Best Practices for Audience Insight: Understanding Your Customers’ Mindset

Audience insight is easier than ever – digital focus groups and online analytics tools bring deep market research within reach for companies within the B2B world, without a Samsung or PepsiCo-level budget. What are the benefits of bringing market research into the fold, and what are best practices?

What audience insight does for your marketing efforts

Market research doesn’t have to be difficult or costly. Audience insight can take only a few weeks and run you as little as $20,000 – well worth it for information steering an $80K-200K communications project.
Done well, an audience insight project can:

Identify meaningful differentiators for your product or brand
Ensure your positioning and messaging is actually relevant to your market
Align your organization internally, making sure everyone is on the same page

The research process

In order to get an accurate read on where your brand fits into the competitive set (and more importantly, how you should position your brand), there are three phases you should incorporate into your research:

  1. How does your company perceive its product?
    A critical starting point for audience insight is within your own company. Sit down with your sales teams, marketing department and senior management to understand how each group views your product or service offering versus the competitive set. What, in their eyes, are the most important product traits customers are looking for? What separates them from the rest of the market? And, what pain point are they solving for their customers?

It’s important to engage an independent third-party, as organizations and departments within them often carry different and conflicting dogmas about their product and how they think customers view it. That’s OK – but at the end of an effective audience insight process, the facts revealed about buyer opinions will ideally get everyone on the same page.

  1. How do ‘prospects’ perceive it?
    Now to the core of audience insight: understanding the mindset of current, former and potential customers. Recruit a set of “prospects” ––15 to 20 is usually enough––and ask similar, sometimes identical questions to what you posed internally. Look for patterns in the answers you get, and take note of how they align with or deviate from the company’s current beliefs.

Build off of previous questions to get at the customer’s specific motivations. If you simply ask, “what buying criteria are important to you?,” the prospect might answer, “quality” – not a groundbreaking insight. Pry further:
“What do you mean by quality?”
“Well, what’s important is the customer service and care we get.”
“To you, what defines good customer service?”
…and so on. The point of this process is to mine for traits that help a product differentiate itself from competitors. “Quality” is too general to accomplish this.

Often we’ll find in our research that the traits a client is emphasizing are the minimum cost of entry to the potential customer. It’s as if I’m trying to market an iPhone by saying ‘it’s excellent at making phone calls.’ That’s the bare minimum you need in a phone! But this is exactly what customers think when they hear you emphasize a general trait like ‘quality’ –they already take that as a given among the products they’re considering. To differentiate yourself, you have to dig deeper.

  1. How are your competitors talking about themselves?
    Understanding how your organization views your point of differentiation, along with your audience’s perspective of your organization, provides you with almost all the information you need to develop compelling brand positioning and messaging. The only thing missing is knowledge of how your competitors are talking about themselves. Take the time to analyze the messaging your core competitors are communicating and understand how they are trying to differentiate themselves. This additional information will allow you to make educated decisions about how best to effectively position your organization.

An ongoing feedback loop – not an one-off project

This audience insight process doesn’t have to be just at the outset of a campaign. It’s an excellent habit to have regular interaction with your customers and marketplace to understand how you’re perceived. Market research doesn’t have to be formal, either – it can be as simple as sampling opinion at a trade show.

What we’re trying to do with customer insight is flip the standard marketing paradigm: Communications to our target audience should be all about your customers – about how you can support them, not about how they can buy from you.

This excerpt come straight from Chapter 2 of our Life Science Marketing Field Guide. Ready for more? Get access to the full Field Guide below.

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