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Published September 19th 2017

6 Essential Market Research Lessons For Marketing

Sean Campbell shares the top six market research lessons he's learned - and put into practice - through years of experience

Enthusiastic praise, frequent boosts in industry publications, social engagement and shares…By these measures, our marketing at Cascade Insights was, well, awesome. Especially seeing as we have a pretty niche focus: market research for B2B software companies.

But, as we’ve said before, popular and profitable aren’t necessarily the same thing. We knew we had to gauge our marketing success in other ways.

Was our content reaching our target customers? Did our content help scoot buyers down the sales funnel?

We needed answers! Luckily, we know how to get them. We are a market research firm after all.

The challenge

We were getting a lot of positive feedback from our podcast listeners, blog readers, and social media followers. That, along with the steady increase in cold inbound marketing leads told us that the quality of our content was not our top concern.

People liked what they saw when they saw it. So how could we get more people to see it? Especially our target customers?

We went right to the source and asked them.

Who we asked

We reached out to a few of our clients in companies we would like to do more projects with in the future.

Our interview subjects were executives in the marketing or market research departments of enterprise and mid-market B2B software companies.

Two people working on a market research report

What we asked

In this case, we decided a survey would not suffice.

Instead, we wanted to have conversations with our clients that would allow for answers we may not have thought to ask questions about. So, we crafted a discussion guide for in-depth interviews to get the conversation started.

We designed the discussion guide to tease out when and how target customers find and consume content marketing. Here are few examples of our questions:

  • When you have a business problem, where do you first look for more information? Google search? Internal company publications? Social feeds? Online communities?
  • What keywords do you search? Do you type in a phrase or a question?
  • When looking for a market research vendor, do you vet their content marketing (blogs, newsletters, podcasts, etc.)? Or do you focus on the root pages of their website (home page, about us, etc.)?

Other questions were designed to reveal how target customers evaluate the merit of the content marketing pieces they come across. Some questions in this category included:

  • Do you ever forward content to your colleagues? What would prompt you to do so?
  • What types of content do you read all the way through?
  • Do you subscribe to newsletters? Do you read them?

Key findings

Over the course of the interviews, we discovered something major: there is a huge difference between the way folks in mid-market software companies consume content marketing vs. those in enterprise software companies.

Basically, we realized our market segmentation needed more nuance.

Our marketing strategy was working great for mid-market companies.

To our relief, we got mostly positive feedback from our clients working in mid-market companies. Some remembered finding us through a Google search or being impressed by a topic covered on the Cascade Insights Blog or the B2B Revealed Podcast.

In other words, our mid-market clients had easily sought out or come across our content, and liked what they saw. This was just the sort of feedback any marketer wants to hear.

Enterprise software companies required a whole new marketing strategy. 

The story with enterprise software companies was quite different though.

Our enterprise buyers said they didn’t scour the Internet in search of new service firms to work with. Instead, they preferred to focus on vendors that had already been approved by their companies’ procurement teams.

Cropped shot of a woman relaxing with a book and a cup of coffee

Same deal with content.

Most of our enterprise clients said they first checked internal sources of information for their own company. Next stop was old standbys like Gartner, Forrester, or other syndicated firms that target their industry niche.

Our enterprise buyers said they were not looking at any service firm’s content marketing. They just don’t have the time for it.

Okay, so the enterprise buyer is not really the audience for our podcast or blog. But, our enterprise interviewees made clear that they do pay close attention to vendors’ websites.

The root pages, that is.

They’ll spend a few minutes perusing the website to get a sense of the sort of projects the firm specializes in and what kind of companies they have worked with.  Our enterprise interviewees emphasized that they spend only a few minutes on service firms’ websites though. (We didn’t ask about how much time they spend looking at product websites.)

Clear, efficient messaging is key.

If a service firm is lucky enough to make it onto a preferred vendor list, they still only have a couple minutes to impress potential enterprise buyers with their website.

How market researching ourselves convinced us to change our ways

These interviews gave us a lot of ideas for honing our B2B marketing strategy.

Create separate approaches for mid-market and enterprise target customers

Since our mid-market and enterprise clients are likely to find, view, and vet us in totally different ways, we realized we needed to have separate marketing strategies to reach and woo both.

For our blog, podcast, and newsletter, we needed to assume the audience was mostly from mid-market companies. If we kept on doing what we were doing, we’d probably reach these folks just fine. So. Keep producing quality, useful content and give potential clients a variety of ways to subscribe, depending on their preference. Check.

For enterprise buyers, we needed to focus on our website.

Make the website smooth as butter

Our enterprise interviewees revealed that our website is the first- and likely only- marketing that a potential enterprise client will see from our firm. And they’ll be focusing on our home page and services, not so much on our podcast or blog.

Building blocks spelling out "we make it easy"

We immediately took steps to make our website even more concise, streamlined, and compelling. We:

  • Sped up the site by switching to a dedicated CDN (Cloudfare).
  • Identified our most important messaging and where it was located on our website.
  • Removed unnecessary pages to more easily funnel customers where we wanted them to go.
  • Redesigned several root pages to visually highlight our projects.

Shine a spotlight on the team

The interviews with our mid-market clients really showed us that a personal connection to a content creator was a big motivation for engagement with our content.

Several mid-market interviewees said that they listened to the newsletter, subscribed to the podcast, etc. because they had met or worked with our CEO, Sean.

True, they may not have had time to read or listen to everything we sent them, but that wasn’t really the point. They liked the periodic reminders of Cascade Insights’ innovative market research.

Even though this was positive and useful information, it prompted us to start considering how we could leverage other personal connections to our talented team of analysts to drive more of our content efforts.

It makes sense. Market research projects are an investment. Clients want to know that the whole team has expertise, not just the leadership of the firm.

Bam. New marketing initiative. Amplify the brilliance of our whole team of analysts.

Always answer the phone

Our mid-market clients weren’t shy about revealing their email addresses in their interactions with service firms. These buyers said they sent messages, filled out contact forms, or subscribed to newsletters when interested in a service firm.

Enterprise clients, on the other hand, were much more likely to call.

An orange rotary phone on a wooden table

Before we market researched ourselves, our company phone had simply forwarded to the boss’s mobile number. He’s a busy guy though, and couldn’t always pick up. Being a small firm, we didn’t think that was much of a problem. But, from the interviews with our enterprise clients, we learned these folks wanted to get in touch right away, not leave a message.

So, we quickly hired a high-end answering service, Ruby. There was an immediate uptick in quality, inbound leads. It was a huge payoff for such a simple adjustment.

Pay for impressions, not just clicks

Our mid-market clients said that they subscribe to our content to remind themselves that we exist.

Of course, we’d also like to remind our enterprise clients that we exist. But, as we covered earlier, they probably won’t read vendor blogs. For enterprise folks, pay-per-click ads for our content would likely miss the mark.

We realized that impressions ads are a better approach for our enterprise buyers. Twitter and Facebook, for example, let users pay to have ads that target a specifically chosen audience. For instance, all Facebook users in your CRM system.

This, for our purposes, was perfect. Scrolling past our ad could gently and passively remind enterprise clients that there is an excellent market research firm out there called Cascade Insights.

Consider the case study

We heard from both mid-market and enterprise buyers that they’d really like to see a case study from us.

The enterprise folks emphasized that when vetting service firms, they want to see that the firm has handled problems like theirs for companies like theirs.

Sigh. Case studies are a bit of a thorn in our side. A zillion non-disclosure agreements are signed for any given project. Who wants to read a case study that is mostly redacted?

However, we can solve the problem in another way. We can look back through our thousands of projects and do a quantitative study on those. That way, we won’t give away any one client’s findings, but reveal larger trends. We can reap meta insights without compromising any of our clients’ anonymity. (Stay tuned, we’re working on a study.)

This is why you should market research yourself

For an informal qualitative study on a few target clients, we reaped a goldmine of insight and several new marketing strategies to boot.

To all the other marketing managers out there, imagine what a formal market research project could do for your business problem.

This blog post is brought to you by Cascade Insights. Want your own market segmentation insights? Get in touch.

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