41: Conducting Market Research Without Falling Into the Comparison Trap

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Market research—a term that gets thrown around without the slightest understanding of why we’re doing it and how to do it well. I’m explaining
how to collect information about your customers and competitors so
you can more effectively market your business.

On this episode, I’m breaking down how to:

  • Better understand your customers’ needs,

  • Test a new product,

  • Improve your copy, and

  • Understand your company’s differentiators...especially when working in a crowded market.

WHAT IS MARKET RESEARCH?

Market research may not seem like the most obvious topic to be talking about when you think about branding. But it’s absolutely vital.

Unfortunately there’s a lot of misunderstanding about this topic. Here’s what I hear most often when I see small businesses talk about market research:

  • “I already have feedback.”

  • “I don’t pay attention to the competition”

  • “I don’t have competition — I’m unique”

My response to this is two-fold. 1) Even if you don’t pay attention to your competitors, your customers are. 2) Your idea or niche may be unique, but your customers are still comparing you to someone—even if that doesn’t seem like a logical comparison.

Another thing I see A LOT is business owners posting in Facebook groups and calling it ”market research.”

This is happening more with online businesses who are reliant on social platforms for all of their visibility. But it’s problematic for two reasons.

  • Often they’re doing this under the guise of research when they’re really trying to get eyes on their business and website.

  • When you’re asking the general population (aka: those who will never buy from you) for a response you aren’t getting focused feedback the right people. Their opinions just don’t matter!

Let’s clear this all up once and for all:

Market research is an organized effort to gather information about target markets or customers in order to inform your business strategy.

To conduct market research, you’ve got to start off with a clear picture of who your target market is. If you need some help on this, listen to episode 12: Ideal Client Avatar 2.0.

IDENTIFYING YOUR COMPETITION

Notice the title of this episode is: How To Conduct Market Research Without Falling into the Comparison Trap.

That’s because looking at how we fall in line with others who are going after the same target market can bring up all sorts of feelings. Everything we’re worried about or conscious about with our own business we will face if we don’t approach it the right way.

Before you begin collecting information, you need to ask yourself why you’re collecting it right now.

  • Is it because you want to build a new product and are looking for how to position it to customers?

  • Are you thinking about rebranding and want to make sure you stand out in a unique way?

  • Do you want to revamp your copy so it speaks directly to your audience?

Notice I didn’t say a good reason for market research is just to see where you fall among your competitors. I don’t see this as a highly useful activity unless you’re going to do something with that information. If you’re just going to dwell on it, it’s not going to help your business.

Alright you’ve got your goal of market research. Now it’s time to get started.

While market research is about your target market and customers, you do have to know who else is speaking to them. That’s why you’ve got options when you’re collecting data.

We’re going to start with identifying your competitors.

I want to point out that this should be who YOUR AUDIENCE considers your competitors, not just you.

Here’s why: most of the time who we consider our competitors is highly aspirational and not accurate — nor fair for us to do that to ourselves.

For instance, someone I’ve been comparing myself to lately is an 7-figure agency owner with a staff of ten. I have no business doing this! I’m not a 7-figure agency. My focus is much more specific. And I can guarantee my customers are not considering her when they’re looking for someone to help them with their brand strategy or messaging.

Make a list of 5 of your competitors. And thrown in on aspirational comparable business for shits and giggles.

I want to remind you that these people may not have the same exact title as you. For instance, some clients who would be a wonderful fit for me believe that a designer will do the same job for them. So some of my competition are designers who also call themselves strategists.

ORGANIZE YOUR COMPETITOR RESEARCH

To help you get organized, I want you to make a spreadsheet. If you’re allergic to Excel, make a table with 7 columns.

  • How do they describe their business?

  • Who are they speaking to?

  • What’s their voice + tone?

  • How would you describe their visual identity?

  • What are they selling?

  • What’s their value proposition?

  • What themes run through their reviews?

Then type in your competitor’s name on each row.

Now go to each site and document accordingly.

The trick here is that you’re on a focused mission. You’re not there to compare yourself. Not yet at least. You’re simply gathering information.

After you’ve finished your competitor research it’s time to analyze it.

You’re probably already going to have some ideas emerging, but to help you stay guided, make some notes.

How do you overlap?

How are you different?

This second piece is really important. And it’s not being different just to be different. It’s the differences in how you look and feel, what you offer, and who you’re speaking to that is important.

Out of this entire exercise, I want you to be able to clearly see the purchasing options your customers have and a clear window into the story you want to tell your customers about your business that makes you unique.

LOOKING OUTSIDE OF YOUR INDUSTRY

When I’m doing this with clients I typically take it a few steps further, which I share with you not to overwhelm, but simply to arm you in case you’re interested in covering your bases.

If your intent with this research is narrow in on your message, another great place to look is outside of your industry. Because you already have a solid understanding of your ideal customer, you probably know other brands that they love.

Go to the websites of those brands.

The first place I want you to go is to their about page. Usually this means scrolling all the way to the bottom of the page and looking for the “About” tab.

What’s their tagline?

What’s their value proposition?

Then browse their website pages. What words and phrases stand out to you?

Document all of this.

I recently did this for a client in the wedding industry who didn’t want to sound like the typical, cliche wedding business. She wanted to appeal to her couples in a way that was unexpected but still drew them in.

I scoured brands they loved—Patagonia, Nordstrom, and Lululemon—and pulled words they used.

So instead of infusing her messaging with phrases like: rustic meets chic, because love knows no season, and tailored to you…we were guided by words and phrases like: adventure awaits, surprise and delight, and simplicity and utility.

REVIEW MINING

A third place you can go, which is especially helpful if you are looking more specifically for what your audience responds to and does not respond to — especially with products — is review mining.

Say you’re thinking about developing an educational product for your customers — a book or a download or even a workshop. You want to make sure you’re staying as relevant as possible to their questions and needs.

The best place to look is what people have had to say about other products that have been released.

Start with book reviews. These are a gold mine. You get to know what people like, what their qualms are, and what they wished had been included.

Simply type in the name of your topic or look at specific titles if you know of others in your industry who have published.

You can do the same thing on Etsy if you’re a maker.

Same thing on Yelp if you’re a local business.

And if you’re in the online space, look at course reviews.

SOCIAL LISTENING

CONDUCTING RESEARCH WITHOUT OBSESSING

So you’ve got some work to do, but if you feel inclined to hear of just one more place to go, I might add: Social listening.

Social listening is simply tracking online conversations about a business or product.

I engaged this tactic recently when my client had a candle concept they were taking through market research. One well known competitor was Homesick. You know, the candles that smell like your home state?

Well I went over to their social media accounts and dug through what users had to say about their products.

And boy were they talking.

What does New York smell like? Cardi B and Timbs?

What does Ohio small like? Corn fields and Budweiser?

The NC one smells like a hippie threw up BBQ while smoking a black and mild.

I was dying.

But it taught us two important lessons:

  1. This concept gets people talking.

  2. A name isn’t enough. People want to know what it smells like.

So now you’re armed with more options that you could possibly need to conduct market research for a reason.

It’s not about seeing how well your competitor is going while you’re in a slow season. It’s about intentional differentiation. And seeing the options from your customer’s perspective.

You might be thinking, BUT YOU DIDN’T MENTION TALKING TO OUR OWN CUSTOMERS AT ALL!

Ah, so perceptive.

Yes, you’re right. That’s because next week I have an entire episode dedicated to interviewing your past customers. This is a DO NOT MISS episode, so be sure you’re subscribed to receive it wherever you listen to your podcasts.