STEP 2. KNOWLEDGE GATHERING
Clearly, the more you know the better your plan will be. Start by gathering as much knowledge as you can. You want to know everything relevant about customers, prospects, the competition, the category, what’s worked and not worked.
This begins by exploring the knowledge that exists within your company. First gather any research that you have conducted, even old research is better than none. Add to this any public research that is available and consider buying any current research studies about your category or target audience. Many industries have A&U (attitude and usage) studies available, which explore consumer behavior and attitudes in the category.
Next, conduct internal stakeholder interviews to help fill in the picture. This is very important because it allows you to extract the knowledge that exists within your own teams, but which may not be generally shared within the organization. Clearly this is anecdotal, but it can be very valuable. Focus on senior executives and practice leaders. They will have experienced perspectives about barriers and opportunities.
Throughout this interview process, begin to be on the lookout for clues that will lead you to consumer insights. These are the “aha” moments when you get an insight that tells you something about the consumer that your competition may not have stumbled upon yet. When it dawned on Bill Gates that computer manufacturers would prefer to buy an operating system rather than make their own, he bought an existing operating system from a small Seattle company, developed it into MS-DOS and licensed it to IBM for PCs. Much as Gates had anticipated, PC cloners such as Compaq decided it was cheaper to use the IBM operating system instead of making their own. Within two years, Microsoft sales exploded.
Conduct a competitive evaluation. You will need to have a comprehensive understanding not only of the strengths and weaknesses of your competitor’s offerings, but also how they go to market. This includes how they differentiate themselves, what channels they are in, what target audiences they pursue, how much they spend and what messaging they use, and have used in the past. You will need to know what their visual or creative approach is, the strengths and weaknesses of their customer experience (CX) in all channels, their mobile strategy and how they present themselves at retail.
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT BECAUSE IT WILL GIVE YOU CLUES AS TO HOW TO DIFFERENTIATE YOUR BRAND FROM THE FIELD AND SHOW YOU WHERE THE OPPORTUNITIES TO PROVIDE AN EXPERIENCE ADVANTAGE OVER YOUR COMPETITION MIGHT LIE.
Start the data gathering part of the process with a distillation of any metrics you currently have. This includes sales trend data, sales data by product type and geographical area, and add any other key factors that may be important for your industry. It also includes marketing data such as metrics for your website, mobile sites, email open and view rates, search performance, CRM and loyalty participation and performance.
Regardless of time or budget restrictions, be sure to take advantage of the considerable insights made available today by Social Listening research and Search Term research. The former will give you a glimpse into what people are talking about online in social channels. The latter will tell you, what people are interested in when they search, and the words and phrases they use related to your category. Both are usually very enlightening, and although, like most research, they only provide a piece of the picture, when combined with other inputs and insights they will help to point you in the right direction. They will also probably be the freshest, most up-to-the-minute research you will have.
Social listening, or social media monitoring as it is sometimes called, is a customer intelligence tool that tells you what people are saying in public social channels. While it cannot give you insights into all social conversations, you can view many social conversations in public channels. These include blogs, reviews, comment sections and of course social networks, such as Twitter. You can search for company names, both your own and the competition’s, or you can search for words associated with your product area. You can also examine different timeframes and even specific locations. Either way, social listening provides a wonderfully rich and comparatively inexpensive way to see inside your consumer’s head on a regular and timely basis. Tapping into consumer sentiment is an important part of the strategic process at the outset, and also should be part of the on-going health check of a brand and its evolution.
Similarly, Search Term research gives you a window into what search terms people use, and it will give you clues about what content to develop, among other things. Like Social Listening, there are many tools available with different strengths and weaknesses. Both areas have become well developed with many options that are easily accessible.