Welcome to day three of your Digital Marketing for Beginners Course! Yesterday, we got familiar with the marketing funnel—and dived into the main digital marketing channels. Now that we’ve laid the foundations, it’s time to learn more about how all good marketing campaigns begin: with research!
Here's what we'll be learning about today:
- What is research in digital marketing and why is it important?
- What does research look like in digital marketing?
- Different types of research and analysis techniques
- Interpretation and your marketing strategy
Day three, comin’ in hot—let’s get stuck in!
1. What is research in digital marketing and why is it important?
We've already mentioned quite a few times throughout this course that digital marketing is highly data-driven; a good marketer knows how to find and interpret relevant hard data, and has an instinct, or intuition, for what kind of marketing might work with their target audience. Of course, this "intuition" is also data-driven—it's the result of direct experience (what's worked before), of heightened sensitivity to the marketing of others, and of hundreds of interactions with customers and potential customers.
This is where research comes in. Research helps you validate or invalidate your own assumptions—without research, it’s impossible to understand your users, and it's also what's necessary to formalize and operationalize a consistent, effective approach to your marketing.
Unfortunately, research in digital marketing often happens in a somewhat haphazard way. Often, it doesn't really happen at all. Many of the digital marketing channels are inherently iterative, which means you launch quickly and you make small, frequent changes to your marketing materials as you receive feedback on them. This feedback can take many shapes; you might see that more people click on one of your ads if you include a face on it, or change the color of the buttons. You might notice that your social media posts garner more engagement—more comments, more likes—if you opt for bolder, brasher statements and aspirational quotes. Or you might see that more people click on your blog post in the search results if you add an emoji to the metatitle.
This approach to marketing results in the heavy optimization of individual channels by implementing very channel-specific tactics, but it also results in ever declining consistency in terms of design, messaging, and tone of voice. This is the opposite of what you want from a brand. If you think of the really big brands, whether it's Nike or Coca-Cola or Apple, the mere thought of them will conjure certain colors, thoughts, images, words, and aspirations. That's the consequence of years of carefully conceived and (mostly) very consistent marketing, based on detailed market research.
Done well, research will provide the entire marketing team with a toolbox for their campaigns. They'll be able to open it up every single time they want to launch a new campaign to remind them of the characteristics of their target group, to help them ideate messaging and imagery, and to remain consistent. Good research provides a departure point and a direction.
But what exactly does it look like?
2. What does research look like in digital marketing?
Research in digital marketing is all about gathering data and feedback from real people in relation to a particular product or service. It can be done with existing customers, or with people who represent your target audience. Marketers will employ a range of different methods to conduct research, depending on what they hope to learn about their users. Some of the most common research techniques include interviews, surveys and questionnaires, A/B testing, and competitor research. These techniques typically fall under one of four main types of research: primary, secondary, qualitative, and quantitative. Before we dive into the specific techniques, let's draw the distinctions between these types of research.
What's the difference between primary and secondary research?
Primary research refers to the data and information you've collected from your own sources—whether that's your website's visitors, social media followers, leads, or customers. Primary research is particular to your company and your target group, and is therefore probably the most valuable research you can do.
Secondary data is the data that you can garner from what already exists in the market—the best practices and market analyses that you can find in articles, ebooks, videos, and studies. This kind of research helps you to understand the competitive landscape in which you operate, and can lend you ideas for your marketing tactics and approaches.
What's the difference between quantitative and qualitative research?
Both quantitative and qualitative research can be primary or secondary in nature. Quantitative research is anything that can be measured—for example: the conversion rate on a particular landing page, or what percentage of users answered “yes” to a certain survey question, or how many users made a purchase on your website. Quantitative research looks at the “what.”
Qualitative research focuses on the “why.” Unlike quantitative data, it can’t be readily measured or counted; it’s more about the reasons, feelings, and motivations behind certain actions. For example: when interviewing a customer, they might mention that they bought your product because of the quality of the online reviews they'd read. This statement alone can’t be plotted on a graph, but it still counts as extremely valuable feedback. Qualitative research often provides a more holistic, verbose, and altogether human understanding of the user's relationship with the product or company, especially when it comes to complex concepts like trust and loyalty. As such, marketers tend to conduct a mixture of both quantitative and qualitative research.
Before we move on to discuss a few techniques in more detail, a quick reminder: the best research is ongoing research. It's important to stay up-to-date with your industry, your competitors, and, above all, your customers so that you can make sure you're meeting their needs better than anyone else.
3. Different types of research and analysis techniques
Now we know the main types of research, let's consider a few specific techniques. In what follows, we'll walk you through a few simple steps to acquire a holistic understanding of your users.
1. User research
User research is typically primary, and can be either quantitative or qualitative. Common methods of user research include surveys, interviews, and observational analyses, such as watching a user navigate through your site or responding to your advertising.
Of these three methods, surveys are the most frequently used. Why? Well, they're simple and inexpensive to conduct, can be easily scaled, and they provide a wealth of data. Surveys will often open with broad questions about demographics before turning to focus on motivations, objections, and fears when it comes to using a product.
User interviews are one-on-one conversations with your users. While the pattern of the conversation may follow a similar structure to the survey, you'll get much more context—from longer, more detailed answers to non-verbal cues—from being in the same room together. And if you can't meet in person, then interviews over video are a second-best option.
Finally, one interesting form of secondary user research is review mining. Review mining is the process of analyzing reviews of your product to identify the most frequently mentioned features and benefits, and extracting powerful turns of phrase to describe them that can be used in your marketing. This can not only help you identify and solidify what makes your product desirable—it can also help you speak the language of your customers.
2. Competitor research
While we shouldn't obsess about and copy our competitors, it's important that we monitor their actions across the 4 Ps of marketing: product, price, place, and promotion. If they're releasing a new product that's similar to yours, you should probably know about it, as it could impact your sales. Similarly, if they drop their price substantially and undercut you, you might see a dip in purchases as potential customers take advantage of the perceived better value.
It's not only important to monitor our competitors in case we need to react to their changes, however. It's also a great opportunity to learn. Take place and promotion, for example. If you see your competitor is running ads heavily on Facebook with a particular kind of messaging, you might want to try something similar to see what the resonance is like. If it's good, you can iterate on the messaging to make it your own.
While there's value in competitor monitoring and ad hoc tests, regular and detailed systematic analyses of your competitors across their marketing will also yield interesting and actionable results. How does this look? Well, break down their marketing in the same way we've broken it down in this course; by channels, and by position in the funnel. Let's take your competitors' websites themselves. Create a matrix so you can analyze and evaluate distinct elements of the site and ask yourself the following questions:
- How is information structured on their website? Which pages appear to be the most important?
- What do you think is the desired user flow on their site? What are the main conversion points?
- What's the messaging like? How do they build trust?
- What kind of imagery are they using? What do you think they're trying to convey with this imagery? Is it consistent across the site? Do you like it?
- What are the main product features that they highlight? What kind of hierarchy do they give to these features? What do you think their #1 feature is?
If you analyze 3-4 competitors, you'll quickly find you have a deeper knowledge of the landscape in which you work and more than a few ideas on which you can build for your own marketing.
3. Analytics and internal reporting
If your company already has an established website, you'll already have a mountain of useful data which can inform your future marketing campaigns. How you select which data to focus on really depends on the campaign or initiative you have in mind.
Let's imagine that during your competitor research you noticed that some of your competitors were using an ebook as a lead generation tool. You've never tried this tactic before, and are interested in finding out whether it's effective for you, too.
So what should your ebook be about? What should the title and contents be? Why should your users be interested?
A good first starting point might be the SEO or content marketing manager. You could ask them which your most popular blog articles are, and which blog articles currently convert best for you. This would give you a good idea of the level of demand for the topic and its relevance to your product.
Similarly, you might talk to your events manager about the most visited and most subscribed events, or to your social media manager about the posts which have generated the most conversation recently. For a catchy title, you could speak to your paid marketing manager about the most effective wording they've been using in their ads. Creating a home for all this data, whether it be a dashboard or a simple presentation, will provide you with an invaluable resource to help you determine a direction for your ebook campaign.
All good marketing starts with good research, because we can't do really good marketing if we don't fully understand our customers and their needs. In this tutorial, we explored the different types of research in digital marketing and some of the most common techniques employed. In the next tutorial, we'll discover how digital marketers define success and measure their performance. Looking forward to seeing you there!