In a recent post, we shared one of our little online marketing secrets: that we are willing to do things like create cardboard cutouts of our best customers to help us better understand them and remember their needs.
We don’t do this because we’re out of our minds – or least not only because of that – but because it helps us create inbound marketing plans and bottom-line results that border on unbelievable.
Before you can follow in our footsteps and put those cutouts to work in your own office, however, you have to have the same kind of information to work with. Unfortunately, those kinds of details don’t just fall from the sky. So, how can you gather the insight you need? Here are a few of our favorite tools:
Questionnaires and polls don’t make a bad starting point when it comes to market research. Just be sure you don’t rely on them too much – the response rates are often low (because your best customers are too busy to follow up), and many people can’t honestly and accurately tell you why they prefer one product or service over another, so their answers can be misleading.
2. Social media profiles
As we’ve written in the past, social media is great for building relationships with customers, but its other real (and often unrealized) potential is as a tool for gathering information. The more you study customer profiles, the more likely you are to recognize patterns and similarities between the kinds of people you want to attract.
3. Meetings and conventions
Nothing beats face-to-face contact when you’re getting to know buyers. In-person events have fallen a little out of favor in the virtual age, but if you can get out to meet your market from time to time (and see firsthand what they actually like and respond to), the experience is likely to be very beneficial in the long run.
4. Analytic data from your website
Occasionally, prospective customers are like the sun – staring at them for too long just blinds you. So, what you can do instead is see how they behave, what they respond to, and what sort of messages they prefer. That requires you to test new ideas and study the results closely through web analytics.
5. An experienced industry contact
If you’re starting from scratch, or maybe trying to enter a new market, see if you can find someone who already has the kind of insight and perspective you’re looking for. Sometimes, just a few quick phone calls are all that’s needed to fill in the missing information, or at least give you a head start on your marketing personas.
Conversely, sometimes you just have to trust your instincts and see what happens, at least if you’re just starting to build client profiles. In that case, you make an educated guess and then test different ideas or marketing messages to see which ones stick. Ideally, you’d like to be working from real information, but sometimes you just have to “try and see.”
7. Constant refinement
Naturally, your understanding of your market will change and grow over time. Also, your ideal customers won’t be the same later as they are right now. With that in mind, constantly refining your personas is the key to keeping them accurate and up to date.
Marketing directly to your most important customers is so important that it can make or break the success of your company. Before you can do that, though, you have to know who your most likely buyers are, and what they really want.
With that in mind, get to work finding out more about them using any or all of these methods. What you learn will help you create new sales opportunities for years to come.