segmentation

Buyer Personas Bridge Market Research and Marketing

One way to bridge market research and marketing is collaboration  to build buyer personas that humanize your target audience and give you insight into their motivation and source of influences.

One way to bridge market research and marketing is collaboration  to build buyer personas that humanize your target audience and give you insight into their motivation and source of influences.

Constructing buyer personas is a great way to close the gap between market research and marketing.

Buyer personas built from solid market research help marketers understand their target audience, how and where to connect with them and the journey they take to become buyers. Buyer personas also make buyers more human and less like ciphers, a quality that goes a long way in the marketplace of the 21st century.

The path to red-blooded buyer personas is to talk formally or informally with every kind of buyer imaginable: current buyers, previous buyers, buyers who stopped buying and super buyers who influence other buyers. Their comments about your product, service, quality and customer experience can paint a telling picture and a real-life video of the buyer journey.

For the picture to be more than a sketch, the market research needs to dig deeper than superficial observations about product characteristics and customer behavior. Market research must probe the “why" behind what customers do at different stages of the buyer journey so buyer personas reflect motivation, sources of influence and trigger points.

Once constructed, buyer personas represent an invaluable tool to segment customers for customized marketing outreach, product offerings, targeted discounts and purchasing options.

Well developed buyer personas don’t belong on the shelf or buried in a desk drawer. They should be the equivalent of having an actual customer sitting on the corner of a marketer's desk whispering into his or her ear.

Few may dispute the value of buyer personas, but many marketers overlook or ignore them in doing their jobs. Buyer personas can get in the way of a great marketing idea or message.

One solution to the disconnect between market research and marketing departments is to work together in fashioning buyer personas. The portraits from collaborative thinking are likely to be even more three dimensional than from isolated or strictly statistical market research. The conversations with present, past and potential buyers can explore marketing concepts to test their viability and bake in the findings to buyer persona portraits.

Perhaps the greatest contribution for marketers from buyer personas is a human-scale map of where to track down their ideal customers. Great content, useful information and fantastic offers can fall flat if they don’t reach their intended audience. Understanding your own buyer personas can help chart the map to find and connect with your customers. 

Why Representative Samples Really Matter

If you want market research that matters, make sure the sample of people in your survey matches the audience you want to reach with your product or message.

If you want market research that matters, make sure the sample of people in your survey matches the audience you want to reach with your product or message.

A favorite story involves meeting with a client interested in promoting first-time homeownership. I mentioned the need for market research. No problem, the client said, we have that covered. I was handed the research summary and, as a matter of habit, jumped to the page about the telephone survey sample. It was very revealing. 

More than 50 percent of the respondents were 65 years or older. They were the majority of people who answered the phone and were willing to spend 15 or 20 minutes talking to a stranger about owning a home. Unfortunately, they weren’t the people the client had in mind as first-time homebuyers. 

Survey data is worthless unless the sample of who you interview reflects the audience you seek to reach. The sample in my client’s survey would have been terrific if the subject was reverse mortgages. It stunk as a reflection of who to address potential first-time homebuyers. 

Conversations between clients and research professionals must start with who to interview. If you have the wrong sample, the answers you get from the questions you pore over won’t matter a lick. 

Too often, the question of who to interview is glossed over. Sometimes the most obvious sample goes overlooked. When I was a lobbyist, a client hired me to “fix” his message that wasn’t gaining any traction with legislators. I started by interviewing about a third of the legislature, including virtually all of the lawmakers on the committees that were most engaged on my client’s issue. 

The interviews produced a wealth of insight. My client’s issue had latent support, but needed to be explained and demonstrated in a far different way. Lawmakers basically wrote the script my client and I used to lobby them. And it worked. 

Representative samples are harder to achieve for a mix of reasons. For example, increasing numbers of people don’t have landline phones and, if they do, they shield themselves from unsolicited calls with Caller ID. It takes a lot more calls, at greater expense, to collect a representative sample. Market research must cope with growing segmentation, which adds extra layers of complexity in selecting the right group of people to survey. 

The value of representative samples goes beyond quantitative research. Focus groups must be representative, too. And why would you do a customer satisfaction intercept survey for Nordstrom by interviewing people coming out of a rival department store? Representative samples matter in public opinion polling. A poll of New York voters wouldn’t be all that useful in projecting election results in Indiana. 

Despite the difficulty, solid research is grounded on good samples. Who you talk to matters if you want findings that mean something for your marketing.  

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Panel Research and Engagement: A Perfect Fit

Check out panel research to see whether its information-rich benefits match your need to understand and engage a key audience.

Check out panel research to see whether its information-rich benefits match your need to understand and engage a key audience.

Panel research and engagement go together. You can gain feedback, share information and reap the benefits of extended conversations.

There really isn't any other formal research technique that can deliver that full set of benefits.

The research technique used always should match the objective of the research. Panel research works best under these conditions:

  • You want a large, representative sample of opinion from — for example — your customer database or registered voters.

  • You want the ability to segment your sample for follow-up research based on answers they give, not random selection.

  • You want to engage people in an extended dialogue, with repeat conversations about multiple products or in-depth discussion of an evolving piece of legislation.

Web-based panel research offers other virtues, such as the ability of respondents to answer survey questions at their leisure, not when someone calls them on the phone, or to participate in an online focus group instead of trooping to a hotel room equipped with a camera and cold sandwiches.

While erasing time and space concerns is valuable, the bedrock value of panel research lies in its capacity to engage. You can do more than ask questions. You can cultivate the panel by sharing the findings of the survey they participated in, asking follow-up questions or soliciting their volunteered thoughts.

Unlike a phone call during dinnertime, panel research isn't intrusive. It is inclusive. Respondents can participate at noon or midnight. They can offer more than the one answer to a multiple-choice question. They can ask questions and seek answers. Your research goes from an uneasy transaction to satisfying involvement. 

Two-way involvement is a very different quality than you get from a traditional telephone poll, in-person survey or point-of-sale intercept. The richness of information that panel can yield is the argument for doing it.

Not all situations require rich information. But many do. Panel research is worth exploring to see whether it is the right choice to meet your challenge.

Rising Tide of Digital Political Campaigning

Digital outreach, both in the form of targeted ads and social media engagement, can be a less expensive way to reach critical segments of voters.

Digital outreach, both in the form of targeted ads and social media engagement, can be a less expensive way to reach critical segments of voters.

Just as companies are discovering how to capitalize on their databases, digital strategists are using similar techniques to zero in on voters with targeted online advertising and engagement.

A recent Reuters article predicted political candidates could spend as much as $1 billion for online advertising and engagement in the 2016 election, using more sophisticated techniques than the Obama campaign employed in 2012.

While Obama's team lapped the field in 2012, Republican and Democratic operatives are playing on a more level field heading into next year's election in scouring publicly available data to find hooks for directed appeals. The Reuters story noted that targeting has reached the point where a campaign seeking to reach environmentalists could identify registered voters who had typed Toyota Prius into a Google search.

No one says digital outreach will outstrip television advertising, which remains the surest way to deliver a message to a wide audience. But broadcast media is increasingly segmented. Few ads run during major sporting events because they are expensive and there are too many eyeballs watching that belong to people who aren't registered voters. You can waste a wad of money without a smart, targeted media buy plan.

However, when the airwaves are clogged with political ads – the $1 billion digital estimate is less than 10 percent of total projected political advertising in 2016 – you need other options. Digital outreach, both in the form of targeted ads and social media engagement, can be a less expensive way to reach critical segments of voters.

The handful of boutique firms that specialize in digital political advertising aren't eager to share their special sauce. But it isn't rocket science. They are leveraging mounds of information contained in databases to laser in on target voters. This allows campaign message managers to use customized messaging for various voter groups.

Targeting has reached the point where families in a neighborhood may be watching the same TV show, but see totally different political ads based on their demographic and voting characteristics. That is greatly more refined and granular than having Republican candidates advertise on Fox and Democrats on MSNBC.

Digital outreach also affords opportunities for interactions, which can be a key to converting a contact into a contributor. Both political parties have learned the ropes of competing for PAC, SuperPac and dark money contributions and will need a swatch of online contributors to demonstrate they have broad support, not just a few rich patrons.

While digital campaigning has come out of the shadows, its practitioners aren't sharing all their newly developed tricks. Those won't become apparent until the campaigns are more fully underway. Other than Hillary Clinton, most of the presidential candidates who have thrown their hats into the ring are fighting to gain name familiarity ratings in double digits. They are trying to reach anybody they can.

Joining the Consumer Journey

Self-educating consumers represent a new challenge — and a new opportunity.

Consumers are increasingly using online resources to do their homework, relying less on paid and earned media as trusted sources. This presents the challenge of getting your message to target audiences in ways they view as credible.

This challenge exists as more companies and organizations are tapping the opportunity latent in their databases of customers, contacts, stakeholders and employees. These databases represent a built-in opportunity to start engaging target audiences.

The most obvious form of engagement is to query your customers, stakeholders or employees about significant issues. Your questions can make your target audiences partners, not just targets.

Another form of engagement is to help consumers find the quality information they are seeking to make a decision. This may mean websites that aren't electronic sales brochures but more like magazines. The content might include genuine stories that are testimonials to your product, service or responsiveness — what some call brand journalism. Content also might include consumer ratings, safety information or simplified explanations or demonstrations. Most important, the content should answer questions and provide information that is relevant and useful.