Choosing the best marketing ideas

Bruce Freeman writes a column for Scripps Howard News Service called The Small Business Professor. By trade he heads a marketing and public relations firm. This week he talks about how to test marketing ideas and bick the good ones. Here’s Bruce:

You can test several of your best marke

ting ideas by interviewing customers about their relevant behavior. Use the understanding you gain to guide which programs to implement. Here are five easy steps to fast, informal customer feedback:

1. Create a list of open-ended questions to test your hypotheses. Focus on asking your customers how they actually behave. For example, if one of your ideas is choosing between newspaper and online advertising, ask about what they read and where they look for information about products like yours.
“You don’t want to ask your customers for business advice,” notes Heather Evans, an expert in client feedback programs. “Ask them about what they actually did the last time they bought something in your category.”

2. Create a script, organizing your questions roughly by how customers approach the purchasing process. This will help them visualize their actual behavior.
If you want reactions to a specific idea, ask toward the end of the interview. Take anything they say about how they “would” behave with a grain of salt. Consumers are notoriously bad predictors of their own behavior.

3. Select existing and/or target customers to interview. A dozen names is a good place to start. Don’t worry about creating a representative sample of your entire customer base. Focus instead on the segment you’re trying to impact with your marketing programs. It’s OK to include friends if they fit the profile.

4. Conduct interviews, making sure to keep to your script and take notes. Signal your seriousness, saying, “Now, I’d like to take you through a questionnaire.” Feel free to read from the script. To avoid biasing the results, just pause after each question and, once they answer, move to the next question. If you want to chat about what they say, do so after you’ve finished.
There’s no hard and fast rule as to how many interviews to conduct. A handful may be sufficient to have an “aha” moment. If you’re not getting the insight you need, revise your questions.

5. Finally, take the time to aggregate what you heard by simply counting how often a point was made. This will help prevent you from being swayed by the answers of one particularly articulate or forceful customer.

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