Well, do you need customers? Yes - and you need to get to know them too. You see, without really understanding them and their needs you will have a very hard time delivering what they want - whether you are selling beach parasols, clothing or used cars.
As a store owner, you need to be on top of the trends - bah, even surpass them - to meet your customers’ expectations better than your competitors.
How do you do that?
By running a regular customer and market research.
Let’s keep our beach umbrella store example. In order for you to sell a lot of your products, you need to know what are your customers looking for from the products. Sturdiness? Compactability, so the umbrella can be folded easily and stored in a small car boot? Or perhaps UV protection, as the ozone layer problem is quite severe in the location you are selling at?
Research will put you ahead of your competitors
Not all customers are the same, and they all are looking for different features, often different each year. What might have worked for you last year [due to a rainy summer, people were looking for bigger umbrellas they could set up easily in their backyard, as they were not going to the beach], might not work for you this year [winds are coming, so everyone is looking for the best windproof beach parasols].
See - being close to the market and to your target customers will put you ahead of your competitors who might be lacking on the research front and were not aware of the changing trends. So make a research as a compulsory task for you, performed on a regular basis.
What are the types of research?
- Customer research [we’ll focus on it first]
- Market research
- Competitor research
Who is your target customer? Where do they live? What is their family situation, annual income, spending habits?
Knowing this will help you understand your customers better, get to know how they shop, and how much they are willing to spend. You will also understand what their main issues and problems are, so you could solve them better. And we already know that solving your customers’ problems is the most effective business strategy.
So how do we start our customer research?
We start from an internet search. Let’s say we want to find who is our ideal target customer for the beach umbrellas. We type in Google: “best beach umbrella to buy + discussion” which will give us the search results from the discussion groups where people discuss their buying needs:
The first link [Trip Advisor forum] and the first question already highlights an important topic:
What I also like to do, is view the profile of a person who asked this question [Trip Advisor makes it very easy]. So what we can find:
Now, repeat this process a number of times, and on different platforms [spoiler alert: it’s a great way to kill a lot of time], gathering as much information as possible. Over time, you will see which issues repeat the most, which interests are most common, and that’s how you know you can focus on these to target.
Discussion forums are a goldmine for a research!
What data is best to collect when preparing a buyer persona?
Here are some great questions you can ask when creating your buyer persona, suggested by Single Grain:
- What is the buyer’s occupation?
- What type of company does the buyer work for?
- What level of education has the buyer achieved?
- What does the buyer like to do for fun?
- What is the buyer’s gender?
- What is the buyer’s age?
- What is the buyer’s household income?
- Who lives with the buyer at home?
- Does the buyer live in an urban, suburban or rural environment?
- How does the buyer spend his/her day?
- What does the buyer read for fun?
- How tech savvy is the buyer?
- Which social networks does the buyer prefer?
- What are the buyer’s biggest challenges at work?
- How does the buyer define success in the workplace?
- What are the buyer’s career goals?
- What are the buyer’s biggest fears?
- What are the buyer’s most common objections?
- How can you help solve the buyer’s challenges?
- How does the buyer prefer to communicate?
These specific details, while quite time-consuming, will help you uncover the information about your buyer, that none of the competitors know [as they couldn’t be bothered with the detailed research], which will put you way ahead of them when marketing to your target customers. Once you spend few days completing the research [I promise, it won’t take more than 3-5 days], it will pay off handsomely in the future.
You can also use this helpful chart when creating your buyers’ persona [if you prefer to digest the information visually]:
You can use the same platforms you used with a customer research, when running a market research - you already uncovered some of the issues covered here in the customer research stage. Remember discovering the beach umbrella perfect for a fair skin? This is an important discovery in our market research. I will discuss the market research in detail in chapter [...]
Once you establish your buyers persona and know their interests, it will be much easier for you to find the online platforms they are active on.
Let’s say you found that majority of your target customers are also keen golfers, and love beach holidays, you can apply the same rule for the whole buyer persona block. Find the discussion groups for the golfers, register your profile and be active - what I mean is start by listening and following the conversations.
Then, join some of the discussions with some valuable tips [note I’m not encouraging you to promote your website at this stage yet]. Once you establish your presence and gain trust of fellow forum members, you can gradually start promoting your products, when relevant.
Start by adding a signature [to go below each of your posts] and a link to your website, if the forum allows it. Some discussion groups have settings where you will only be allowed to post links, or add a custom footer, after you contribute a number of posts. This is all to alienate the trolls joining the forums just to promote their businesses and plant links. This is a short-term strategy and often results in the profile being banned and the links taken off. It just doesn’t make sense.
So, once you are allowed to add links, what is the best strategy?
First, make sure that the link is called for - for example answering a question about recommendations of products, services, places to play golf or travel.
So, how can you plant a link to your website, selling beach umbrellas, to a golf oriented website, without being perceived as a troll?
Make sure that the answer calls for a such link. Let’s say, someone asks about the best travel destination for a family holiday, where they would play golf, while their family would also get entertained. You can be savvy and recommend a beach destination with a popular golf course, and of course, recommend packing a beach umbrella for their family to protect them from damaging rays on the beach [link to your site here]. Can you see that this kind of link placement is totally justified and might result in people, who are looking to book a beach holiday, to follow your recommendation and purchase needed beach umbrella. Win-Win!
Solve their problems in a profitable way
When researching your target customer, make sure to define the most common problems and issues they are facing, when it comes to buying a product like yours. The aim is to discover the present issues and solve them profitably.
What do I mean by that?
It means that you should pinpoint any problems and complaints your target audience mentions - as long, of course, as they relate to your niche. People love discussing the issues online and ask others for the solution, so it’s a goldmine for you.
If you come across recurring complaint on the same topic, it’s a sign it’s a common issue, and you can look into how you can solve it with your business in a profitable way.
What do I mean by that? Let’s say you discover that your potential customers are complaining about the beach parasols being too bulky to pack and cost extra as an oversized luggage when taking them on the plane.
You can then create a quick blog post as a guide with packing tips recommending foldable umbrella [you are selling] as a perfect solution.
Join the conversation on the forum, and write a detailed advice, and add a link to that blog post on your website. Don’t be tempted just to post a link as an answer, it will be little inspiring for the readers to click, and will come across as lazy on your part, which won’t count much in terms of building trust.
Then, you can comb Google for more discussions on the same topic: how to pack an umbrella in a suitcase and save luggage fees? People will be happy to click on the link to your website and read the blog post.
Reciprocity is a powerful marketing strategy
If you help to solve someone’s problem, they will feel obliged to share your content with their friends, subscribe to your newsletter, and buy from you. This is how the best converting stores build their audience.
Now, let’s discuss a market research [...]