Before 2008, agencies and marketing teams were far more likely to use research to inform their decisions and make them more effective. This provided insights into emerging trends, audience preferences, and customer behavior patterns. Then the Great Recession hit. As budgets were cut, research became a luxury that few could afford. In many cases, it was the first line item to go.

Even after the U.S. recovered, agencies and other businesses dismissed research as too expensive and didn’t build it back into their marketing strategies. To this day, fewer than 40% of marketers use consumer research to inform their decisions. This is a shame because well-executed research can make or break the success of a campaign.

It’s a tricky balance: considering your budget and exploring the benefits of “luxuries” like research. But what if you could benefit from the insights research provides without breaking the bank?

It might sound too good to be true, but it is possible to conduct cost-effective market research. The trick is to think outside the box and evaluate your in-house capabilities. If you can DIY the research you need, your campaigns will become more efficient, strategic, informed, and lucrative. In fact, agencies that frequently conduct research are nearly 10% more profitable than those that don’t.

Ready to start doing your own research? Here’s how:

1. Invite customers into the conversation.

One of the best things about doing your own research is that you can trim the frills. If you want customer feedback, you don’t have to make things overly formal. I know more agencies are simply inviting their clients to creative strategy meetings so they can talk. There is no formal agenda or strategy beyond that, which opens the floor for new ideas and allows clients to guide the discussion. Even a simple Zoom meeting with a client can provide far more valuable insights than an expensive focus group run by a third-party vendor.

As you listen to clients, pay attention to the words they choose to describe your products or services. Is there a pattern in the language they use? How can you mimic that phrasing in your advertisements? The more you can reflect the way customers naturally speak, the more you’ll resonate with your target audience.

2. Don’t underestimate the power of surveys.

Surveys have been around for a long time, but that’s because they work. There are many simple survey tools available that can help you gauge the success of your past, present, or future campaigns. SurveyMonkey and Qualtrics are two options that I use frequently. Both tools have plenty of templates and automated reporting capabilities that decrease the amount of time teams spend on research.

If you need extra incentives to get people to take your surveys, try launching a contest through storefront signage or a quick email campaign. For example, you might give away a $100 Starbucks gift card once a month to a random survey participant. That $100 investment is worth it when you think about the insights you’ll glean from survey responses.

3. Reimagine your buyer personas.

You likely created buyer personas in the past to help guide your marketing efforts, but when was the last time you updated them? By refreshing your personas and digging into current market data, you can learn more about what today’s audience wants to see in your marketing campaigns. Plus, a commitment to frequently gather, evaluate, and implement data like this can boost your profitability by up to 9 percentage points.

Aim to discover new psychographic and demographic data, but also look into customers’ purchase journeys. Start with base-level questions like “What do you love or hate about our products?” and then move on to more detailed ones like “How did you find out about our products?” By figuring out the entire story, you can uncover potential disconnections as well as opportunities for improvement.

If you want to be effective, research needs to be an ongoing part of your marketing efforts. Get started with these three recommendations to help you gauge your target audience’s preferences. Whatever you discover, be sure to let it drive your marketing campaigns.

Want more insight into customer trends and behaviors? Download Agency Management Institute’s 2020 study to learn more about serving customers during the pandemic.