“Don’t find customers for your products. Find products for your customers.”
– Seth Godin
Without customers, you don’t have a business. Your customer is the essence and foundation of your brand. Every aspect of your organization should be driven by the motivations of your customer.
The best businesses don’t start with a product and then look for a market that will purchase it. They start by acknowledging the pain point of a specific target demographic and then creating a product or service to fill that need.
This means that you need to start with an intimate understanding of your customer if you want to see long-term success with your business.
If you’re not learning from your customers, you’re not strategizing for the future. If you’re not strategizing for the future, you’re planning your business’s demise.
How do you define your customer and what they want from your business?
Most businesses start their customer search with direct market research. You can talk to prospective customers and focus groups to find out what your audience wants from their products and services. These questionnaires ask direct questions about the customer’s pain point, motivations, buying behaviors, price point, and lifestyle.
This can offer a lot of demographic information about current pain problems that customers want to be solved. Take note especially of negative responses or customer complaints. This is usually where you get the greatest insights for growth.
However, customers often can’t pinpoint exactly what they want and why. That’s why surveys alone aren’t enough to tell you everything you need to know about your customer.
Ethnography is the anthropological study of people, cultures, and patterns. While surveys and questionnaires ask for a response from the customer, ethnographic research focuses on observation of the customer.
This creates a deeper understanding of customers based on their lifestyle and habits, rather than on their own perceived wants. This sort of observation allows you to understand your customer in a more natural setting, rather than a forced, artificial survey situation. It shows the context of your customers so you can better understand where your product offerings could fit into their current lifestyle.
As Steve Jobs said, “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.”
The iPad wasn’t in the consumer's mind before it came out. At that time, phones were becoming smaller and smaller, so the thought of a bigger tablet was laughable to the public. But Apple forged forward. They studied their customers and found the need for a more portable computer processor. It wasn’t until the iPad was released that people realized they could actually use it in their lives.
Customers don’t know what they want. You have to show them through your product or service. But you want to make sure that your product or service genuinely fits into their lifestyle through observation.
Although this is one of the best ways to understand your audience, it can be expensive. Hiring observational researchers takes time, energy, and resources. But that doesn’t mean smaller businesses can’t participate.
You can go out and chat with your customers in a casual setting. You can insert yourself into natural situations where your target demographic hangs out. You want to watch your customers doing their everyday activities so you can look for patterns and pain points.
3. Social Media
Social media helps you engage and interact with your customers on a personalized level. This builds customer loyalty and repeat purchases.
Moreover, social media is also one of your greatest opportunities for demographic research. You can analyze your followers’ information to understand your brand fans and brand “challengers.”
You can see the types of content that your customers like, which can give you insight into how customers want you to interact with them, especially with regards to marketing. You can also see what your customers are posting, so you can better envision how your product or service would fit into that sort of lifestyle.
Rather than manually tracking thousands of followers, you’ll likely want to use social media tracking tools. Two of our favorites are:
- HootSuite allows you to plan and publish posts advance and provides basic analytics about your content.
- Brand24 gives deeper social insights including mentions of your brand across the web, sentiment analysis, sales opportunity detection, competition monitoring, and comment reaction.
You especially want to track your social media comments. Followers tend to be more honest when commenting on social posts. Building these customer conversations not only builds a relationship with your audience but also helps analyze what your followers want from your brand.
Tip: Don’t just look at your own social media pages. Dig through online forums, Reddit, Facebook and LinkedIn groups to see what your customers are talking about. Go where your consumers hang out to chat about your industry.
4. Competitor Research
Researching your competition is the best way to get a deeper understanding of the current standing of your industry. You can see the types of customers they have and how your competitors are addressing the consumer’s pain point.
Most importantly, you can “nab” your competitor’s unhappy customers. What struggles do their customers face with that product or service?
If you can fix the pain point of your competition, you instantly gain access to a target audience that is already actively involved in your niche.
5. Purchasing Patterns
Who’s buying from you already?
What are they purchasing?
How frequently are they purchasing it?
How much are they spending? How much are they willing to spend?
How quickly do they make the decision to buy? (You can usually determine this with conversion rate and repeat website visits.)
Is the customer also the user of the product? For example, your customer might be a parent buying something for their children that they may never use personally.
The purchasing patterns of your current customers and the browsing habits of your website visitors can understand where you need to alter your strategy for a greater conversion rate.
6. Web Analytics
Know your online brand reputation. Google Analytics is a great way to learn more about the visitors coming to your website. It shows page views, bounce rates, conversions, as well as visitor demographics and interests.
These insights can tell you more about the habits of your customers so you can improve your website personalization to better push customers through your sales funnel.
You should also take note of your online customer reviews on Yelp, Google Business, Facebook, etc. This can help you see what customers think about your business after an interaction. Plus, a positive rating plays an important role in search engine optimization. You can use HootSuite’s Reputology plugin to monitor and manage your online reviews and brand mentions.
8. Business Strengths
Your ideal customer is the person who wants to purchase from your brand—not from your competitors. That means that part of customer research is taking a self-reflective look at your own business.
What is the value of your business? What are your greatest strengths? How do these strengths attract and engage your customer? How is your brand voice unique and novel?
If you understand what you do well, you can understand what types of customers appreciate those strengths in a business.
For example, you sell graphic design prints. Beyond an interesting product, you offer personalization options so your customers can put their name, city, or other words on the print. You notice that the majority of your customers use the personalization option.
Although this is just a feature of your product, it shows that your customers are primarily those who want personalization features. This can help you adjust your strategy to continue to focus on customization options as you expand into new product lines.
“All of your customers are partners in your mission.”
- Shep Hyken
Don’t assume you know your customers. Use data to learn from your customers and adapt your business strategy accordingly.
Customers are the lifeblood of your business. Thus, customer research should never be stagnant. You should constantly be researching and analyzing your target audience in order to build your business.
Customers determine your product, marketing, sales strategy, customer service, brand voice, and more. The customer is king.