Every business has peaks and valleys and when the tough times roll around, marketing budget is usually amongst the first to see cuts. It’s understandable. Whether you’re doing all of your marketing in house or working with a marketing agency, it can be expensive and eat up a lot of resources. But marketing is also one of those things that takes a lot of research and time to do properly if you’re planning to lay a foundation for any type of return on investment.

It can be very tempting for a cashflow crippled company to skip the market research phase and start swinging for the fences. Afterall, chicks dig the long ball, right? Well, they also dig it when you can press all the right buttons that make them light up like a pinball machine.

Emotionally speaking of course, since this is a family blog.

The thing is, there’s lots of market research you can perform by yourself at little to no cost at all and without having to spend six figures on a marketing degree. Here are some simple, budget friendly ways to conduct your own market research:

1. Interview prospects and current customers

There’s nothing more valuable than getting feedback straight from the folks who already know and love you. You’ll be surprised at all of the great observations and suggestions that come out of a single sit down with some of the people who interact with your brand on a regular basis. Your only expense may be the cost of a group lunch. You can get started by asking for volunteers via social media, in person or even through email newsletters. If you’re a B2B company, you could also do some bartering.

2. Perform a content strategy survey

Your analytics can tell you a lot about how a particular piece of content is being received. By running an online content strategy survey you can really start pinpointing the specifics of what your buyer personas are looking for in content. It will also help you develop those personas further. Surveys can be as simple and low cost as adding measurable forms to your website either through your own content management system or a company like Survey Monkey. You can also take your survey submissions and create email segments that will help you serve the right content to the right people.

3. Perform user testing

Usability is key to a smooth running website. Your basic analytics package should give you lots of performance based information, but it won’t necessarily give you specifics about the elements of each page. To get these specifics, you need people to use the site.

You can either get a small group together to run a user test or use a site like usertesting.com who will recruit people and test for you. If you’re in the redesign process, get feedback on the usability of the new look before it launches. You’ll be able to answer questions like:

  • What is the first thing people see on the page?
  • Can I trust this content?
  • Where can I go from here?
  • What is my next step on the page?

Running your website through the user test wringer is a great way to gauge the effectiveness of design, copy, navigation and layout.

Market research doesn’t have to feel like an anchor that’s keeping you from making payroll. With the right tools and the right people in place you can get loads of valuable feedback that will help improve not only your products and services, but the way you present them. All of this will help you push more qualified leads through your sales funnel.

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