Market research can make or break a business. This is not something you do once when your business is working. This is something you do prior to evening designing your product and then again and again as you iterate and improve on that initial design.
Any business plan should have a target audience in mind – a section of the market that you are aiming your product or service at and that you think will be interested in what you have to offer. Running a website or a business is no different from this – here you will be site or a product that is designed for a specific audience, whether you are using it to promote our other products or services, or whether the site is your source of income in itself.
If you don’t know who you are making the offering for, then it isn’t going to be half as streamlined and as focused as it otherwise would be, and it’s not going to bring in half as many customers. It’s far better to have a portion of the internet dedicated to following your every word than it is to have the whole market half-heartedly listening to what you have to say.
By now you probably already know what your niche or industry is. Now how do you go about making sure your site caters for them correctly? It comes down to market research.
Market Research for Business Models
Look at the Competition
This is a highly important way to make sure that you are on the right track and that you are providing the kind of site that your visitors expect. By looking at what has worked for your competition, you can skip the experimental stages up front and straight away start making a big impression that will be well tailored to your market.
Sometimes, the best way to create a successful business is to take a ‘turnkey approach’ by looking at a business that has worked and then borrowing their business model.
The danger? Of course, you will be looking at competing directly with a company that ‘did it first’. This is why good market research also means that you are looking for gaps in the market. Look for niches, look for demand that isn’t being met.
Ask and Survey
Sometimes it’s easiest just to ask what people want, and to do the market research to see how you can make your website more appealing to the people who will hopefully be visiting it. You can accomplish this by simply going round, people and asking what they think of various different site designs, or you can use technology to ‘crowdsource’ what your current visitors would like to see on your site. You can do this by simply asking through a Facebook page or through a forum on your own site. This kind of feedback is invaluable, and some companies are still paying over the odds for this sort of critique – so make sure that you sit up and listen.
Note that people also vote with their wallets and with their clicks. All kinds of data points can help you to provide some kind of improvement. For instance, you can look at which types of products sell better for your own business or your competitors. Look at which kinds of posts get the most likes. Look at which pages on your site or your competitors’ sites get the most views. These are all clues that you can follow.
You can use survey companies to collect this data, but likewise you can also use focus groups (making sure to select members of the public that reflect your audience) etc.
In business we don’t say imagine – we say ‘counterfactual simulation’ – at least according to Josh Kaufman, author of the excellent Personal MBA.
You can’t do market research on every single little tweak and change you want to make to your website as it would simply take too long and result in nothing getting done. Instead then you will need to sometimes be able to just intuit what your market wants to see.
One way to make this easier is to imagine your ‘ideal customer’. Create a fake ‘number one fan’ in your head who is the exact type of person you think would benefit from your site. Think about their gender, their age, their hobbies and interests, their daily routines and their various preferences. Let’s call them Dave. Then each time you make a change just ask yourself ‘what would Dave think of this?’.
This technique is actually referred to as the buyer persona and you can then add to this persona with the data you collect from surveys and from analytics. Look at the people who are really enjoying your site, look at the people who enjoy competitors’ offerings. Look at the things you can do to increase their enjoyment further and how you would design your business for that person.
You need to have an idea of who your perfect buyer/audience is. What is their age, their sex, their location. What is their income?
And likewise: how many of them are there? Is this market you’re thinking of targeting actually big enough to sustain your business model? If not, you may need to look at lowering overheads.
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Design and Market Research
Market research should also affect your initial design. This means looking at what is already out there, looking at what works and what doesn’t, and then generally using those things to create a product, service, brand or anything else that is perfectly targeted for the market as it is.
The previous examples looked at how market research affects the business model and the marketing. But it should also influence the way the product comes together.
So, before you were to create a website for instance to promote your product or your business, you would first do the research to get ideas of the kinds of designs that work. You’d also need to make sure you were up-to-speed regarding Google’s latest mandates for SEO, and you’d need to ensure you were on-trend.
Web design is something that you don’t do for yourself. Unless you are designing a website simply as a personal pursuit to promote your hobby or as a personal project, then your web design is for the people coming to the site rather than being for you.
Of course, when you design your websites, you are actually designing them for your audience whoever that might be and your visitors and you are trying to ensure the site is something that your customers are going to want to come to regularly and stay on and look around. In short then this is an exercise in reserve – you’re not to just throw everything that you like the thought of at your site in order to make it your ‘baby’ and you need to remember that your opinions won’t always align with those of your readership.
Things like images then or big flamboyant backgrounds– these are subjective and while you might think that they add a certain ‘pizazz’ to your site, someone else might find the look of them to be ugly and off-putting. Similarly, this is one of the reasons we don’t typically use music in web design – it’s too divisive and it will put some people off of your page at least.
As cold as it sounds, there are things that work when it comes to web design and things that do not, and there are certain strategies that will be more successful with particular audiences as well. Tapping into that, and know precisely how to tailor your site to your audience can be the difference between five clicks a day and thirty. So how do you go about researching this?
Ask the Designers
First of all if this is a professional website for an organization and you are hoping to make money from it, then you should use web designers. The reason for this is quite simply that they have experience in what works, and they will be able to view your site and your company in a detached way that is not influenced by their attachment to your company. When you try to decide what you want your site to look like you will undoubtedly be influenced by how you perceive your business, which is not necessarily how your customers or visitors perceive you. Likewise, you will be tempted to go with what you think looks nice or looks cool, whereas the web designers have no such influences and instead focus on what has worked in the past and earned their clients’ money.
In another industry, this might mean consulting with the manufacturing company and actually listening to what they have to say.
If you’re creating a mobile app or any piece of software, then you should always start with an alpha test (a test among the development team), followed by a beta test (a test among a select subsection of your target audience). In manufacturing, this is what we call a ‘prototype’. In another business, this can be a focus test – asking a focus group what they think of a logo, a website, or a product.
In other words, you’ve collected your data, you’ve designed your business model, and you’ve build your product based on that information. Now, before you go to market with it, you need to double check that your product, your design, your business model all meet the mark.
Watch the series The Apprentice and you see this time and again. The teams show their focus groups what they think of when they hear the word X or when they see the brand. The teams that ignore that advice, always end up losing. Because they’re no longer creating the product for the audience they want to sell it to!
Get Customer Feedback
You should also do market research by actually asking the people you are designing the site for. If you are launching a new design, then it’s time to get feedback on your current layout and look. Quiz your customers on what would make them come back to the site more, what their initial impressions of the site were, and whether they’d prefer the site in blue or green.
Encourage your visitors to participate by letting them fill out forms and offer prizes for those that do offer the feedback. Pour this back into your iteration cycle.
Look at Your Statistics
You can also do this by looking at your web stats. Use something like Google Analytics and look at whether you are getting more views, more clicks and longer staying times when you have changed the color of your website or before. This will require you to measure your stats over some time, and to try incremental changes to your web design – but the stats don’t lie.
Look into split testing to see how this form of market research can help you to hone your designs and evolve them over time.
Iteration cycles are a business term for minor changes made of a long period of time coupled with a ‘feedback loop’. The idea is that you continuously make small tweaks to your website, and then watch the statistics and feedback to see how this affects things like your page views and CTR. By testing each change you make as a beta, or doing split tests (making changes that affect just a portion of your market to ‘pilot’ them), you can this way ensure that your business evolves to meet the demand more and more perfectly.
Products also benefit from iteration cycles: just look at something like your typical smartphone. We’re on the Galaxy S8, the iPhone 10, the Surface Pro 5… these numbers show us how many products have gone before and each time, the company has not only bumped up the specs but also listened to feedback and used this in order to create better products.
Thus you have the symbiotic relationship between research, marketing and design. One should not exist without the other.