Without a solid research and development plan, it’s easy to fall into the unfortunate majority of product cautionary tales. To complicate matters further, product R&D costs continue to rise.
These rising costs make it more important than ever to zero in on the audience you want to reach and figure out the most efficient (and most cost-effective) ways to reach them.
Just as you can’t market your product to everyone, you also can’t conduct research in every audience segment without running way over budget. Smart surveying at the right points in your product R&D cycle can help provide key data faster while keeping costs down.
7 Steps to Getting to Know Your Target Audience
Before you ask a single survey question, you first need to define your target audience as narrowly as possible.
If you’re working on a new feature or new version of an existing product, consider whether it serves only your existing customer base or if it might appeal to a whole new segment of the population.
In the first case, you can mine current customer data and pull loyal fans in for focus groups.
In the latter, you’ll need to start from scratch by understanding the basics about a new audience. These are the same steps that those researching an entirely new product will need to follow.
(Hat tip to TopNonProfits.com for the foundation of these seven steps.)
Step 1: Start With the End in Mind
What is the action that you want your audience to take? Do they need to upgrade their existing subscription? Make a completely new purchase? Replace a product they’re already using?
Knowing what kind of action you’re hoping to drive should inform all of your fact-finding efforts going forward, so don’t neglect this step.
It may seem obvious that you want people to buy your product but consider other influencing factors carefully so the data you collect will be as useful as possible.
Step 2: Who Is Most Likely to Take This Action?
Once you’ve answered the question of what you want people to do, you can move on to determining who is most likely to take this action.
Go with your instinct on this, but make sure to validate it with data. You might find an audience segment that you hadn’t anticipated that is ultimately less expensive to reach and/or more profitable.
If you have access to existing customers, you can poll them to quickly see who shows the most interest in your new product or feature.
In the case of new products, small surveys distributed via social media, panels, or through our Quick Audience service can give you rapid feedback on how various demographic groups feel about your ideas.
Once you’ve narrowed down your field of focus, you can start distributing larger, more qualitative questionnaires.
Steps 3 and 4: Learning About Audience Pain Points
The objectives of your next round of communication will be to get to know your audience better. This phase won’t be too much about your product; it’s mostly focused on general characteristics of the people you’re targeting.
Some things you need to find out during this phase of R&D investigation:
- How do they think?
- How do they make decisions?
- What are their biggest challenges, needs, and frustrations?
- How would their day change if these challenges were overcome?
Most of the questions you ask here will be qualitative and open-ended, meaning people can fill in whatever answers they like. Analysis of these kinds of questions is more time consuming, but they always yield new insights and ideas.
Steps 5 and 6: Product and Audience Fit
Now it’s time to determine how your idea, product, or service is going to help your target audience.
It’s possible that your data will reveal that there simply isn’t a fit between your idea and the people who would be purchasing it, and that’s okay.
Let’s repeat that again: it’s okay if the data shows any incompatibility between your product and audience.
If there had been more robust product market research conducted before the launch of Segway or Coca-Cola C2, their companies might have abandoned the ideas and saved millions of dollars. It’s far better to learn about a mismatch before you’ve produced or released a product.
Step 7: How to Reach This Audience
Once you think you have a good audience/product fit, and you understand the ways your new product, feature, or service will be making these people’s lives better, it’s time to confirm with one last round of research.
At this point, you’re testing your value proposition, as well as trying to determine precisely how to position your product in the marketplace. (Conjoint analysis can be particularly helpful at this stage.)
But how can you get in touch with your target audience?
You could pay for a custom, targeted panel, but if your audience is difficult to reach through this mechanism, or if you’re working with a small budget, there are several other options out there.
Reaching Your Target Audience for R&D Research
By frequenting the digital haunts of your audience you can begin to forge relationships with individuals within the community. Then, when it’s time to get specific feedback, you’ll have a group that you’ve built a rapport with that just so happens to fall into your target audience.
Some of the best places to interact with your target audience include:
- Competitors’ forums. Check out what the competition is doing, and chime in where appropriate. Be respectful, but don’t be afraid to have an opinion.
- Comments. This doesn’t apply just to comments on your own site. Sign up for email notifications when high-traffic, high-authority sites in your niche publish something new and join in the conversation.
- Surveys. Quick polls on Twitter, website intercept surveys, and other single-question surveys can be a great way to gather data quickly.
- Keyword research. If you need guidance on how your audience looks for things online, check out Google’s Adwords Keyword Explorer or Moz’s tool set.
- Social networks. You should have a good idea where your audience hangs out from your initial demographic research, so use that to your advantage.
- Product forums, a.k.a. support. If you have support channels, lurk there and keep track of questions and concerns that your audience shares.
- eCommerce. If you’ll be selling a physical product, look at reviews of similar products on Amazon or other eCommerce sites. You can find suggestions, tips, and product-related insights that come from existing users.
Each time you strike up a conversation, answer a question, join a Twitter chat, or otherwise engage someone whose opinion you’d like access to, be sure to capture their contact details.
This might be as simple as adding them to a Twitter list or requesting their email address. You could also create a series of simple landing pages that ask for the answer to just a few product-related questions.
Then you can cycle through each page, sending them out to members of your audience one by one, until you have enough data to act with confidence.
Product R&D Never Ends
Once you have a connection to your customer base, and those you’d like to convert to customers, don’t abandon them once your initial research and development study is done.
Properly nurtured, these relationships can provide invaluable feedback on future beta releases, focus groups, and other R&D opportunities. Spend the time once, and keep these connections strong.
Your R&D budget will thank you.
Andrea Fryrear is the chief content officer for Fox Content, where she uses agile content marketing principles to drive content strategy and implementation for her clients. She also writes for and edits The Agile Marketer, a community of marketers on the front lines of the agile marketing transformation. She geeks out on all things agile and content on LinkedIn and Twitter.