Running a successful business requires having an accurate profile of your present and prospective customers. How can a business owner/manager get a better fix on who the customer is?
Focus groups that I mentioned in a previous column are a given. This is a powerful research tool that gives the company/organization an opportunity to interact directly with a cross section of its public. It’s conducted in a controlled environment and the public’s responses can be properly recorded and analyzed. It is advisable to have an experienced focus group organizer conduct this group activity. The fee is usually within reach of smaller businesses/organizations and the results of a properly run focus group will result in a better understanding of your customer, their wants, and their needs. However, focus groups are not without caveats. Success depends upon the participants truly representing a cross-section of the audience, the applicability of the questions asked, the moderator’s performance in guiding the conversation appropriately, and the analysis of the answers.
Another research tool that can be helpful in understanding the characteristics of a group and the behavioral and psychological structure of the company’s audience is that of conducting an audience survey. In a survey, the company typically hires an outside company to send out pollsters to conduct the survey by asking set questions, recording the answers and tabulating them. The questions asked in a survey should be relevant and meaningful to the topic of the organization’s initiative. Typically, surveys require many respondents before the answers can be analyzed properly.
Questionnaires are another measurement which helps in obtaining information. They are similar to surveys, only they are handed out or mailed to present or prospective customers. The responses are written and handed or mailed in. The responses are then tallied, tabulated and analyzed. One of the benefits of questionnaires is that there is no human interaction during the questionnaire; thus the risk of human interference or misinterpretation is eliminated from the process of gathering the information. However, since there isn’t a pollster involved in the gathering process, the ratio of replies is much lower than in surveys. In addition, there is still a chance of misinterpretation during the tabulation and analysis portions of the questionnaire.
Secondary Data Sources
There are several sources that can provide analyzed or secondary data about many audience groups. This information is analyzed and interpreted by an agency other than the company itself. The U.S. Census Bureau is a government agency that serves as the leading source of quality data about the nation’s people and economy. The bureau collects information while protecting privacy and confidentiality, shares its expertise globally free of charge, and conducts its work openly. Information is readily available from its Web site http://www.census.gov/ where data is supplied about individuals, household, companies, industries, and regions.
There are also commercial wholesalers of secondary data that provide information and detailed reports about consumers, companies, industries, and specific markets. Much of the information requires a fee to access, but some companies offer valuable studies and resources for free as well. The Nielsen Company, headquartered in New York City, offers information gathered from a wide range of sources. Its website (http://www.acnielsen.com) contains links to many research tools for audience segmentation, including free reports.
The Gallup Company (http://www.gallup.com/) has studied human nature and behavior for more than 70 years. Gallup consultants help organizations boost growth by increasing customer engagement and maximizing employee productivity through measurement tools, coursework, and strategic advisory services. It offers numerous studies and reports, including market research, brand engagement, as well as customer relationship management.
One of the biggest mistakes that businesses make is not properly defining their customers. As a marketing and public relations consultant, I have found that pinpointing your target market by using some of the above tools will put you ahead of your competition
Excerpts from the book, The Real World Guide to Fashion Selling & Management, Gerald J. Sherman & Sar S. Perlman. Fairchild Books, Division of Conde Nast publications.