What makes companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google so powerful? It’s not the amount of money they make (although that’s a big deal, don’t get us wrong). It’s not the amount of products they can supply. It’s not even their dominance of their market sectors. What really makes them powerful is the amount of data they have about consumers (even with things like GDPR and other regional restrictions limiting the amount of data they can legally access, they still have a scary amount).
Data = information = power. If you know how consumers are behaving, you can respond to that data with marketing, content and products.
This is pretty obvious stuff, but it’s worth repeating. Not every company should aspire to get the amount of data that big tech giants collect, and no one should be doing any kind of shady stuff to acquire it. But at the end of the day, knowing what consumers are interested in gives you more of an opportunity to turn them into customers.
It’s pretty easy to get data for marketing when you’ve got a large, established customer base. But what can you do if you’re pretty new? Well, if you’ve got the capital, you can pay for it. There are loads of companies out there that are devoted to consumer research that you can pay to access or even pay to conduct specific research for you.
But that’s not necessarily an option for everyone. For many startups, every cent/penny/teeny-weeny-%-of-a-bitcoin counts. Thankfully there are ways you can do some lightweight market research for free (or practically free) that will help you get started on a marketing strategy.
Now some of these might vary in use depending on the geographical regions you’re in or trying to target. We’ll make it clear which ones are useful tools for marketing all over the world, and which ones are more specific.
Ah, good old Google, perfect for answering many questions, from deep and existential (“Why are we alive?” - 1,180,000,000 results), to the delightfully inane (“Can cats drive cars?” - 111,000,000 results). Google processes roughly 40,000 searches every second, which works out to about 3.5 billion a day.
Be good to know how many of those searches are related to your industry, company, and its products, right? Be even better if you could know how many people in a specific country were doing it, wouldn’t it?
Well, Google knew that people would find a tool like that handy (like we said, they know a scary amount about us), so that’s why they provide Google Trends.
With an easy-to-use interface, and clear, concise breakdowns of information, this is a fantastic tool for any marketer. Simply enter a topic that’s relevant to your company or ideas for marketing, along with the geographic region, and you’ll get a chart of search interest over a period of time (which you can adjust), a regional breakdown of how popular that search subject is (e.g. by state in the US), and suggested related topics. You can even set up multiple search queries to compare different topics.
Now you might need to do some fancy-shmancy SEOing to get your content to the top of the results page for popular topics, but we’ll leave that discussion for another time.
It can actually be pretty fun to play around with, even for casual topics. Just look how much more popular “cats dancing” was than “dogs surfing” in the US in 2020.
At the end of the day, your marketing needs a target audience, and knowing where that target audience is can be super useful when it comes to allocating your resources. A handy tool for this is census data.
Almost every country on Earth conducts a census at least semi-regularly, and most of them provide free access to the data, regardless of your geographic location, for free.
In fact, the US even provides a range of tools and has an entire section devoted to business and economic data which can help you develop ideas about demographics and population density for your targeted marketing.
Now, there are pros and cons to this.
The pros: it’s usually free to access; it’s government-sponsored so the data should be accurate; and the data size is huge (every household in a given country).
The cons: you’ll have to do some analysis and interpretation of the stats to answer more specific marketing questions; demographics aren’t necessarily the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to developing marketing strategy; and (worst of all) most countries only conduct censuses once every ten years, meaning the data can quickly become outdated (we’ll bet a census conducted in 2019 would look pretty different to one conducted in 2020).
Cons aside, census data can be a great tool for some initial research into target markets.
Pew Research Center
Mainly US, some global
The Pew Research Center is one of the most respected non-partisan research centers in the US, conducting detailed research combining journalistic and social science approaches across the US and beyond.
They cover everything, recent reports include the effects of COVID-19 on American working habits, how millennials are approaching family life and how dating has gotten harder in the past decade.
And that’s just the social trends.
They also cover politics, religion, technology, the media and much more. Each report is told clearly, pulling out key findings in an easy to understand way, often with handy charts and infographics accompanying it.
And it’s all for free.
Google Surveys and SurveyMonkey
We’re gonna roll these tools together as they’re pretty similar. Want to know something about a group of people? The best way is probably to ask! Both these tools allow you to easily create surveys on any subject. Google Surveys allows you to choose your targeted demographics and will attempt to distribute it to them for results, while SurveyMonkey will require you to distribute it yourself.
Both approaches are pretty valid, but there are issues with surveys:
- A detailed survey can take a loooooooonnngg time to set up.
- You need a pretty big sample size for the results to be valid, which can take time.
- Your results will only be from people who are willing to take the survey, especially if you aren’t offering an incentive for taking it, which could skew your results.
But they’re still a great tool. If you don’t ask questions, you don’t get answers.
Facebook Audience Insights
Once again, it’s time to piggyback on another big tech giant that’s got a terrifying amount of consumer data, this time the folks at Facebook.
You can get info specific to people who are already connected to your page, and more general info about people on Facebook, both of which are useful when it comes to expanding your audience. You can even connect your company Instagram to get insights specific to that.
Now, this does require you to have a company Facebook page, and you’ll only get access to data on people who use the platform (so forget Gen-Z until we get detailed TikTok analytics tools), but it’s still valuable data.
Have you got a free go-to-source for data and marketing research? Let us know!