Like most marketers, I know that audience research is crucial for an effective strategy. So, as I begin working on a campaign, I try to get as much hard data as possible about my client’s target market. Most of my clients are able to provide me with some form of information, but sometimes what we receive is not entirely accurate (especially when it comes in the form of anecdotal data), or is no longer an accurate representation of what the client’s target audience wants from them. In those cases, I try to take things one step further and reach out to the audience directly. After all, research can only be effective if the trends you uncover are truly relevant to your own unique market.
This past week, I had the opportunity to run three focus groups for one of our clients. During the campaign development phase leading up to these focus groups, my team had had access to some great information about our target audience—including data from well-known and reliable sources, as well as industry studies available to our client—to guide us in shaping our message and creative materials. We crafted some beautiful pieces with strong content. Based on what these studies had told us, we felt that our work would communicate well with our audience—and both my team and my client felt confident about the end product.
However, as the people in these focus group sessions began to provide feedback about their perceptions of the work, it became quite clear that the industry reports and statistical data were not in line with how our audience felt about the subject. In fact, we were way off-target! Perhaps the national industry studies provided to our client were incorrect or outdated. Perhaps the two groups we worked with were completely different from audiences in other parts of the country. We have no way of knowing which is the case—but we do know from these focus groups that we need to revise our work if we want the campaign to be effective with our target group here in Maine.
In order to cut down on marketing costs, many small businesses stick with tried-and-true strategies they’ve always used—and these strategies often exclude research and message validation. The fact is, the marketing world has changed. Audiences have changed—and so have their perceptions, needs, and desires. Now, more than ever in the history of marketing, it’s incredibly risky to rely on second-hand statistics alone. Still, small and major campaigns are often launched without being fully vetted by the people that matter most – the customers themselves.
This focus group experience was an eye-opener for us, as it reaffirmed the importance of accurate market research. Without that direct audience feedback, we would have been using an entirely misaligned message to reach our target audience. Thanks to the information we received, however, we now have time to improve our product and make it more effective.
If you are working on a new marketing campaign right now, take the time to validate your ideas with your current and prospective customers. There are several ways to get feedback from your target market, including:
- Asking questions on your social media pages
- Sending out surveys
- Conducting focus groups
- Using A/B tests to compare the effectiveness of different messages
My suggestion as a professional marketer is to take your time and conduct thorough research – even if it means a little extra expenditure. After all, there’s no greater waste of time and money than a campaign that doesn’t resonate with your customers.