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Whether you run a fashion brand, sell a product or service, or publish a blog, you need to understand and connect with your audience. Try these tips to get inside the head of your target consumer.

  1.  Ask the Right Questions

There are lots of things that would be great to learn about your consumers’ preferences. Apple iOS or Android? White or red wine? Pilates or Pure Barre? IPA or Microbrew? The possibilities are endless. But to get the right information to guide your business decisions, it’s important to focus on asking the right questions.

Revisit your top business objectives and work backward. If your goal is to increase e-commerce sales in the next year, focus on how your customers shop online. Your questions might look like:

  • How do you feel about our brand shopping experience?
  • What specific occasions do you shop for online?
  • What types of promotions motivate you to make a purchase online?
  • What would you like to see more of from our website?
  1.  Ask the Right Questions the Right Way

I was recently using an app on my phone when a question popped up on the screen: “Do you love the X app? Please select YES or NO”. Questions like this are misleading. They don’t get at why someone loves or doesn’t love the app.

Always ask “why,” and be sure to give a range of choices for consumers to choose from. For instance, rather than asking “Do you love my Product/Service/Brand,” consider asking, “How do you feel about my Product/Service/Brand?” (with choices like Love/ Like/Just Ok/Dislike/Strongly Dislike) to get a better read.

Decoding your consumers’ motivations and preferences is as much of an art as it is a science. So, think twice before believing everything your consumers are telling you, and always try to isolate the possibility of a bias in how they’re giving you feedback.

  1.  The More Research You Do, The Merrier

Never base a potentially expensive business decision on a handful of opinions you collected from your Facebook page, as this won’t give you a valid read of what your broader audience is thinking.

Do multiple types of research:

  1. In-person Interview – Besides being more personal, you can gauge people’s nonverbal reactions. Sometimes what people aren’t saying is more telling. This method allows you to read between the lines. An eye roll, a laugh, or a desire to touch the product can all speak louder than words.
  2. Quantitative Online Survey – There are many types of these tools online from Survey Gizmo to Survey Monkey. Despite being less personal, such platforms give you a larger pool of people and give consumers anonymity, which can lead to more honest answers. People can be hesitant to criticize a creative idea in person, but online they may be more comfortable giving both negative and positive feedback.   
  1.  Walk in a Stranger’s Shoes

Immerse yourself in the online and offline world of your consumers. It’s easy to lose sight of who your customers are when you’re engrossed in sales data or social media metrics. They’re real people with real habits and patterns.

For example, if you’re in media or entertainment, go to a bookstore and observe how consumers are drawn to certain magazines, how they browse and navigate the store. Seeing how consumers are drawn to certain types of packaging on a cluttered shelf, or how long they spend looking at or touching a product, can reveal a lot.

And keep the observation and listening going into your consumers’ online world as well. Given that the average person spends nearly two hours on social media every day, social listening is another valuable tool for understanding what’s working or not working well for your brand.

  1.  Talk to Strangers

Now that you’ve quietly stalked your consumer, it’s time to talk to strangers. No, not that weird guy in a trench coat on the park bench. Specifically, your target market. If you’re in the business of kids’ apparel, for instance, strike up conversations with moms out shopping, and get their feedback on different products and brands.

Get out and get to know your consumers wherever they shop, brunch or sweat. Before you hit the streets, jot down 3-5 burning questions you’ve been wanting to ask. Hearing feedback firsthand (versus online or behind a bush) can spark new learnings and insight into how to improve your offerings.

  1. Bribe Your Best Customers

Have a list of email addresses or a following on social media? Create a community of “Brand Insiders.” These are your most loyal customers whom you can engage in an ongoing dialogue. Having a built-in group of consumers ready to give you their opinions is a powerful tool you can use for third-party feedback.  

Whether it’s giving direction on future product designs, suggesting content topics or evaluating advertising creative, your biggest fans will love giving their opinions and feeling involved. Offer discounts or early access to products periodically to keep your community engaged. Keep your questions short and sweet to be mindful of their time, and find ways to keep the dialogue fun and informal.

Carolyn Yian is a freelance marketing strategist/consumer researcher who has most recently worked with retail, fashion and technology brands. You can learn more about her work at www.cisforcarolyn.com or on Instagram @cisforcarolyn78.

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