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Thriving as a Small Business – Part 1: The Role of Customer Insights

by Katie Rucker on December 3, 2021 Comments Off on Thriving as a Small Business – Part 1: The Role of Customer Insights

One of my favorite aspects of operating a small business is our ability to make agile decisions. Where larger companies often have extended approval processes and varied hoops to jump through, we have a lean and compact structure which enables us to streamline information sharing and expedite the launch of new initiatives.

That said, agile decisions carry the need for risk mitigation. So, before giving the green light, we want to feel informed and confident in the direction we’re moving. That is why it’s so important to leverage data-driven customer insights in support of our plans for brand growth and evolution. The key is making informed decisions based on fact, not opinions or presumptions.

At the end of the day, we want every small business to thrive, not just survive. This depends on maximizing our resources, closely monitoring the impact of our efforts, and making strategic adjustments as needed along the way. Leveraging customer insights will benefit each of those objectives, which is why having a holistic research strategy is so important.

Here are a few ways Customer Insights can play a role in your business’ growth and development:

Establish current awareness and perception.

Think of your brand development strategy like driving directions. You may have a destination in mind, but mapping the route requires a clearly defined starting point. If you don’t know where you are, it’s hard to figure out where to turn. Conducting a brand awareness and perception study will establish your starting point. The goal is to understand what customers know and think about your brand today so your path forward will be more precise and accurate.

Keep in mind, brand awareness is about more than people having heard of your brand. Dig into the details regarding awareness of the products or services you offer, their knowledge of your value propositions, and their overall understanding of your band’s purpose and identity. These are important factors to explore because someone may have heard of your brand but are not familiar with what you offer.

Understand your brand’s positioning.

There’s a difference between your intended, ideal, and actual brand positioning. Marketing content and strategies are built around how we want to be perceived within the market and among competitors. But sometimes even the most creative and perfectly executed marketing campaigns don’t produce the desired outcome. So, it’s not safe to assume that your messaging is being received exactly as intended.

This is where customer insights come into play. Conduct a survey prompting respondents to choose which brand they associate with a list of brand attributes. Include your brand alongside competitors and list your ideal or intended identity characteristics. These insights will provide a snapshot of how you’re currently positioned within the minds of consumers and among the field of competitors. Then, apply those findings when making strategic decisions or updating brand development plans.

Explore emerging trends and opportunities.

Whether it’s new product development or concept testing, gathering customer insights will help determine whether you’re moving in the right direction. But beyond that, connecting with your target audience can uncover trends and opportunities you hadn’t previously considered.

A great way to go about this is through open-ended feedback survey questions. Rather than providing respondents with a structured list of options, allow them to provide their own thoughts, opinions, and ideas using their own words. Topics can range from product usage or service value to recommended improvements or wish-list items. The point is to gather unstructured and unfiltered feedback from those who know you best in search of “AHA!” moments.

Build and update customer personas.

In our ever-changing world, consumer preferences and lifestyles are in a constant state of flux. It’s likely that what we knew about our audience six months ago no longer applies today. So, in order to authentically connect with customers and deliver uniquely personalized experiences, we need to keep up as they evolve.

For starters, conduct a “Getting to Know You” survey for each new customer. Use this as an opportunity to establish a meaningful relationship by learning who they are beyond their purchase. Products and services are not siloed or compartmentalized within a customer’s life. So, the more we can learn about their life as a whole, the better we can understand where our brand fits into the mix. Customers tend to be more engaged and passionate about their support of a small business, so this is an opportunity for competitive advantage.

Set performance benchmarks and monitor progress.

Gathering and applying customer insights should not be viewed as one-time, ad hoc projects. The true value of these insights will be found through a long-term, strategic approach. For example, brand awareness and perception feedback gathered last year can serve as benchmarks for measuring marketing effectiveness.

If knowledge of your services was at 60% and today it’s at 70%, then you’ve been able to validate messaging impact and quantify ROI. On the other hand, if the needle hasn’t moved from then-to-now, you’ll know to revisit marketing campaigns and strategies since they’re not having the desired effect. Rather than relying on presumptions or best guesses, you’ll have data-driven insights to strengthen confidence and support agile decisions.

It’s important to note that simply gathering feedback and data won’t guarantee success. There needs to be a strategy in place and a commitment to following through. Also, there needs to be a clear understanding of which type of insights are needed based on the primary goals and objectives. Being effective and efficient with resource allocation is the name of the game for small business success, so it’s never a bad idea to seek outside support for leveraging customer insights.

If you found this information useful or enlightening, stay tuned for my next article which will be focused on developing holistic Customer Insights Strategies.


A people-first, purpose-driven business leader and operational expert with a passion and proven aptitude for unlocking potential. Katie brings a unique blend of strategic business acumen, analytical skills, and business development know-how to her role as Chief Operations & People Officer at MacKenzie Corp., a second-generation family business that provides consumer insights and data solutions for clients across a variety of industries. Having joined the family business in 2008 and transitioned to co-owner in 2012, Katie's focus as a leader has been to mirror MacKenzie's outward mission internally by strengthening internal processes, evolving company culture, and promoting employee engagement.

Katie RuckerThriving as a Small Business – Part 1: The Role of Customer Insights