Market research is the most important aspect of a successful marketing strategy. It guides the direction you should take through logic and analysis. Although it’s quite easy to get bogged down and overwhelmed by the many details, (especially if you have an interactive marketing communications outline like me), it’s important to remember that you can often simplify any task by thinking logically. After all, the best marketing campaigns are the ones that clearly speak directly to the consumer.

Think Different..ly

When Apple came out with the “1984” campaign, it was the perfect demographic segregation of blue collars and self-expressive individuals. The image of George Orwell’s Big Brother from the classic novel “1984” getting smashed by a sledge hammer elicited a feeling of inspiration to be different. Brilliant.

Protect Your House

When Under Armour’s Kevin Plank found a gaping hole in the athletic apparel industry, he came up with “Protect This House,” a masculine theme played out by hundreds of thousands of competitive athletes around the U.S. (If you are unfamiliar with this competitive spirit, I suggest you watch an episode of Friday Night Lights, or spend a week in Texas during football season). Plank noticed that neither Nike, Adidas, nor Reebok was actively pursuing this market and found his opportunity.

The Lighter Side of Beer

Miller Lite’s 1974 campaign, “Great taste, less filling” by McCann-Erickson was directly targeted to consumers who drank beer but were concerned with gaining weight. The “healthy” beer was born from this campaign, and it inspired consumers to try a beer that would provide an alternative to hitting the gym. Since Miller Lite first marketed a light beer as a “light beer,” it was wildly successful; Miller Light is still a market dominator today because of it.

Common Denominator

Apple, Under Armour, and Miller Lite are now multi-billion dollar businesses because of a simple market research skill. Each campaign spoke to a target market in a way that they hadn’t been spoken to before. There are 325 million people in the United States, and each one of them is a human being; however, each one likes and dislikes, is motivated by, and is interested in different things. It boils down to the people: if you don’t start your campaign with the people in mind, it’s going to fall flat on its face.

What did Kevin Plank, Steve Jobs, Alred Erickson, and Harry McCann have in common?

Kevin Plank began his multi-billion dollar business through his love for the game of football. As a self-motivated creative individual, he understood opportunity. He also happened to love football and was connected to some very influential individuals in the game. Steve Jobs was an artist, he understood beauty and creativity. He enjoyed calligraphy and drugs and longed to enjoy life. He understood his consumers because he was one. McCann and Erickson’s job was simple; for years, Miller Lite drinkers argued over whether the beer tasted great or was less filling. They recognized the opportunity, and exploited it.

The Quickest, Cheapest Way To Do Market Research

Fast forward to today where the future is social. With a single tweet, you can change the outcome of an election, or with a few cleverly-placed videos, you can mobilize the entire academic community in protest. Everyone is online, and everyone has a profile. With social media, you can learn everything there is to know about your consumer.

Step 1: Use a simple template such as this to guide you on your journey. You don’t have to answer every bullet point. By completing one profile, you’ll likely get an overall sense of who you’re looking for.

    • What are their needs?
    • What are their interests?
    • What is their education and work background?
    • What type of media do they consume?
    • What are their demographics?
    • What motivates them?
    • Who makes their decisions?
    • What is their preferred method of communication?
    • Summarize their strengths and weaknesses

Basically, it boils down to figuring out who they are. Who is this person on a deeper?

Step 2: Find Them on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, the blogosphere, etc..

Once you have a sense of who you’re targeting, you can leverage social media to fill in the details. LinkedIn is great for business-to-business market research. Use its data to build a more accurate picture of what others might say about your consumer. Look at recommendations to see what qualities stand out in such a person. For example, does this person have any recommendations from clients touting his or her customer service? Maybe he or she has a recommendation from a manager praising certain leadership skills. You are looking for qualities and assets.

Fill out the profile as fast as you can, and then find others who fit the profile. Don’t get bogged down with one individual. The closer you are to understanding what makes your buyer tick, the better your marketing campaigns, business plan, customer service, and brand identity will become.

The Key 

Align your target market’s pain points (their needs) with the things your product or service can solve (benefits). For example, Apple noticed that artists were a prime target for personal computers. Think Different is grammatically incorrect; think differently is correct. However, Think Different spoke to those who considered themselves out-of-the-box thinkers; artists and individualists who could be empowered by a personal computer.

Insert peg in hole and you’ve created a successful campaign. Start with your buyers, and end with your buyers.

For more great campaigns, check out the CNBC’s Top ad Campaigns of the 20 Century