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7 Market Research Hacks: A Cheatsheet For Testing Your New Idea


Last week we gathered in the plush but homely space at WeWork Devonshire Sq for another CAC training workshop. This time, to explore all things market research. The table was set. Beer on tap, sweet and salty snacks laid out, all essential supplies were present and correct as we embarked upon this 2-hour interactive learning session attended by a lively bunch of creative and social entrepreneurs.

We set about getting to grips with why market research is so important, how to get into the hearts and minds of your ideal audience, and what to do with all that juicy knowledge once you have it. If you missed out – here’s the lowdown on the key steps to follow when getting your hands dirty with DIY marketing for your venture.

1) Reach out to a group that’s easy to find.

So, you’re doing your “Hey, wanna hear about my new project…?” spiel and getting enthusiastic nods and smiles from friends and family. This might be comforting to you, but it’s going to make zero impact on your income if, in reality, it’s just well-intentioned ego-stroking.

How do you find the people most likely to be your future customers / clients? How can you get honest, unbiased feedback?

a) Note down the core audience most likely to interact with your offering. For example, if you’re an ethical fashion designer: eco, style-conscious women or armchair activists types may be interested in your brand.

b) After that, note down all the people related to this core audience.

c) Identify who are the fans, who are the skeptics?

d) Keep this makeshift map of your audience and refer back to it, keeping track of all the different groups of people you want to engage with.

Next, get out from behind that laptop! Go where your core audience is and hang out with them on their turf, this could be social events, relevant conferences, the local vegan cafe. Start conversations with influencers and experts in your field – learn from what they already know. Ask for useful referrals from within you own network. Notice who’s around you, when you see someone who might be interested in your offering – get chatting.

Not ready to go live with the website yet? Set up a holding page with a one sentence elevator pitch + an email sign up box. Invite visitors to sign up to be the first to try it out. As you collect these sign ups – email them back, get curious about who they are, why they signed up and how they see the offering you have described helping them to overcome the challenges they face.

2) Decide on 3 key learning goals.

We’re social beings, people like to talk. People especially love to talk about themselves. That’s why asking your audience the right question can be so goddam revealing. But it’s easy to veer off track. Avoid falling down conversation rabbit holes by having 3 key learning outcomes in mind before starting any formal or informal market research conversation.

Learning goals could focus on:

  • Current challenges and solutions already available – how are they dealing with the problem at the moment?
  • Price – how much would they genuinely be willing to pay?
  • Distribution channels for your offering – do they want to see it and touch it before buying or is ordering online ok?

These goals mean the conversation is focused towards the gold you’re searching for.

3) Decide on your methodology.

Surveys, interviews, focus groups, observation, field research (getting your audience to actually test or use your solution in their natural setting) – all of these different approaches are valuable. Insights become even clearer when the different methods are combined. Choose which methods would work best for your audience and follow best practice guidelines for expert execution. Learn more here.

4) Do desk research first.

So, you’ve managed to catch someone’s attention and got them chatting about their challenges and needs. You’re picking up on their body language, tone, enthusiasm to understand the motivations behind their behaviour.

But have you done the background research first? Don’t waste your time asking basic information you should know already. Look through existing reports, articles, journals, cruise those secret Facebook groups and Q&A forums like Quora. Understand your audience’s mindset as much as possible before seeking out that precious face time.

5) Ask good questions.

Robert Fitzpatrick has written a great book, The Mom Test, establishing common pitfalls of market research and how to turn bad questions good. It’s well worth checking out. Here’s an excerpt:

“Do you think it’s a good idea?”

Awful question! Here’s the thing: only the market can tell if your idea is good. Everything else is just opinion. Unless you’re talking to a deep industry expert, this is self-indulgent noise with a high risk of false positives.

Let’s fix it: Say you’re building an app to help construction companies manage their suppliers. You might ask them to show you how they currently do it. Talk about which parts they love and hate. Ask which other tools and processes they tried before settling on this one. Are they actively searching for a replacement? If so, what’s the sticking point? If not, why not? Where are they losing money with their current tools? Is there a budget for better ones? Now, take all that information and decide for yourself whether it’s a good idea.

Rule of thumb: Opinions are worthless.

6) Ask for commitment.

You’ve come to the end of you little black book, asked your friends, mum, dad, the favourite uncle. It’s time to lock in some actual real life, non-emotionally blackmailed customers or clients. Market research is not a chance to practice your sales pitch. However, when you do share your idea and are being met with overwhelming enthusiasm, are these cheerleaders willing to put their money where their mouth is?

Don’t be shy, ask the question: “We’ve got a limited number available for pre-order, would you be interested in putting down a deposit today?” or “Would you like to be added to the email community to hear first about our news?”
This is another chance to ‘listen with all your senses’. You are specifically looking for sudden horror-stricken expressions, tight smiles that don’t reach their eyes, awkward incoherent mumbling combined with “I need to leave now” gestures.
These are indicators that all is not as it seems, there are some home truths yet to uncover. Your sales pitch wasn’t a failure, just another opportunity to learn.

7) Take good notes and share them with your team immediately.

The second most common reason why start-up ventures fail is due to conflicts between co-founders. The root cause of disagreements may be complex, but if the question of which direction to take the business offering is at stake, listening to customer feedback is a pretty good compass to guide decision-making. Avoid time-consuming arguments conversations on what your audience may or may not want by sharing the market research feedback throughout the team immediately.

Audience responses should be reported back verbatim not as a summary of what the researcher felt they heard. Ideally, the team should work together to pick out keywords, identify trends and pick at anomalies.

Final note: market research is meaningless unless you have the courage to listen and act on the insight your audience is showing you. This doesn’t mean following each customer request blindly, but it may mean finding a balance between your big idea and the practical needs of the current market. As a wise man once said: “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for you customers” – Seth Godin.

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