Posted by randfish The phrase “look before you leap” has never been more true! Before you start investing in tactics, it’s important to do your market research. Many businesses are tempted to dive into the details before answering the bigger questions, like who their customers are, how those customers make purchase decisions, where their potential users are on the web, and how customers may choose between similar companies and offerings. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand discusses why building out a research-based roadmap before you start you building your tactics (like SEO, content, and social campaigns) will help boost your chance of success. Leave your thoughts in the comments below! Conducting Market Research Before Investing in Tactical Execution – Whiteboard Friday For your viewing pleasure, here’s a screenshot of the whiteboard used in today’s video: Video Transcription “Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I want to talk a little bit about doing your market research before you start jumping in and investing in tactics. Shout out to @Andrew_Isidoro on Twitter for suggesting this topic. I really appreciate it Andrew. The reason this is so important and why I was so passionate and why I was excited when Andrew suggested it, is because I’ve seen us here at Moz and many, many other companies back when we use to do consulting, even with the folks that I try and help today, lots of people I talk to all over the industry, making this mistake of wanting to dive right into the details and start sending their tweets and building their content, tweaking their website, set up their conversion tests, optimizing their pages for search engines, all that stuff, before they have answers to the big questions. Who’s our customer target? Where on the web are they? How do they make their purchase decisions? What are their influencers? What are the things that influence them to make a purchase or not, and how do they choose between different companies and different offerings? If we answer these questions, we can build something really beautiful, a research based roadmap. We know things like the personas of who we’re targeting. What types of customers are we trying to reach? For example, when we launch SEOmoz Pro years ago, we thought we were just trying to target primarily, at least, in-house marketers, people who worked in-house at companies, not consultants and agencies. So we hadn’t built things like white labeling and custom reports and the ability to add your logo and all that kind of stuff, branding. Those personas were critical to getting the product right. About 40%, in fact, of our customers are agencies and consultants. Channels, what are the channels that we’re going to reach people at? Is it social networks? Is it things like YouTube, where there’s a lot of video going on and obviously a lot of search activity? Is it Google and Bing, where the searches are taking place? Is it content? Are they only at events? Is there a very, very small set of these folks and we need to reach them initially through events or direct outreach? Do we need to build a sales pipeline and then have introductions being made? Are we going to use LinkedIn? Those channels are critical to knowing what marketing things we’re going to do. The tactics to pursue on a per channel basis. So it could be the case that the same tactic I’m using again and again on a certain channel is going to work very well. You could see, for example, that content marketing for Moz, at least, works pretty well across all of our social channels. But it’s not exactly what we do in person. We try and have a very educational bent to a lot of our content, and that might change up a little bit depending on which forum we’re in and what kind of folks we’re trying to reach or who we’re talking to at the time. So those different tactics per channel. We want the information. We want to know how they make purchase decisions so that we can provide the information that potential customers need to make a decision. If they’re making it based on features or based on price or based on what experts have said. Is it based on feedback? Is it based on brand? A lot of times marketing decisions are made on brand. Is it based on design and UX? This roadmap can then tell us things like: what goes on the website, where and how we’re going to spend the money. Is it going to be on people and resources to build up kind of a long-term marketing funnel through content and search and social, organic or inbound channels? Or is it going to be on a lot of one-off purchases of an email list that we’re going to blast or a homepage takeover or a lot of display ads, PPC ads, those kind of things? How are we going to measure success? How do we know whether we’re actually winning? Is it based on a percentage of the market? Is it based on market share against another company? Is it pure adoption? Is it something else? Is it brand awareness? What marketing tactics do we need to be good at? What are the ones where it’s a very competitive sphere versus the ones where it isn’t? What are things where we need to invest a lot of time and energy to build up skills and tactics versus maybe throwing dollars at it, hiring an agency to do it? All those kinds of things. This research based roadmap can answer all of those questions for you, but you can’t do it unless you’re doing market research first. I do want to talk a little bit about some types of market research and how to specifically conduct those. So a very obvious one, one that folks who are in the SEO and web marketing fields are very familiar with is competitive research. Competitive research, very obvious to most of us because we investigate what our competitors are doing to be successful in search results, or on Twitter, Facebook, or in their content efforts. We can look at lots of attributes of competitive research. Who are the evangelists? Who are the people who are pushing this company, speaking on behalf of them? What are the marketing channels that they’re using? What are their traffic sources? Where are they getting visits and traffic from? This can be challenging to get to, and I won’t dive into all of these. Press and mentions? Where are they getting mentioned? By whom? What are people saying about them? Who do they compare them to? Hopefully it’s us. Design and UX, what are they doing successfully or not so successfully on their website? Unique value propositions, what’s the angle that they take that says, “Oh this is what’s really unique about our company. This is the particular reason why you would buy- I don’t know – Columbia Sportswear brand instead of Nike or Reebok or Mountain Gear or whatever it is.” And who’s their target market? Oftentimes these two are very tied together. The UVP or USP ties in with the target market because they’re trying to reach a particular person, and they think that those specific attributes that are unique to their company are what’s going to successfully reach them. There’s also customer research, and you can do customer research of all kinds. You can do profiling, that can be demographic or psychographic. You can do targeted surveys where essentially I have a list of customers. For example, here at Moz obviously we have a list of the 21,000 people who pay to use Moz, and we can send a targeted survey to them. We actually have a customer advisory board of about 300 folks that Jackie runs here on our product team, and she talks to those folks very directly and will send them questions to answer. There’s also, and these are quite interesting, this is a relatively recent phenomenon, just the last few years, sizing and perceptions surveys. The two big providers for those are Survey Monkey’s Audience product and Google’s Consumer Surveys product. Essentially what they’ve got is lots of people that they advertise to, they’re sort of random citizens of the web, denizens of the web, and they will take surveys based on profile data that you request. So you can get senses of how big is my brand in a space? Have people heard of this thing that I’m trying to offer? How many people are even interested in this thing? You can ask those broad, broad questions to a random group of users with specific sets of interests or for profile features. You can do in-person interviews. A lot of startups especially do in-person interviews. They talk to a customer, bring him into the office. What are you doing? How are you doing it now? What could you see making that process easier or better? What is something you would pay for? Usability studies are similar, but they are actually with a finished product or a near-finished product. Wireframe reviews are sort of a little bit less of a finished product, but more of a “hey let’s walk through these wireframes and see if this product were built, would it solve your problems? Would it be something you’d passionate about, something you would buy?” Then there’s also, there’s two more, expert data that you can gather in terms of market research, and expert data is a little bit different from customer data. So this is not saying, “Hey I want to reach out to anyone who would potentially be a customer,” but rather, “I want to reach out to the experts in the field.” This is something, again, that we do a lot of at Moz. We have kind of a core group of people inside and outside of the company who have been marketing experts, web marketing experts, for many, many years and have a lot of deep depth of knowledge in SEO and all those kinds of features. Finding those folks is really cool because a lot of times they turn out to be the evangelists and the influencers of much of the rest of the field. So by bringing them into your process, you can do those interviews, surveys, profiling, usability studies, wireframe reviews, the same as you can with customers, but potentially get very different data and oftentimes very interesting data. I would be careful, though. I’m personally biased, oftentimes, to listening to the experts at the expense of customers. Not a good idea. You should very much consider both of these folks. Experts sometimes are so deep that they can’t see the forest for the trees, which is a problem I have myself a lot of the time too. Then the last one is published or professional data, and these are often collected by large firms, Forrester Research, for example. They put together these large scale studies on different industries. This form of data is also fine, but it’s usually a leading indicator that you then want to verify and validate with some of these other forms. So by doing this, by doing these forms of market research, you can get the answers to these questions, build that research based roadmap, and then when you go and execute, you’ll know that you’re on the right path. This is really powerful because a lot of the time when you take off and you start diving into the details without it, it’s bad biscuits. Bad biscuits make the baker broke, bro. All right everyone. Hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. We’ll see you again next week. Take care.” Video transcription by Speechpad.com Sign up for The Moz Top 10 , a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!