Marketing is a process. And as I explained in a previous article on The 4 Steps of a Successful Marketing Process, the first step in that process is known as Discovery. “Discovery” means research, and whether you’re working on a high-level marketing plan or the details of a particular marketing campaign, it is a step that you don’t want to skip.
So what exactly is it that you need to discover? Information. You want the solid, relevant information about your customers, market and competition that will ensure your plans are based on metrics and reality rather than on gut feelings and wishful thinking. Just what is “relevant,” of course, depends on the nature of your project. But here are some general guidelines about the types of information you might need, and where you might look to find it.
If you have an existing business (versus a start-up), you can glean valuable information about your current customers from your customer database. Examples include:
- Location – It can be helpful to literally map out where your current customers are, as this type of visual representation can provide great insights. For an example of what this looks like, see our Case Study: The Value of Mapping.
- Demographics – Age, educational background, marital status, household size, number of children, income level, etc.
What’s going on in your market or industry that could impact the plan or campaign that you’re creating? In the realm of competitive and market data, what you need depends a lot on what you’re trying to do. For example, say you’re planning to open a new coffee place, and you’re working on a marketing plan for the launch. You would want to figure out:
- Who are your competitors? Of course, you’ll want to find out about all of your direct competitors, such as other coffee shops in your area. But you also need to look beyond direct competitors who offer the exact same product or service and consider indirect competitors, too. In this example, you would also want to consider all of the other places in the neighborhood where people can go for a quick cup of coffee, such as donut shops, fast food places, supermarkets, 7-11, etc.
- What are your competitors doing? How are they positioning themselves in the marketplace? What mix of products and services are they offering? What is their pricing? What are their points of differentiation? How do they market themselves?
- Who is buying from your competitors? What are their demographics, geography, budgets, and needs?
Once you have determined what data you want, the next step is to try to find it. If you’re not working with a market research team like MacKenzie, you can:
- Check with your trade association – Many have reports available that will tell you what’s going on in your industry.
- See if data is available for purchase – You may be able to access relevant research data through companies like Nielsen, Gallup or Polk. For example, say you sell auto parts and you want to know how many people in a certain city own Hondas. By contacting these companies you might be able to purchase syndicated data saying that a given percentage of the market owns a Honda. You would then combine this with data regarding how many people in the city own vehicles at all to get the information you need.
- Do a Google search – You never know what you might turn up!
But what if the specific data you want does not seem to exist? In this case you need to consider the feasibility of doing your own research – either in-house or through an experienced outside provider.
Conclusion – The bottom line is, before you move forward, you need to make sure you have all of the information necessary for good decision making. Don’t be afraid to do your homework. A good discovery process will save you time and money, and make your marketing plan or campaign much more successful.