Customer research is great – but which customers?

I always advise that any strategy development should take place within the context of sound and relevant research to inform the decisions that you make. This should include primary research unless there is a very good reason not to (good old ‘time and money’ usually).

The research has a fundamental purpose (over and above the specific project objectives): It ensures you don’t have to re-visit the same decisions again prematurely. Likewise it ensures you don’t have to undo any major decisions – with the reputational damage and confused brand identity that inevitably follows.

This is even more important than the wasted time and resources.

So, research is important, but who should do it and how? I would suggest that the top things to consider are:

  • It should not be done by someone who is responsible for delivering creative services. That’s the same as asking them to write their own brief. Completely pointless.
  • It should begin after you have already researched the basics of your market.  Importantly – this should involve development of a segmentation model. You would not believe how many times I have seen the wrong questions asked to the wrong people. The answers you get from this are likely to be completely misleading. I’ve literally had a client told by others that there was no market for their product and then do the research properly and get the opposite answer! And seen the sales come in to prove it.
  • It’s not all about your existing customers. Your existing customers are a product of your past activities. They can tell you to some extent about the success of your current strategy, from their point of view. What they can’t do is tell you anything about the wider market. A lot of people obsess about current customers and the data that comes from them. But major opportunities can be missed if this is all you do.
  • Remember  that not everybody’s opinion is of equal worth. If they are within your realistic target market –their opinion is of great value to you. Although, if they have no chance of being in your target market, their opinion is a complete irrelevance unless your business activity affects them in some way. I can’t emphasise this enough – if they are the wrong people, it’s probably better not to have their opinion than to have it.
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