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Marketing information and research

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Different ways to gather data about what your customers, beneficiaries and donors want.

Marketing information and research describes information you need to collect which gives you a good idea what your target customers (beneficiaries, donors, opinion formers, etc) are thinking/wanting/needing or doing in relation to your product (be it a service, a fundraising proposal or a campaign). 

There are many methods of collecting this information but these fall into two camps. Desk research is where you gather information which is already available inside or outside your organisation. Original research is where you or someone you commission asks questions of a lot of people in your target group (quantitative research) or approaches a few people and goes into a lot of depth with them (qualitative research). 

The kinds of information useful in making marketing decisions include:

  • What are the needs and wishes/preferences of your target customers which are relevant to making your product as attractive/useful as possible and which of these are most important?
  • What do your target customers think of your organisation (so as you can persuade them better to take up your product)?
  • Are they already a customer of yours, and what do you know about which products they use, how often they “buy” them and use them, what they think about them, etc?
  • If they are not customers of yours, what are the reasons, for example, not heard about you, don’t know the details of what you offer, don’t regard you highly enough, don’t know where to go, etc?
  • Which of your existing products 'sell' the most, which are growing or in decline, which are the rising stars?

Structuring the information

You can structure the information in whatever way makes best sense to you. Here is one example.

Existing customers

  • Who are you? (see segmentation and targeting)
  • What products have you taken up?
  • How much, with what usage pattern?
  • What is being paid and who is paying?
  • Where and how did you take up this product?
  • When did you start?

People who might become customers

  • Who are you?
  • Which of our products do you know about?
  • Which might you consider taking up and why?
  • Which do you definitely not want and why?
  • Which of those products which you did not know about, are the most attractive and why?

Personal and representative research/information

Personal knowledge of experience as in “I have been through this and so I know” or “I have seen others go through it” can be very powerful not least because it is embedded knowledge and so really “understood”.

But it risks being one-off and not typical – you need to ask am I typical? This caution also applies to the views of customers represented on Boards or user panels. In the world of disability I have been passionate about setting up governing structures where beneficiaries are in a majority, but the wisest of these do not simply say “because I am blind, I know”. They say because” I am blind I have real empathy and understanding, but by definition I am unusual just by being on this Board” so “I want as much research information about all kinds of blind people who are different from me”, for example, partially sighted, old/young, learning disabled/not, employed/unemployed, etc. 

Desk research

There is nearly always more information about your customers/potential customers than you think. Finding a volunteer (for example, a university student?) to do a search of the literature will help you enormously. (Sounds grand but with the internet anyone can do a search like this.) Enter key words with quotes around them, for example, 'female donors', or 'charity donors' - will get you lots of interesting stuff once you have removed blood donors, kidney donors etc! Or you could search for 'children with learning disabilities', etc.

Also check carefully through your own organisation for information about beneficiaries or donors, etc. Don’t just ask the obvious people but talk to the people who do the finances, they will have information (for example, through receipt books) on people who have donated or bought booklets or other services.

Qualitative research

This is where I would go next. In other words you have identified a group or 'segment' (see segmentation and targeting) you are interested in and want to know why they are not taking up your service or becoming members.

For example you are a trade union trying to keep members once they retire but your retention rate is low among female retirees. So you identify half a dozen in this category and spend about an hour with each of them exploring why they have or haven’t stayed in membership. This will give you a huge depth of understanding about what (services) will keep them, what sub levels will seem acceptable or preposterous etc. But do not forget to a) prepare a list of topics you wish to probe and b) keep your personal opinions out of the interview – no leading the witnesses!

Another version of qualitative research is to have a group interview, where you bring together, say eight retirees into a discussion. Provided you can moderate the group, the interaction between them will give you a real insight and a range of views. But make sure you prevent one or two dominating and encourage diverse views.

Quantitative research

Doing this well can be very costly. Here you need a sample of people large enough to get 'representative' answers. You have heard the political polls predicting voting behaviour. Typically they have samples of 1,000 people which is a size which can give you lots of valid results. However choosing a typical group of 1,000 people can be the most difficult and expensive part and you will almost certainly need advice from a market research company or a university academic familiar with statistics.

The qualitative research you have done first will inform your questionnaire development. Foe example, in our union example you have a range of opinions on how much retirees will pay, so you have a question asking what is the highest level the respondent would pay to join £10/£20/£30 and then later, ask what they think is a fair level to pay to get some corroboration.

So quantitative research, unless you can include a written questionnaire in a normal mail out, is not for the low budget organisation. There is one exception. If you are wanting information nationally from the general public, there are regular 'omnibus surveys' by large market research companies. In these surveys they will as a representative sample of 1,000 people questions on voting intentions, baked beans preferences, shampoo usage, etc.

They have room for a fixed number of questions and sometimes they do not manage to sell them all to commercial companies either because of an economic downturn or because it is August and companies don’t want to test when people are on holiday. Sometimes these market research companies will let a non profit organisation have one or two questions free! So why not try your luck!

Regular data

Lastly you can arrange to collect your own data from your existing customers as they interact with your organisation. Ask whomever is taking orders for leaflets, services or accepting donations to ask “how did you hear about us?” or “what made you decide to ask for this/give us this?” Or similar questions can be put on order forms. This information collection can cost very little and be hugely informative. But you need to be imaginative and persuasive of your colleagues!

Page last edited Jul 25, 2017

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