i think this week's NxLevel class represents the epitome of why there is such a thing as a business class for creative entrepreneurs to begin with... sometimes the topics we discuss in class remind me 1) why creative artistry was a natural path for me and, 2) why we creative-types often aren't naturally gifted in the art of business, respectfully.
i mean, we create artistic works and people are supposed to be interested. right? and if they buy? even better! apparently, that's not exactly how it works in the realm of enterprise. those MBA hotshots say there should actually be someone who WANTS to buy what you're selling before you decide to go into business for yourself. i'm like... wha???
welcome, dear satellite readers (all three of you), to the fascinating world of market analysis and customer research.
our first guest speaker this week was matt herndon, a research manager at market analysis firm corona insights. launched in 1999, corona specializes in market research, strategic consulting and customer analytics.
when discussing the importance of customer research, herdon says there is no better resource for a business to develop new ideas than its customers. they're the ones using your products and services and they're the ones who can tell you what's working verses what isn't. in addition, customer analytics becomes an extremely useful tool in minimizing a company's risk (on multiple levels), improving products and services, measuring an operation's success or improving its marketing message. another great way to utilize the information obtained from various customer-related research is the ability to differentiate your business from your competitor(s).
herdon stressed what he calls the "five P's" of market analysis: product, place (location), positioning, price and promotion. each of these areas can be improved upon with data interpretation through quality customer research. what is quality research? read on...
herdon says there are several ways a start-up business can analyze its customer base. inexpensive methods like a simple conversation or comment cards are informal ways to obtain qualitative information. quantitative (measurable) results can also be informally achieved through feedback questionnaires or reviewing purchasing trends.
more formal methods, like those offered by corona insights, include customer interviews, focus groups and usability studies. and, even more formal and measurable techniques for gathering quality customer information include the creation and tracking of user surveys, customer segmentation analysis and demographic data. (see why we creatives never excel in this stuff? i'm actually tuning MYSELF out right now...)
some of the more intricate methods of acquiring customer data can be rather expensive - we overheard matt tell the class that a focus group (depending on the nature of the project) can cost upwards of $10k or more. but herndon did say there are low/no cost research alternatives for entrepreneurs on a tight budget. first, capitalize on the "informal" methods discussed above. it doesn't cost a thing to sit for a few minutes and actually listen to what your customers have to say. secondly, take advantage of public information posted by the US Census, the state demographer and department of transportation (for traffic studies) and academic publications. and, he says, don't overlook the importance of local libraries and librarians. where have we heard that before?
this week we also heard from fusionbox's ivy hastings. fusionbox is a denver-based interactive web-development agency specializing in search engine-friendly sites and social media marketing, among other services. the firm's director of business development, hastings' presentation helped to enlighten the NxLevel class on gauging a start-up's market demand via targeted online research.
it sounds quite elementary, but a business should determine if the products and services it is offering are actually in demand. theoretically the answer is 'yes,' which hastings says leads to a natural progression of questions: in this market, 1) who is ranking at the top of the search engines? 2) who is advertising online? 3) who is currently generating buzz? and 4) how will you compete with those who are already where you want to be?
according to hastings, there are a few different ways to find your website at the top of a google search. the easiest of course is to pay to be there. the sponsored links at the top of a google search are just that - companies that have paid the search engine to sponsor certain keyword searches. however, hastings says, start-ups may not have the funds to afford this kind of exposure. and, she says, people don't trust the sponsored links as much anyway. so a small company must enhance its search engine friendliness organically by becoming an authority in its industry. this comes by increasing the amount of pages that link to your site and building up several pages within your own site that repeatedly discuss relevant topics.
as the NxLevel class is learning (along with the greater business community at large), social media is changing the face of internet activity and web-driven commerce. hastings says small businesses need to use this e-paradigm shift to their advantage. she says business owners should utilize "internet listening" to tap into the current conversation surrounding your industry and your company. there are sites, like socialmention.com and trackur.com, that allow you to enter key words and find out where on the internet they are being discussed and what's being said about them.
unique tools that an enlightened business owner can use to learn how their companies/products/services are being perceived. check out those links to find out what's being said about you...