Epic Online Marketing Research Blueprint: For Your SAAS, Digital or Physical Product

Starting a new business is tricky.

If only it was simple and more customers were like this:

Oh we can only dream. But to kinda get it right we need to do some homework.

This homework involves understanding your market. We’ve boiled it down to some simple questions:

  • What problem(s) are you solving?
  • How does it result in positive feelings for users?
  • Who else is selling something similar?

All this takes is a week of strategic meditation while saying “om” and drinking chai lattes.

Just kidding.

Here’s our cheat sheet for understanding the deep psychological level of how consumers are engaged with our industry.

We've borrowed this list (okay we stole it) and the definition of Awareness in Eugene Schwartz’s famous book, Breakthrough Advertising.

Here are the 5 levels:

1. The Most Aware: Your prospect knows your product, and only needs to know “the deal.”

2. Product-Aware: Your prospect knows what you sell, but isn't sure it’s right for him.

3. Solution-Aware: Your prospect knows the result he wants, but not that your product provides it.

4. Problem-Aware: Your prospect senses he has a problem, but doesn't know there’s a solution.

5. Completely Unaware: No knowledge of anything except, perhaps, his own identity or opinion.

(Guess what level we’re on? More on that later)

Now back to the questions:

What problem are you solving?

We’re solving the need for people to start an idea and promote themselves. Being a website builder with drag and drop functionality, responsive design, and accepting payments, makes it easier.

However, through 10+ hours of team conference calls, we’re beginning to pivot into a solution for marketing professionals. Still, we’ll humor ourselves in this blueprint and compare ourselves to a giant before we officially change direction.

How does it result in positive feelings for users?

Our end result is for Nancy, aged 32 years old, as a single business woman, who lives comfortably somewhere in the US, to launch her kickass attorney website. She needs her site to educate, charge money from consulting, and blog if she cares to. If we can achieve all that then she will be happy and likely to stay with us.

We believe Nancy is one our customer avatars. However, the more we user test and get data, it can likely change.

Who is your customer avatar? Make a narrative. If you’re lost, look to where these people talk about their pains. Facebook groups? Forums? Yelp? Reddit? Their pain is the ingredient to craft your solution.

Who else is selling something similar?

We've identified over a dozen competitors. Competition is good because it means there’s profit to be made in that market. It’s very rare that you’ll be first in the market, unless you’re a visionary, like Henry Ford.

In regards to website builders, most of our competitors have only saturated western markets. On the other hand, one competitor, Wix, has gone public with the understanding of an opportunity to grow overseas. For the purpose of understanding the tools we use to market research, we’ll focus on Squarespace.com in our case study (more on this later).

Still reading?

Let’s go back to one of the first questions I asked you: What market level are we at? If you guessed level 3, you’re correct. People are aware that they need to build a website for business or pleasure, yet they have no clue who we (Nikktto) are. Well, not for long. Hipster dog says:

Now that we know that we’re not too popular (except with hipster dogs), it’s time to study those who are popular.

The following free spy tools borrow ideas and gauge your competitions’ strategies. By standing on the shoulder of giants, we not only validate our business idea, but we also can get a better view of how our sellers are facilitating the wants, needs, desires, and pains of the consumer.

  • Amazon & Clickbank are good places to see what’s already selling in your niche. You’ll want to check popular items. Reading 1–3 star reviews on Amazon will help you make a better product. For clickbank you’ll want to search by gravity and cross reference with cbengine to see what’s currently profitable.
  • Quantcast & Alexa are for demographics. You may get a chance to see ages groups, education, salary, and other interests. It can help you laser target your ideal buyer aka customer avatar.
  • Similarweb checks global traffic of website, ads, and referrals.
  • Reddit sees what the current chatter is around a user’s needs.
  • Moat checks competitor display ads.
  • Spyfu checks how much your competitors are spending per keywords on google adwords, search ad copy, and how much they’re being shared on social media websites.

Case Study #1: Squarespace

Quantcast:

The first thing we want to look at is demographics. Unfortunately, Quantcast’s quantified data is unavailable for this research. If it was available, we’d get a great visual on the exact gender, age, and income from demographics.

Alexa demographics:

It is our assumption based on the data that Squarespace appeals more to women than men, with either some or no college, who views their website builder at home and work.

Similarweb:

As you can see, currently, Squarespace has about 9.7 million visitors a month. Most of their traffic comes from the US. With lots of facebook referrals, it’s leading us to believe that perhaps Squarespace runs a lot of advertisements on social websites, rather than search.

Reddit:

Reddit is the elephant in the room which you can’t ignore. With close to 400 million visitors a month, it’s a space to get feedback. With 60% men and 40% women, this group is one of the most intelligent, critical, and tech savvy on the internet.

As we search for “build website” we can see that it’s a problem many of them would like solved.

Reddit also has this cool subcategory for start-ups. We pitched them our startup for feedback. Most people were already using something similar or had many questions we needed to address.

Moat:

The great thing about Moat is it tells you when these ads were last seen. If you follow this tool closely, you can start understanding if a rival business is changing strategy. It’s a great tool to borrow creative ideas, as well.

Spyfu:

Using Spyfu, we found that squarespace did some heavy advertising for about 6 months, then decided to lower their budgets. Perhaps one of their metrics appeared better so they moved into that direction.

Other notable tools/resouces to mention:

Follow.net: consolidates quantcast, similarweb data, and get emails whenever your comepetition is mentioned.

Buzzsumo: tells you which topics are being shared and identifies top influencers for that niche. This could be a great way to piggy-back off other companies’ exposures by getting a reporter to write about your company.

Waybackmachine: takes you on a trip to 1–10 years ago to see what competitor websites looked like.

Product Market Fit: Great essay by Andrew Chen on understanding whether your product fits the market you want to help.

Fastlane Business Strategy: A simple illustration on 7 aspects you should consider in business.

We’ve learned a lot about our competitor Squarespace in this case study, as well as the type of customer that buys from them. Given that we’re in a similar industry, this makes it easier to piggy-back ideas and target our own ideal customer. But it’s not enough…

We need actual users to give us feedback. This can be accomplished by studying our own analytics and getting users to test the functionality of our product. After users test they’ll answer surveys so we can understand the experience.

It takes a lot of patience and lack of ego to realize some things which are intuitive for us aren’t mirrored in an actual user. So to clear up the fog of false consensus we’ve been taking a qualitative approach and prioritizing the features/functionality that matter most.

For user testing here’s what we’ve been using:

  • Trymyui isn’t the greatest but gets the job done. It’s $99 to use an unlimited amount of your own users while $10 a person if you go through them.
  • Odesk/elance are fast ways for us to recruit users from different professional fields.

Ideally, we want the customers to tell us what they love and hate about our product. With that information, we can build something people will want to pay for. There will be no doubt that with the customer’s feedback, we can work together to create a product that can be sold in the market.

Conclusion:

  • Figure out what pain you’re solving, who’s your ideal customer, and who else is selling something similar
  • Spy tools can give a great picture without having to spend thousands of dollars and time. However, you should still think on your own and use on page research
  • Does your product fit the market? Or is it time to pivot?

Think we missed some good tools to conduct online market research? We’d love to know with your comments.

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