Marketing to the Empowered Consumer
By Dawn Rivers Baker, for Hostedware Corporation
Over the last twenty years or so, marketing has evolved just
like everything else, as technology has become more and more
pervasive; both in business and in the lives of the consumers
those businesses are trying to reach.
In the 1980s, the way to reach a target audience involved
a combination of advertising, direct marketing and promotions.
A decade later, as mass media gave way to the lure of other
forms of media, marketers responded by adding merchandising,
event sponsorship and an internet presence to the mix.
But marketing will have to continue to evolve. Business owners
and product managers are discovering that as consumers prove
more elusive, they will be under pressure to find more ways
to get their message across. And, as consumers find themselves
more relentlessly bombarded with product pitches, they will
become more apt to use the available technology to avoid all
In a recently released brief entitled The Essentials of Integrated
Marketing, Forrester analyst Jim Nail contends that marketers
need a whole new attitude. Continued message bombardment is
not the wave of the future. Instead, marketers will have to
formulate specific strategic objectives for their campaigns,
detach from their dependence on television media buys, and
master the consumer point of view.
In this new marketing landscape, in which consumers are more
resistant to passively having brand images and product pitches
constantly tossed at them, carrying out market research projects
on a regular basis will prove crucial. Empowered consumers
cannot really be pitched, they need to be engaged.
Nail writes, "Most traditional marketing techniques
are marketer-centric: Gross rating points define message delivery
volume and even the four P's: product, price, place and promotion
speak more to how the company wants to conduct business than
about how the consumer wants to interact with the brand. Integrated
marketing requires a deeper knowledge of consumers' habits,
needs and passions."
Up until now, many companies have been able to get away with
ignoring the need for market research. "It seems the
businesses we talk to either really understand market research
and consider it to be a part of their job, or they don't really
think about it," says Dennis Frayne of consumer research
service provider Hostedware.
Forrester's brief is one of many market research sources
that are finding that the days of considering market research
to be an easily ignored luxury are rapidly coming to an end.
It seems pretty clear that the future of marketing lies in
understanding your customers well enough so that you can present
your product or your brand message in ways that will make
people cheerfully accept those messages instead of tuning
them out or turning them off.
It would be a good idea, then, to begin by figuring out what
kind of information you need and how best to get it, so that
you can organize a data collection and analysis system that
does what you need it to do as painlessly as possible.
There are a variety of ways to gather all kinds of information
about your market. Surveys, newsletters, feedback forms and
post purchase contact of any kind will yield a veritable gold
mine of data for you to collate and analyze. But when it comes
to the actual process of gathering all this data, business
owners have two options that will probably sound very familiar.
They will either have to hire a professional or do it themselves.
There are a number of excellent reasons why professional
market researchers and analysts are worth all the money they
charge, yet Hostedware's Frayne advises the do-it-yourself
approach in some instances, especially if budget is a big
concern. "Sometimes, when you do it yourself, you learn
a lot more because you're closer to the data," he says.
Individual business owners and product managers will, of
course, make the decision that best fits their expertise and
their needs. In many cases, combining the two may produce
the best results. A market research firm can serve as a consultant
in crafting survey questionnaires and discussing methodology
that gets the most helpful results. On the other hand, if
the kind of information you need and the questions you need
to ask to get that information are fairly obvious, the research
professional may not be required.
Once you have gotten this far in your internal market research
program, the only decision left to make is which medium you'll
use for asking those questions.
Hand-crafted market research methods, whether used by the
pros or the do-it-yourself crowd, can cause as many problems
as the research is supposed to solve. Mail-in surveys tend
to generate pretty skimpy response rates. Telephone or live
interview surveys can get very expensive, response rates are
still not optimal, and are subject to greater degrees of human
error in recording responses.
Then, once this laborious and time-consuming process of data
collection is completed, someone will need to manually enter
that data into a computerized database, another lengthy process
that is highly subject to human error. After all that, you
will just have to hope that the software you are using will
give you the kind of reports you really need to tell you what
you want to know.
Fortunately, it is no longer necessary to get involved with
such costly, time consuming and intrusive methods for surveying
the buying public as telephone surveys or those perky people
with the clipboards that we sometimes meet at the mall. If
technology helps consumers to avoid marketing messages, technology
can also help businesses to interact with those consumers
in order to understand them better.
For example, businesses can use their online presence to
create opportunities for customer feedback at various points
in the contact. Post-transaction online surveys and email
newsletters, follow-ups and promotional announcements are
just a few of the ways in which the World Wide Web lets businesses
get in touch with customers and stay in touch with them.
Sophisticated software solutions make it possible to design
surveys so that different responses from consumers will trigger
different following questions, making for much richer data
and a more complete picture of the customer. Technology allows
for segmentation of your customer database, so that you can
find out how often your customers want to hear from you and
avoid becoming annoying to them by emailing them too often.
Online market research is subject to fewer errors in data
collection, since the information goes directly from consumer
response to data analyst, with only a brief stop in computerized
collation-land in between. Results are available in real time,
instead of having to wait for the postal mail to deliver enough
survey responses to work with. Software can be customized
to give the business the information it really needs rather
than having to disinter it from within mountains of meaningless
With the right service provider, you can conduct a complete,
ongoing research program to measure how your branding and
marketing messages are performing over time, without the headaches
of building and maintaining the infrastructure needed to collect
and analyze the data. Hostedware, for example, offers a complete
suite of remotely hosted market research services that give
businesses control over their online market research content
and their data.
It seems pretty clear that the future will belong to the
companies that can make decisions and act on them with both
clarity and speed. The only way to do that well is the use
the technology that increased the pace of everything around
us. Market research will give business owners critical information
to make many decisions that have a direct impact on revenues,
from which products to develop and stock to what kind of media
buys and ad creative to use. Internet-based market research,
with its delivery of speed, accuracy and adaptability, gives
businesses all the advantages of being able to keep pace with
the ever-changing face of marketplace.
Dawn Rivers Baker (www.dawnriversbaker.com),
freelance writer and marketing consultant.
Corporation is a pioneer in providing online software
solutions for research, education and performance improvement.
Hosted Survey and Hosted Test are used by human resources
professionals, market researchers, education and training
organizations and membership associations worldwide.
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