I worked with a major consumer product goods company once that insisted that a particular product it offered was to be marketed to men. New to the fold and not afraid to ask the obvious question, I said, “Why not women?”

All the market research in the world told them women didn’t like their product. All my personal experience told me they never asked an important audience: women.

Live Earth 2007, Wembley Stadium
Image by GlowPlug via Flickr

It’s easy to assume we know our audiences. It’s easy to take the charts and graphs the big research companies give us and say, “Okay, we know who to target. We know what they want.”

So, you think you know your audience. Did you know that if you want to market to women today you have a better chance of reaching them via television by advertising on sporting events rather than soap operas?

You have three opportunities to guide your thinking in marketing and social media and none of them alone are 100 percent effective. You can assume. You can conduct market research. You can ask.

Which one are you doing? Which ones should you be? The comments, as always, are yours.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.mcgrawmarketing.com patmcgraw

    Jason,

    Great post – you have to do all three but, unfortunately, 2 require additional resources (money, time) so they get cut/under-funded all too frequently. That leaves us with a little too much 'gut' and, as the old saying goes, we know what happens when we assume…

    I think the greatest challenge in all of this is the focus on quarterly results. This has created a “Fire. Ready. Aim.” approach to business where marketing is focused on getting lead gen campaigns out so that the organization is fed…and that's an approach that can be ineffective, filled with waste and/or lost opportunities.

    Using your example, the company goes to market and has success with the male market – but it never realizes the full potential by also targeting women. They could have, ideally, doubled sales with this audience…wow!

    Best,
    Pat

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Agree Pat, but I think the “ask” doesn't have to require as much time or
      money as we think. If you have a community of listeners in the social space
      (Twitter, Facebook, Blog) asking is as simple as filling out the form and
      hitting “submit.” Sure, there's the lack of scale for most businesses – they
      don't have big online fan bases. But asking the people who are your
      customers might be smarter than those who may not be in formal research.

      • http://www.mcgrawmarketing.com patmcgraw

        Great point, Jason. Ongoing dialogue can be done inexpensively with current and prospective customers. And with a little thought, you can ask the questions that address the big issues – needs, wants, perceptions, motivations, buying process – so you can come back to leadership with deeper understanding of the target.

        A little creativity and maybe a subscription to Zoomerang and you would be covered.

      • http://videoarmy.tv Rachel Melville

        Great answer, Jason. I think more and more brands are figuring out how social media brand monitoring and engagement can be a very simple (and inexpensive) method for market research and, like you said, maybe even more accurate than formal research. I think the likelihood of participation may be greater as well. Personally, I'm much less likely to fill out a written survey (or even one online) than I am to tweet my feelings about a particular product or experience I just had with a brand. It feels a lot less formal and I don't have to worry about scaling my “feelings” somewhere between 1 and 5.

        • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

          Yeah, the only real challenge brands face is how to gather, count and
          measure those reactions. Surveys are simple, easy, clean and calculate-able
          in a button push. Collecting all that informal language on Twitter and
          making it look like insights isn't easy. But, as marketers, it's our job to
          make our customer's relationship easy, not our own workload. Right?

          • http://videoarmy.tv Rachel Melville

            Yes, exactly! There may be value in the “social media expert” after all. I would never refer to myself as such, but I don't mind making fun of myself to prove a point. Also, we're lucky to be in business at a time when developers are creating free tools that make part of our job, mainly the aggregation of data, easier. But it's still a lot of work!

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  • http://ubermarketing.wordpress.com Akash Sharma

    Thanks for getting this question up in our minds again that is the customer know how that important before marketing a product,In this era one thing is for sure that we cannot depend solely on R&D department for learning about the prospective customers.
    The opportunities in social media which you have mentioned here are a part of a complete integrated program,I must say that we are getting better at this as some firms have started measuring buzz from the status updates on social networking sites and that would help a lot to know who wants the product and why.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Good thought, Akash. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.themoviebanter.com/ Craig

    Agree, products could be targeted to multiple people and could potentially be used for other reasons than the intended purpose, which could give you a completely new demographic and consumer base to target. For example Aspirin was marketed as a way to help cure headaches, then apparently studies showed it could potentially help in the event of a heart attack, and then they adjusted and marketed towards that base as well.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Great point, Craig. Proctor and Gamble started by selling soap. Imagine if
      they's stuck to just that. Heh.

  • scotttownsend

    We are in the middle of “conduct market research”.

    From a small business POV, it's been my experience if you think you know who your customers are, ask 3 top management personnel. If you get 3 different answers, you've got some work to do.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Awesome!

  • http://jeffhora.wordpress.com Jeff Hora

    A halfway solution some orgs use is the focus group or advisory council. Somehow, this extreme subset of the customer base is responsible for expressing the desires of the entire customer base. From my experience, the companies that use this tend to select participants for these groups based, consciously or not, upon the likelihood that they will hear what they want to hear.
    This really doesn't work as well as they wish it would. There needs to be a kind of triangulation of social media listening/feedback, customer panels, and 'regular' marketing research. Sadly, most of the time only one of these is used and a less-than-optimal view is assumed.
    I think the triangulation works pretty well, short of talking to everyone!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks Jeff. The advisory council to me is just a subset of market research.
      It's a more permanent focus group. And you're right, most are selected to
      say what the brand wants to hear. In the client I made reference to, they
      probably would only have an advisory council of men, for instance. I think
      social media will change the way some folks listen to their audiences for
      insights. I just think for many, it's a long way off.

  • Shuja Uddin

    Hmm, pretty awesome. Well, women are pretty weird! I think I would ask!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Funny how we get stuck in our ruts of believing what we've always done is
      right, isn't it?

  • http://www.kherize5.com Suzanne Vara

    Jason

    You've given away the secret of targeting women through sporting events! The days the mom staying home with the kids watching the soaps are diminishing as is quality family time. Now a big game is the family time. Whether that is a sign of the times or that “needed” outlet of taking the time to relax from the constant running around is yet to be seen.

    So many times companies think that their target is X when really they have not delved deep enough to realize that there is an entire market share that they are not tapping into. Traditionally X consumer would buy this but with more women taking on executive roles and working there is opportunity to look at them in a different way.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      I didn't give it away. Just smacked people on the head and made them realize
      it for themselves. Heh. Thanks for the thoughts, Suzanne.

  • http://twitter.com/rachevincent Rachel Vincent

    I think you ask. That is the beauty of social media. You can pose a question to your target audience and get a direct answer.

  • seanmcvey

    I agree with you 100% that your target demographic is something that you need to continually question, and you should never jump to conclusions. It's not the amount of data you have, it's how effectively you use it.

    However, it seems that perhaps this company you are talking about has an established niche. If you start targeting women, wouldn't you be afraid that you would lose the men you were loyally targeting? In a similar example, taco bell is now marketing to health conscious people. This is after years of targeting young, cheap, teenagers. I have talked to many of these young, cheap, teenagers and they are borderline pissed that taco bell no longer cares about them.

    Similarly, if you take a product directed at men and start marketing it to women, maybe men won't want it anymore. I myself want products that are made for me, not the entire world. Where do you draw the line with expansion into new demographics? Should you really start marketing to women just because there is demand?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Good push back Sean. Don't mistake, I wouldn't turn off what works and turn
      on something based on some anecdotal instinct. The client in question
      shoudn't stop marketing to men, but should add an effort to reach the female
      consumer that likes the product, would/could identify with it, but doesn't
      know any better because the men-only assumptions that guide the brand have
      never been questioned or stretched. Research questions are geared to get
      confirmation they're right, not indications there might be other audiences
      to consider. It's a blind spot for them, in my opinion. Even some of the
      research I saw indicated there was potential for that marketing approach to
      be successful, but it's like telling Ford in 1987 they may want to market a
      truck to women and them not seeing that a truck/van hybrid … the SUV would
      actually sell very well if targeted to the soccer moms. (Sort of.)

      It's not about cutting off the men. It's about seeing the full potential of
      the audience and addressing the needs and opportunities accordingly.

      And for what it's worth, I don't think people are upset Taco Bell is
      targeting health conscious people. I think they're upset Taco Bell thinks
      we're dumb enough to buy diet tacos. (My tongue-in-cheek-ish opinion.)

      • http://www.risinglynx.com/blog Sean McVey

        Good explanation. Sometimes I get stuck on trying to focus a marketing message too much and end up not appealing to a large enough audience. I like your example of Ford and the soccer mom.

        As for Taco Bell, I think I just miss their funny commercials, haha. Thanks for the great response.

  • http://www.nuacco.net/ impressions

    It's absolutely important for us to know our consumer. we cannot just assume what they can say with our product. So, it's needed for us to conduct some market research and do some surveys which is costly and time consuming, But is very essential if we're into meeting our objectives and success.

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  • http://researchmob.com/research_mob/industry?industry=2 Mike

    I'd also say though that there are some things that market research companies do have on social media research oriented inquiry. Lets take this example:

    Mobile phones… here is a very inexpensive, basic, simple market research site (I would actually recommend it, much more user friendly than other sites!)–

    http://researchmob.com/research_mob/industry?in

    How many of these stats are you going to get off facebook?

    Ok, I will give you that I was being a bit facetious, social media is important on the customer end of the research, but that's only really half the picture. If you were going to start say something related to mobile phones, you wouldn't just want to know who you would sell to, you would need to know related products, prices, revenue structures, competitors, etc. So in my opinion despite the changes brought on by social media, there is still quite a need for market research.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Sold. Thanks Michael. Love what you guys are doing with ResearchMob. Filled
      out a suggestion form while I was checking it out.

      Yes, there is need for general market research to know and understand
      industries, but as your team (I'm assuming you're affiliated with them) is
      proving, high level research and insights is a commodity that can be had
      without spending an arm and a leg. What's most important in guiding brand
      decision-making is knowing what your customers want/need and what your
      potential customers want/need. No pie chart shows us that. You have to ask
      enough of them until you begin to see trends and commonalities in the
      answers. Then you go solve those problems for them.

      Social media offers the opportunity to take small sample focus groups of
      customers/fans WHO CARE ABOUT YOU specific questions about your product or
      service. All the focus group and market research to date has been with a
      couple hundred (or sometimes thousand) people in Kansas City (or some other
      such nominal middle-America market) and is done with people who sometimes
      don't even know who you are.

      Market research should be done on your market, not on randomly chosen people
      who might be. Social media closes that gap and makes it so you can ask the
      right questions (which you've done) of the right people (which you probably
      haven't).

      Make sense?

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  • http://www.profitkoach.com.au Brian Bijdeveldt

    Jason,

    Another thought provoking post. i personally don't assume and spend most time and budget market research and asking via survey.Split testing 'til it hurts and constantly listening to existing customers suggestions and requirements are stock in trade……

  • http://www.profitkoach.com.au Brian Bijdeveldt

    Jason,

    Another thought provoking post. i personally don't assume and spend most time and budget market research and asking via survey.Split testing 'til it hurts and constantly listening to existing customers suggestions and requirements are stock in trade……

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