Sam Rose - Head of Content

Sam Rose

21st October 2016

The Apprentice: Lessons In Conducting Market Research

The Apprentice is back on our screens, and the eighteen candidates have already given us plenty of lessons in what not to do if you have just two days to create a successful business with several complete strangers.

If you’re not familiar with The Apprentice (where have you been?), Lord Sugar gives the candidates one task every week, which they complete with varying degrees of success (I use the word ‘success’ here rather loosely). Each week a candidate is fired until one is finally declared the winner and goes into business with Lord Sugar. The weekly tasks include things like buying goods to sell on a market stall, sourcing and purchasing a list of products as cheaply as possible, creating a new jeans brand with a TV advert, selling products on a shopping channel, creating a new snack and selling it to customers, inventing a new children’s toy, and so on.

The tasks that involve creating something new, marketing it and selling it or presenting it to retailers and experts, often require a little market research. A common occurrence on The Apprentice is that two or three of the team members get sent off into the wilderness to interview people on the streets, organise a focus group, or visit potential customers in their natural habitat, such as at mother and baby meetings. They do this, of course, to glean some wisdom about the kind of products people might want to buy and to find out if the ideas the team has already come up with are in alignment with what the general public wants. They explain their ideas, are given some comments about their plans, then feed it all back to the rest of the team, who are holed up somewhere racking their brains to create a brand name, logo, advert and so on within the allotted 24 hours.

And then, in the project manager’s infinite wisdom, they decide to ignore everything these potential customers have said and plough ahead with their favourite idea, regardless of the fact that everyone at the focus group said they hated it.

Market research should help contestants make smart, informed decisions, and if they were doing this ‘for real’ and using their own precious resources to talk to these people about a brand they actually wanted to build, the teams might pay a bit more attention to what the participants had to say. Regardless, it serves as an important reminder for the rest of us: listen to your customers. Not only is there no point in asking someone’s opinion if you’re just going to ignore it, but there’s also little point in trying to market something if you don’t know what your target market wants.

Luckily for the rest of us, it’s not too difficult to find out what customers really want. There are so many ways we can communicate with potential customers online, and there are lots of benefits in doing so. Asking what customers think of a product or brand can make them feel included, especially if they see that their suggestions are made a reality. Included customers feel more engaged with your brand, and are more likely to become loyal customers and brand advocates. And of course, if you know what people want, you can provide it and increase your sales.

So how do you find out what customers want? People love to be asked their opinion, and there are plenty of ways to reach them. Here are a few ideas:

Ask on social media

Pose a question on Facebook or Twitter to get customers’ opinions – “What do you think of the design of this new product?” “What one thing would help you to have a more productive day at the office?” If you have a YouTube channel, you could use a video to ask a question in a more detailed, personal way.

Create a poll

Open-ended questions can be tough to answer. A poll on your website could help you get the answers you need with hardly any effort on the users’ part. You can create polls on Twitter now, too.

Send a personalised email

You could send a feedback email to a customer a week or two after they have purchased your product, asking what they thought of it. If someone has registered with your website and has put a product in their basket but hasn’t bought it, sending them an email will not give you the chance to find out why they haven’t made the purchase, but it will also remind them that they visited you – in case they forgot or became distracted halfway through the checkout process. If a customer has registered but hasn’t added anything to their basket, an email to them could also serve two purposes – to remind them that you exist, and to find out if there is any way that you could improve or help them get what they need.

Make it as easy as possible for people to give feedback – you could invite them to fill in a very short survey, or even ask them to just reply to your email with whatever is on their mind. Though if you go for the latter, you may want to prompt them with a couple of questions to make sure the feedback is useful for you.

Collect testimonials or reviews

Testimonials and reviews are a great way to get feedback from your customers. You can put these on your website to show off your best products and help future customers make purchasing decisions. By responding to the reviews, you can demonstrate your positive relationships with customers and show that you listen to them and care about what they have to say. Reviews can also help with SEO as they are a good way to keep adding new, relevant content to your website with keywords people are looking for. Our previous blog post offers some ideas of how to collect reviews and make the most of them. 

However you decide to collect feedback from your customers, the most important thing is that you listen to what they have to say, take any suggestions into serious consideration and respond positively – even if it isn’t always what you want to hear. Good luck!

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