As data becomes more and more prevalent, tracking has quickly become a necessary component of any business plan. While focus groups and independent research are the most effective ways to collect data, they can also be costly and time consuming. Fortunately, you can still add value and effectiveness without adding high costs – by using free or inexpensive tools first. You’ll get the information you need and save time and money in the process. Here are a few inexpensive tools you can use to get immediate results:
Qualitative consumer data:
- Hit the streets: While there is a time and a place for focus groups, they can often either tell you what you already knew or worse, steer you in the wrong direction. When learning about an audience, start by immersing yourself into that group. Order magazines that the audience reads, watch shows they like, even spend a day at a construction work site or research lab getting to know people. This type of candid, real world feedback is frequently much more useful than anything you’ll hear in a highly controlled environment deciding whether participants like logo A or B better. It’s our job, as marketers, to make these decisions. But by entering the world of your consumers, you can better understand how they think, giving you insights and information to make smarter decisions with.Hit the web: Doing a web search for something your audience might be researching is a great start (i.e., if you’re developing a new baby learning app, a search for “ipad apps for babies”). Not only does it give you a moment to see the world through the eyes of your audience, but it’s also a great way to get useful ideas and learn about competitors. Can come up with any search ideas? Wordtracker provides a tool that shows you search questions based on keyword inputs. And if you don’t have time to sift through multiple sites, try the Ultimate Research Assistant, which performs a search for you and summarizes the findings into an executive summary.
- The original online social media: When we think of social media today, we think of Facebook and Twitter, but long before social networks, web forums were the go-to source for information from peers. Today, especially within niche groups, web forums hold a wealth of information and candid conversations. You can find a bunch of forums via a simple web search, or search a site like Forum Finder or Board Reader (if you search for “forum directories”, etc., there are a bunch of similar sites). Sites like Google Groups and Yahoo! Answers can provide a great deal of information about customer questions and concerns, as well as comments and reviews on sites like Amazon. Forums are a great place to put yourself into the middle of your consumers’ conversations.
- And the new social: Bing Social is a great tool for social media searching (or the similar 48ers). Others include Kurrently, Booshaka, Trackur, Whos Talkin, and Social Mention. Addictomatic is a great visual aggregator. Some paid tools, like SproutSocial, have limited time free trials that can help you get what you need.
- Dig up research online: Think With Google is one of my favorite little secrets (not to be confused with Google Think, which is also pretty great). It’s has a huge amount of research, statistics, case studies, and marketing tools. Not sure why it’s not more popular, but it’s an amazing tool. Google Scholar, Market Research and the Kauffman Foundation are other great tools, although a lot of the studies you’ll find are not free.
- Find consumer psychology profiles: At marketing-schools.org has a great section on their website about consumer psychology. There are some useful examples and information about consumers within different business verticals – including travel, beer, computers, exercise, foods, soft drinks, and apparel. If nothing else, it’s a good example of one approach to how to start thinking about consumer psychology.
- See what people are saying: Sites like Technorati, Google Blog Search are not only great tools to find blogs and articles on topics, but also a great research tools to see what topics are trending.
- Ask some questions: Tools like SurveyMonkey, KwikSurveys, QuestionPro, and Zoomerang are great resources that can be used for free or cheap to gather first party user information via surveys. If you want to go a step farther, check out AYTM, GutCheckIt or uSamp, sites where you can quickly pull together panels of participants for surveys or even real time in depth interviews.
Beyond qualitative data, quantitative data can be incredibly important as well, particularly for validating qualitative research and selling ideas. They’re less subjective, more comparable, and easier to interpret in a snapshot than qualitative data.
- Use online demographic data: Quantcast is one of my favorite tools for gathering site and user information. They have an awesome site analytics tool with some rich demographic data. This demographic data is very useful when you start looking at adjacent verticals or look at similar properties to get a better audience understanding (i.e., if you have a baby product, site demographics of parenting.com might be a good proxy for your audience. The one caveat to remember is that all website analytics have the confounding variable of being “website analytics.” If your audience is not heavy web users, your data might be skewed to the small segment of the population). You can also use Quantcast’s media planner tool to see what media properties your audience is visiting. This can be great for media planning, but also for competitive research and revealing other audience interests.
- Company data: BizStats, Hoovers, and Jigsaw all offer tools where you can collect data of different companies and industries. This is great for information to help with category validation, projections, and competitive research.
- Use public data sources: The Bureau of Labor Statistics, PEW, and the U.S. Census all have a phenomenal amount of data on different industries and populations (even information like “how frequently do people work out” broken down by different demographic parameters). Tools like Free Lunch can be helpful in navigating this massive database (there are other free tools like this if you search for them).
- Web resources: Need to find the population of Omaha, Nebraska? If you’re trying to find basic data about a product, person, place, region, event, and much more, Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha, and Sitegeist are great resources that will provide quick, easy, and free answers to your questions.
- See what’s trending: Google Trends is a great tool to get search and compare trends for different keywords. This can be a great resource for data validation, gaining insights into adjacent categories, and help substantiate a market.
- Use other marketers: If you search for it, there’s an amazing amount of 3rd party research available. Organizations like the 4A’s, the DMA, the IMA, and the AMA, research firms like Ipsos, Experian/Simmons, Scarborough, LRW, emarketer, the Boston Consulting Group, the Hartman Group, and Forrester, agencies like Razorfish, Ogilvy, and of course, Williams Helde, vendors like Hubspot and WebTrends. The list goes on. Sites like SlideShare host a ton of great content from agencies around the world. For reports that aren’t free, you can usually find good summaries of them online. And if you can’t get access to a particular report, not public libraries and universities have access to a large volume of journals and research databases
- Reference infographics: Infographics are a useful and growing trend. A lot of agencies and organizations are footing the bill for research and providing free data to the world. Sites like Good.is, Mashable Infographics, Infographics Only, and Daily Infographic host a large database of infographics that contain a ton of rich data points. Furthermore, leveraging compiled data like this can save you time and energy from digging through different resources. Just make sure the sources are credible.
There are times when research precedes launch, but in the real world, where it’s nearly impossible to simply pull all your advertising until you finish a study, doing in-market research can be a phenomenal solution. Not only does this put your ad dollars to work while you’re gaining data, but it also gives you real world feedback instead of having to extrapolate a result from a small sample set. As in-market testing is a topic within itself, here are just some easy to use tools.
- Watch your website: Google Analytics is a great tool for on-site tracking. See where people are coming to your site from, what they’re searching for to get there, how they’re moving through your website. See if there are any sticky points in the purchase flow. Also see what keywords your users are using to find you. This could help you determine what’s triggering purchases and help inform your campaign messaging.. It’s a brilliant and intuitive tool. If you aren’t a Google fan, try Bing Webmaster Tools or open-source Piwik. Quantcast also provides some great on-site tracking features including site traffic and demographic profiles of your visitors. Clicktale allows you to see heat maps of where users are hovering while on your site.
- See what drives customers: Hootsuite, dlvr.it, bitly, and linktally.com are great tools to help you track how many times your links have been clicked. Try using different links for different banner creative to see if one out performs the other. There’s a bunch of tools that will track clicks if you search for them.
- Track your videos: Content remains king, and video is becoming the go-to content for web. Companies like OneLoad (formerly TubeMogul) and SocialCam help you distribute and track your video content. See which content pieces are resonating best with your audience and use this information as a gauge for your messaging hierarchy.
- Test messaging via email: Using tools like MailChimp, ConstantContact, or MyEmma, you can test different visuals, messaging concepts, and call to action through open and click tracking.