In the B2B world, data leads the charge. Or, at least it should. Data should influence decision-making, drive change and be at the crux of your marketing program.
Creative and aesthetics, while critical, need to emanate from and be influenced by the data and results. Not the other way around.
Today, with the proliferation of easy-to-use, cost-efficient technologies, the barriers to smartly collect quantitative and qualitative data to approach your marketing efforts have been largely eliminated.
Market research and measurement – formerly the world of only direct and B2C marketers – used to cost a fortune. Not anymore. In our increasingly digitally centric and hyper-competitive world, you have every reason to test, measure, refine, solicit opinion, wash, rinse and repeat.
And, please note: While I’m a huge data geek, I am not a research purist. That is, I believe it’s better to gather some good, solid, insightful information quickly and cost effectively with a slightly lower degree of confidence than to run a study that is too time consuming and costly to run at all.
That all said, here are five of my favorite research tools du jour that can help your business make better, more informed decisions.
1. Online Bulletin Boards
I’ve observed more than my fair share of traditional focus groups over the years. The insight gained was often valuable. But there were real downsides – logistics, lead-time, recruitment and cost. And then there was always that guy or gal – No matter the topic, purpose or make up of the group, or how skilled the moderator, there is always one or two people that dominate the discussion and sway opinion. Empanelling diverse groups or hard-to-reach demographics often meant multiple sessions in different locations, renting facilities and more.
The technology driving Online Bulletin Boards (OBB) – web-based, structured, highly controlled, flexible – has evolved so much in the past two years that it’s no longer the domain of early-adopters and big budgets. The platform is something your organization should consider if and when you need detailed insight and opinion – and are much more time- and cost-effective than the traditional focus group.
We recently used an OBB to help a company with a complete rebranding.
Rather than locking a bunch of “creatives” in a room to come up with a name they like, we took the target demographics, layered it with psychographic characteristics and filtered in geographic requirements to empanel 24 participants in the OBB.
Through the OBB, we were able to systematically and thoughtfully gather qualitative and quantitative data on more than a dozen possible choices for naming the company. Panelists could see what others were saying – but not until after they answered the first batch of questions themselves. Like a traditional focus group, the moderator probed for more details, pushed for clarification and clarified questions the participants had.
Participants were required to log on twice a day for three days. Each session was about 15 minutes so not very taxing on the participant.
The insight was great, convenient to gather and gave us a great short list of options to run through IP searches and finally, on to visual branding, logo creative and tag line development.
This format can be used for a lot more than branding. So think about it next time the deep opinions and insight from a small group (15-25) would help set you in the right direction.
2. Heat Mapping
You’ve probably seen me and my team at Altitude write this dozens of times over the years: Your website should be in a constant state of evolution based on data – user interaction, conversion rates and more.
Few enlightened CEOs get this; most do not.
At an aggregate level, good heat mapping software will give you a radar-like image of where people are engaging on your site. With the platform we use at Altitude, we can record actual site visit sessions right down to tracking where the mouse is moved on-screen. We can see where site visitors are hovering, where they’re clicking, how far they’re scrolling down the page, where the mouse stopped (indicating the visitor was actually reading something) and much more.
Talk about gaining insight into the “buyer’s journey?” (A term which I personally disdain). Well, in video format, this captures your site visitors’ journeys – and you can learn a lot from it.
While analytics is great to give you a historical view, heat mapping software can allow you to test slight tweaks to your home page in real time. Change a section header, swap out an image, swap out a different video – and see what drives positive change, literally on the fly.
The insight gained can help you refresh your home page to accentuate what’s working, ditch what’s not, get a much better sense of what people are looking for and ultimately drive conversion rates up and bounce rates down.
The alternative – relying on analytics and your gut – will only get you so far.
Recently, I sat in on a new product development roadmap meeting with a client as part of their five-year strategic planning. The arguments over what products to create next, in what order, were highly charged. Opinions were as wide as they were loud. The CTO was irritated with the head of manufacturing and the VP of sales wasn’t buying what either were pitching.
Emotion seeped in and no decisions were made. Think Dilbert.
My response? It doesn’t matter what any of you think. It’s a statement I make on a regular basis to clients looking to launch a new product or service or rebrand themselves.
You need to create products that the market wants, products that will attract prospects, turn prospects into customers and customers into evangelists.
In the case I’ve described above, we were able to turn to the 3,000+ person database the company had built over the last two years. We built a 10-question survey on SurveyMonkey and distributed it to the list via Campaign Monitor. The questions focused on what they – the customer and prospect – would most like to see in the new product development pipeline.
The quantitative data – sortable, searchable and easily parsed thanks to the platform – was eye-opening. Of all the ideas that gained steam during the internal discussions, none were in the top three of what customers really wanted.
The technology is clearer here, now, to enable business leaders to remove the internal blinders, check their egos – and listen to the market.
The world’s most popular business-focused social network can also be a powerful tool for the marketing department.
I recently saw a post where someone asked for an opinion on six or seven versions of a logo. Twelve thousand comments were recorded last I saw it pop in my feed!
Now parsing through 12,000 comments for an in-depth study (see OBB and SurveyMonkey above) is not particularly effective. But the way this particular post was served up – in a single graphic – made it hard for people not to engage. And because the company was looking for a number 1-7 (which one do you like best), it made turning the data it into actionable information a breeze.
5. Sprout Social
There are dozens of tools out there to help you manage your company’s social media activity. We’ve been through a few and really like Sprout Social for its ease-of-use, intuitive dashboard, ability to easily configure views, preload content, schedule pushes, pull in feeds from reputable sources and auto re-post – and of course, easy-to-parse data.
There is little sense in doing social if you’re not measuring it to see what’s working. For many of our clients, if a particular social network isn’t a top-10 referral source to their respective websites, we won’t put much time or effort into it – because the data says so.
Sprout puts everything in one place for us so there’s no excuse NOT to look at the data and take corrective action. We get to easily see what kind of content is working, set goals and get a true sense of engagement. It ties into our analytics so we get that view as well. You even can measure your company vis-à-vis one of your key competitors.