Updated: Mar 8
The secret to the success of any great product is knowing your consumer inside and out. Mega-brands have entire departments dedicated to sifting through user preferences and making consumer observations. But what if you don’t have the funding of a major corporation?
For smaller brands and startups on a budget, there are some easy, affordable ways to get started conducting research on your own. We asked Christine Cowan—an Innovation and Brand Specialist and founder of Innovate Strategies (www.innovatestrategies.com) a retail and brand consultancy—for her advice on how solo entrepreneurs and start-ups can gather their own consumer insights. Christine has over 21+ years of global Product Creation, Merchandising and Brand experience and has worked extensively at both Nike and Adidas. She works with large and small companies at every stage of branding. She even built her own brand, Vessel Botanic, a small business selling succulent and cacti arrangements. Christine knows what works at every level of business.
Consumer research advice from Christine Cowan:
Start by creating a list of questions you want to be answered. Keep them concise and specific, and don't ask too many questions as people often get distracted. You want to be able to do it quickly and painlessly for them!
Option 1: If there is a specific brand or store you want to target (you might have a brand or brands you think would be your competition), take your list and ask random people leaving the store if they could answer a few questions for you. Tell them why you are doing this before you start—most people want to help. You might consider a nice incentive for their time, like a gift card to Starbucks if you can afford it.
Option 2: Go where they are. If you are researching running, go to Forest Park (In Portland, OR) and catch them as they leave for or come back from a run. Bring some packs of trail mix or mini water bottles as a thank you or incentive. Ask to take a photo of them, but explain it’s for research and you won't put them on social media.
Option 3: Ask some people you know who might be interested in your product/brand to join you at a location to talk together in a small focus group. This is usually better in a private room at a restaurant or coffee shop. Provide drinks and snacks for them and a small incentive if you can afford it, maybe an item from your brand (it's a good promotion). This option is usually better with a smaller group: about 5-8 people. Ask them to introduce themselves and do a fun ice-breaker question to lighten up the group. Then ask them to answer your questions and get them to talk together about it. This can be tricky if they are all strangers, so you might have to probe the people that are quieter. It can be really fun and enlightening!
Option 4: Shop along. Ask some people you know who might be interested in spending some time with you individually on a "shop along." Make sure the people are not your friends or family but people who will provide honest feedback. Ask them to "take you" shopping in a specific store that has similar product to yours. If you are selling clothing go to a store and ask them to pretend to shop and tell you what they are interested in—why they might buy something, what attracts them to it, is price a consideration, etc. This might require a gift from you for their time, as it's more extensive and intensive for you and them!
Thank you, Christine, for these great suggestions! These basic, affordable research opportunities can be tested out by any designer or entrepreneur, regardless of budget and company size.
Now that you have an idea of how to conduct consumer research, how will you implement and use to benefit your business and goals?
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Peace, Love & Blessings,