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Market Research


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 those ads.

 

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 statistics.

 

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.

 

Hostedware 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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