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Strategy

4 Unique Ways To Conduct Customer Research In 2021

The more you know about your customers, the better. This truism has always driven the biggest brands out there. That they inspire such devotion is a testament to their deep understanding of what their target audiences want. But the process of gathering relevant information isn’t easy, nor is it obvious. There are myriad routes that can deliver results, and not enough resources for them all — even if you’re fortunate enough to have an uncapped budget. To get ahead, you need to be selective. So how should you proceed?

Rodney Laws

Editor at Ecommerce Platforms

Every option you can think of has been mined heavily by now. It’s the nature of the business world: no tactic, no matter how niche, is being tested to see if it’s the next fulcrum of the marketing field. Even so, there are some options that are more suited to the demands of 2021 than others, and we’re going to look at four such options.

Each of the four customer research tactics in this piece will slot neatly into any 2021 strategy, meeting the demands of the pandemic era (with its vast expansion of ecommerce) and having the potential to return remarkable value if executed appropriately. Let’s get to them, shall we?

Collect and parse digital analytics

The internet is a goldmine when it comes to customer information. Brands began gathering buying data to form smart loyalty schemes in the early days of computers, and that process has only become more effective since then. Much of it can be entirely passive. Configure Google Analytics, wait for traffic to come in, and pore over the results to form a picture of your audience.

With that said, there’s a major obstacle facing any company inclined to try compiling data on its users anonymously, as that link makes clear. The current prevalence of VPNs — virtual private networks — may stem largely from desires to circumvent regional streaming restrictions, but it’s had the knock-on effect of teaching internet users about security. If it isn’t already true that the average person knows that a free VPN can cloak their online identity, it soon will be.

And with the GDPR having been in effect since 2018, companies that deal with European customers (which is many of them, even those operating in America) have their use of data limited. The correct approach, then, is to accept the limitations and concentrate on using data that customers don’t object to you using. Clearly informing website visitors of how you use data — and weighting data collected through user accounts — will allow you to pick up on valuable notes about how to sell more effectively without picking up any bad PR.

Glean insight from competitor tactics

There’s a familiar refrain within the branding industry, forever urging companies and entrepreneurs to stand out. After all, when there are ninety-nine businesses that use the same approach, just one that does things differently will get at least half of the attention. When your rivals loosen up, you get more professional. When they prioritize pricing, you prioritize quality.

In many cases, though, seeking to be contrarian is the wrong move. Take SEO, for instance. If your top rivals are ranking well for key terms, you’ll get nothing from avoiding them and targeting relatively-insignificant terms that you can dominate. The point is that being different isn’t innately good, and the same can be said of being the same. You need to judge for yourself.

But whatever side you choose, you do need to know what those rivals are doing — and that can tell you a great deal about their customers (and your prospects). Those companies have already been through various stages of customer research, and while you can’t access it directly (it isn’t likely that they’ll share it with you, of course), you can infer from their actions.

What changes have they made recently? How have they adapted to the shifts of the last year? Depending on the level of overlap in the niches you target, you could even make competitor review the heart of your customer research strategy. You’d be behind the curve of any single rival, but by learning from all of them you could still get ahead in general.

Use freeform social media engagement

Social media marketing is nothing new, and every brand tries it now. Queuing up promotional tweets, lining up lists of hashtags, creating image resources (such as infographics) to grab attention… It can all prove effective, but it’s also somewhat stilted and cold. It’s riskier to embrace the interactivity of social media, but it’s also more rewarding if done well.

Engaging with customers through social media also presents a clear win-win. Being seen to care about what your customers think will make you look better to anyone paying attention, and picking up even a handful of notable points about what they think of your business will help you to devise a suitable strategy to address criticism.

Key to this is coming across as casual and flexible. Your customers should never feel that you’re pushing them for answers when you ask questions, and formality is a key issue. If you can seem friendly, they’ll likely help you out, and they’ll be more likely to be honest with you. When a big brand politely and formally asks someone for feedback, they can clam up for two reasons: firstly, they want to avoid conflict, and secondly, they don’t expect anything to change.

If you can make it clear that you can deal with harsh feedback (even throwing in some jokes of the self-deprecating variety to lighten the mood), you can cut to what people actually think about you — and it’s that information that will prove the most valuable in helping you determine what they want the most from your service.

Zoom in on points of pain and frustration

Lastly, something you may not have considered doing is concentrating entirely on what your customers dislike. Marketers will often talk about pain points, but only as part of a broader strategy. You can keep things simple by fixating on this one area. Use all channels at your disposal to investigate the things that annoy and anger your customers.

Do this in enough depth and you won’t really need to know anything more. Learn plenty about what frustrates people and you’ll be able to infer their wants and needs. Someone who can’t stand a slow checkout process, for instance, is likely to be restless and eager for a consistent experience: provide that, and you can win their lasting loyalty out of sheer pragmatism.

You can also improve your support service markedly by showing that you know what makes some customer experiences so bad. Every area of research has its strengths, but this one is particularly significant given the level of competition in the online marketplace: when it’s hard to stand out through price or quality, having an edge when it comes to service is highly valuable.

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Rodney Laws

Editor at Ecommerce Platforms

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