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Gathering customer feedback and incorporating the data you collect as part of your marketing process will empower you and your team to drive effective strategies and resonate with audiences beyond your normal reach.

One of the most challenging aspects of marketing is identifying which initiatives and levers will reliably reach your intended audience and customer. Blindly following trends or making assumptions about what your customers want is a surefire path to failure.

To reach your audience, you must first understand them. One of the best methods to accomplish this is asking questions and gathering information, and then using that to tailor your approach. By choosing instead to listen and learn, you’ll not only start to develop better campaigns, but you’ll also foster genuine goodwill. Apparently, customers like when you listen to them. Who knew?

The legwork involved in data-driven marketing campaigns may seem daunting, but the results can deliver unique insights into the folks paying for your products or services that you won’t find anywhere else.

Ready to dive in? The steps go something like this:

1. Ask a targeted question about your customers.

2. Conduct background research.

3. Construct a hypothesis about the answer to your question.

4. Test your hypothesis (poll, survey, advertising, etc.).

5. Analyze the data and draw your conclusions.

6. Share your results and begin crafting your marketing materials.

For those of you paying attention, yes, this is the scientific method. Each step helps you better understand the wants and needs of the customers you’re trying to reach, thus enabling you to market smarter instead of harder. Pay special attention to their needs, as these are pain points they may not have even identified yet themselves.

Asking questions and finding answers

Without gathering solid data as supporting evidence, everything you assume about your customers could be very wrong. Make it a habit early on to question everything. The goal is to dig into the attitudes and opinions surrounding your product, industry or niche.

Does your customer like this product? Great. But what do they like about it and what don’t they like? Are there any challenges you haven’t addressed yet? How would they react if you solved this problem using x or y method? What’s the impact? You’ll need to ask questions like these to uncover pain points.

Next comes everyone’s favorite part of the process: research. (OK, maybe not everyone’s.)

These are the areas I like to give special attention during my research. You may find them helpful as a guide:

  • The background of the typical existing customer
  • The likes, dislikes, wants and needs of our ideal future customer
  • Existing customer reviews, change requests and feedback
  • Any regional or cultural differences that may impact our efforts
  • Competitors (what they do well and not so well)
  • Legislation or public policy that affects the usage of or access to this product or service

I often find that reading about these topics helps ideas spring to mind, and that makes it much easier to construct a hypothesis. In its simplest form, a hypothesis is an if-then statement: “If I decide to watch baseball instead of doing the dishes, then my wife will get really mad at me.” (I’m kidding, but you get the idea.)

Your hypothesis should be specific and testable. A real and relevant hypothesis might be “customers who are given free one-on-one training on using this software will be less likely to return the product than customers who receive no training.” You could absolutely put that hypothesis to the test, and it will give you a better understanding of why these actions may or may not have that result. (Correlation isn’t causation, after all.)

If you’ve asked a whole lot of questions and generated your hypothesis, it’s time to see how close to the mark you are. This is where market research, focus testing, surveys, polls and every other method of gauging opinions come into play. These are some of my favorite ways of gaining relevant feedback:

  • Interviews
  • Case studies
  • Surveys
  • Polls

If you take the survey route, be sure to include enough respondents (500+) for the data to be statistically sound. Your goal is to gain insights that can push the needle for your business, not to simply hear what you want to hear.

Gathering honest feedback from your current or potential customers can have a real impact on how you develop your product or strategies. Here’s an example:

During a recent time-tracking survey, we discovered that 44 percent of Canadian small business employees admit to clocking in or out for their co-workers, which is known as “buddy punching.” Previous research in the United States indicated this would probably be the case, but we wanted to know why, and I was surprised by the reasoning I found.

A full 13 percent of respondents said that they clocked them out because their friend had forgotten to at the end of the day. It would have been easy to take the initial statistic (that 44 percent of small biz employees clock in or out for someone else) at face value and assume the worst.

Digging deeper instead reinforced our conclusion that our customers may benefit from geofencing. Geofencing is the capability for workers to be clocked in or out automatically as they enter or leave the location associated with their workplace, thus reducing the likelihood of that 13 percent continuing to clock their friends out.

Asking challenging questions to prove or disprove your hypothesis may lead you to unexpected answers. If nothing else, this train of thought can result in a list of customer-centric ideas to explore further down the line.

Putting your data to good use

You’ve asked targeted questions, performed hours upon hours of research, constructed and tested your hypothesis, and now you’ve got the data to reinforce your educated guesses.

That information you’ve collected is ready to be shared with your team and leveraged. There’s a variety of ways you can do this, but here are three of my favorites:

1. Address shortcomings in your product or service.

Between the research you’ve performed and the answers discovered through testing your hypothesis, it’s quite likely that you can identify some gaps in your product, service or existing marketing efforts. Now’s the time to pivot. By placing the voice of the customer first and foremost, you’ll show that you not only listened but decided to take action based on the feedback you received.

Think of all the times you’ve seen some variation of these phrases in marketing campaigns that roll out a new or refined feature:

  • “You spoke, we listened.”
  • “New and improved!”
  • “Thanks to your feedback …”

As long as you’ve done your research and tested the hell out of your assumptions, you’ll be in good hands. Making educated product marketing decisions is the way to go because it helps your customers feel heard and, above all, empowered. Win-win.

2. Focus on people-first social media strategies.

In some circles, this might sound counterintuitive, but there is significant value in focusing less social media effort on touting your business and more on the human element.

One of my favorite methods of doing this is sharing real stories and interviews with customers. If you find a surprising data point in the course of your research and testing, why not ask a customer to speak to it?

There’s something powerful about hearing from customers in their own words. How has their life or business been impacted by legislation, recent events or other developments in your industry?

Keep in mind that this should be non-promotional. It’s the story and the messaging that resonates, and if you make it about your company instead, the tone will fall flat.

3. Create content that highlights the impact of your findings.

It’s my belief that any content you create (written, visual or audio) must provide genuine value to the consumer. Because you’ve now taken the time to research and explore the mindset of your customer, you know their pain points and how to address them. Leverage the data you’ve collected.

Here’s an example: Let’s say your current or potential customers are worried about how their sensitive financial data is handled within your industry. You could create an in-depth blog post about what the federal government and state require, provide actionable steps they can personally take to protect their data, and then mention the precautions your company has taken to exceed those standards.

Weave in statistics and/or quotes you’ve gathered to demonstrate why it’s important. Provide value first, and then organically highlight how you’re different. The content should be able to stand alone and be useful whether or not the reader is interested in your company.

Effective strategies built on customer insight

Taking the time to understand the concerns, desires and challenges facing your customers is one of the most important steps you can take as part of your marketing initiatives. Performing this from a research-first perspective arms you with the data needed to blaze a trail or even pivot on a moment’s notice.

Listening to feedback and incorporating the data you collect as part of your marketing process will empower you and your team to drive effective strategies and resonate with audiences beyond your normal reach. As you continue to question your tactics and market thoughtfully, you’ll build goodwill among your customer base and discover what works best in your unique market.

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