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Market research to uncover the unexpected

My teenage daughter and her younger brother were kidding around, when he had an idea for something silly. Dwight removed the stick-on name tag from his shirt and adhered it to his sister’s knee. She showed herself to her mom and said, “Look, mom! What do you think my knee’s name is?” My wife laughed and said, “Dwight.” And my daughter said, “No Mom, I mean the other knee.”


It made me laugh the first time I heard it, because her response was so unexpected. You know it’s goofy that she has a name tag on her knee, so you assume that you know what she is talking about, but you actually don’t. It’s very human to analyze a situation and make assumptions about communication—it saves us lots of time, except when it throws off totally off the scent.
We have this same situation with our customers. Sometimes we think we know what is on a customer’s mind, but we actually don’t. We can craft all the survey questions in the world, but if we fail to provide the choice that fits a customer’s mindset, we might not truly find out what they are thinking. Or we can offer open-ended survey questions, but they take a lot more time and money to aggregate the results, and they can sometimes be misinterpreted if categorized improperly.
That’s one of the reasons that I love search marketing. You can think of the search box on your site as a “fill in the blank” customer survey. You get unfiltered insight into what customers are really interested in.
You don’t have to know ahead of time what to ask about—they just tell you. You don’t need to make any assumptions about which choices should be offered. You don’t need to go through the pain and the expense and the waiting associated with fill-in-the blank surveys.
You can count the occurrences of search keywords to spot new customer interests that are beginning to crop up, or to note changes in the popularity of subjects that you have been tracking for some time. All without the unavoidable bias that multiple-choice survey answers introduce and without the expense of interpreting an open-ended survey.
If you’ve been used to taking a utilitarian view of your site’s search engine, treating it as just a tool to help customers find what they are looking for, step back and take a fresh look. Perhaps your site search engine is a free source of market research that you’ve overlooked all along.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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