of traffic, growth over time, how your competitor attracted traffic, and which countries generate the most traffic for them.
Step 4. Analyse their past and current advertising
Use the Facebook Ads library to view the styles of Facebook ads currently in rotation.
Take advantage of tools like SEMrush which gives you analytics around paid traffic cost estimation, estimated traffic coming from keywords, and the number of keywords they are bidding on.
A program like whatrunswhere.com gives oversight of Google Display ads.
Step 5. Check up on their social media presence
See who’s active on social media and what platforms they use. Often individual platforms are linked from a website.
Gain an understanding of the type of content they post and how often they post.
Look at their audience engagement to determine how successful social media is for them in generating sales and brand awareness.
Step 6. See what your rivals are offering from a content marketing or PR perspective
Check their website to see if they blog regularly, post videos, conduct podcasts, promote case studies, or create downloadable resources.
Use tools like Sendible, SEMrush, and Google Alerts to track online mentions associated with your competitors.
Other tools will allow you to analyse how much value this content derives from an SEO and website traffic perspective.
Step 7. Review your findings and compile your data for future reference
After completing this extensive process, you should have an in-depth grasp of what the competitive landscape looks like and where you will fit in.
Often conducting an individual competitor analysis can be as time consuming as completing an entire digital marketing research project. It’s entirely dependent on how in-depth you decide to go and how much information you want.
6. Analyse Your Data
Now you’ve finalised your environment, competitor, and SWOT analysis you can correlate the collected data to your initial objectives and audiences.
You’ve likely collected an absurd amount of data and feel somewhat overwhelmed. Disregard anything that doesn’t show direct relevance and don’t get side-tracked by the simply interesting information. Look for common themes that live in all your data sets. This will help you trim the fat and drill down on the points that will truly validate your business venture.
Be sure to tailor your data analysis method to the data you have collected and to your research objectives. For example, if you conducted surveys that generated close-ended responses such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’, you can use a quantitative analysis approach. If your survey answers are more diverse, use a qualitative analysis approach as you’re working with immeasurable data.
7. Present Your Findings
Before you act on the data, it’s important to share your findings with your team for information and analysis.
This will allow you to determine whether to proceed with your business idea or perhaps revisit the drawing board.
Create a single document that addresses:
the background, including the objectives and why the research was needed
how the research was conducted
what main themes it uncovered
an action plan that shows how to proceed now you have the research findings.
The most visual way to present your findings might be through a PowerPoint document. Keep your slides to a minimum and put effort in to making your data look as attractive as possible. Ensure every component of your presentation is clear and accessible no matter where someone might be sitting in the room.
Ensure viewers understand the most important findings upfront. There is nothing worse than having to wait until the end of a presentation to find out the salient points. That’s not to suggest skipping how you arrived at your conclusions, your audience will still want to visibility at how you arrived there.
Importantly, ensure you include actionable recommendations. Articulate what the next steps are now your research journey is complete. This may be moving full steam ahead with your idea, fine-tuning it, or abandoning it altogether.
8. Make Decisions – Act On Your Data
You’ve deliberated your findings for quite some time. Now it’s time to act on the data you’ve carefully curated.
Create an actionable strategic plan driven by your SWOT analysis, competitive analysis, and environment analysis. Clearly define your goals, resource plan, and target KPIs and distribute to everyone involved in the project.
The extensive research you’ve undertaken will make your decision cut-and-dried, and you’ll soon reap the rewards of choosing to follow a thorough digital marketing research plan.
9. Testing and Experimentation
There’s no substitute for the real thing. While researched data leads to valuable insights, real-world data will always offer the most honest and comprehensive insights.
The best way to achieve this is through testing and running trial campaigns. Testing may cost more than data acquisition, but it can be achieved quickly via digital marketing.
Follow these steps to test your digital marketing research without having to spend excessively:
Create a landing page (stand-alone web page) promoting your service.
Capture potential customer information and begin building your email database with a form on the page.
You don’t need to already have the product or service to build your landing page. Consider a “registration of interest” form to gauge interest.
Drive traffic to your landing page.
Build a Facebook Ads campaign that targets your demographic.
Build a Google Ads campaign to capture search engine traffic related to your product or service.
Analyse your results.
If your target customers are biting, then you know you’re on to something. If enquires are flooding in the door, you’re ready to take the next steps in bringing your vision to life. If you are struggling to find traction, you will likely need to revisit your offer or service proposition.
This is a vital step in your process to launching a new service or product. It provides a means to “test the waters” before you dive in. During this stage you can make valuable mistakes, with learnings that can help set you up for future success before investing everything.
If you’re interested in testing your recent findings you can talk to our team of specialists today to actualise your business venture.
What Are The Benefits?
Concrete data and research will help you make better, more informed decisions.
The more time you spend executing this process, the better equipped you will be to navigate the specific industry you want to enter.
You can reap a few other benefits from digital marketing research:
De-risk your ideas – save time, money, and effort
Make faster decisions
Strengthen your market position
Identify threats and trends before they emerge
Isolate customer needs and demands
Gain the ability to learn from your competitors.
Market research has come a long way recently and the range of tools at your disposal to validate a business idea or product continues to grow.
By not choosing to adopt a rigorous market research plan that embraces digital marketing, you are effectively losing out on a magnitude of data that can potentially save you thousands, maybe millions, in investment.
It’s important to acknowledge the process of business idea validation or start-up idea validation is very complex and difficult.
While the information here can help to understand some aspects of a potential business environment, such as whether demand exists and how competitive the arena is, you might also want to consider undertaking a dedicated “Business Idea Validation”, “Startup Idea Validation”, or “Product Market Validation” project to cover all the necessary bases.
If you are interested in moving beyond hunches and implementing a strategic plan for digital marketing research, get in touch with our team of professionals today. We can work with you to analyse your current environment through a comprehensive and effective Digital Marketing Audit.
About the author
29 May 2020
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