Customers are not scary

Why do businesses spend tons of money, time and effort on compiling market data, analyzing trends, conducting expensive focus groups with people who have never bought from them, or spend hours combing through research data, when they ignore a prime source right in front of them: their own customers?

Your customers, especially repeat ones, like you. They want you to succeed. They have found that your product or service fills a need for them, or your message has resonated with them. So when it comes to figuring out what will work for 2010 , just ASK them.

This can be as easy as sending an inexpensive (or sometimes free) online survey via Surveymonkey or Emma. If you have a store, offer an incentive to all customers who come in to fill out a quick questionnaire. Invite your customers to an informal focus group with some drinks and snacks and offer them a coupon as an incentive. If you’re an online or service business, offer a discount code, or 50% off their next service, or heck, even a drawing for a Starbucks card (worked for me). Always offer some type of incentive for their valuable time and participation.

Stop guessing about what you are doing right or wrong and ask them. People love to give their opinion, especially if you can incent them a little bit. Keep your questions unbiased, don’t ask leading questions. Try to keep any surveys to less than 5 min for a small incentive or 10 minutes if you’re offering a larger incentive. Even 5-8 questions can do the trick sometimes.

One client even just sent old fashioned emails direct to a select group of customers with an incentive to respond. Or you can use social media as a great way to get feedback. But you have to ask.

Focus groups or surveys with your customers (past or present) can be super easy to implement. Working with one client on her brand strategy, she was not sure of the primary reasons people came to her (of the many reasons she promotes in her marketing), so I had her send a survey and ask, “What caused you to seek out my services?” and offer 5 possible answers. She found some pretty surprising results that caused her to rethink her marketing messaging.

I don’t recommend testing actual ad creative with focus groups or surveys, as people will be consuming them in an unnatural way and the results will be skewed. No one dissects an ad in real life they way they would in a focus group session. But you can test ideas, messages, what they think of your brand, ask why they bought from you, ask them what you could offer or do better, what incentives would they respond to, etc. They are a wealth of information for making brand improvements so don’t fear them – embrace them.

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