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Gary Butterfield

Last week I had the pleasure of being a guest on the KAJ Masterclass podcast. We spoke about branding and marketing fundamentals. One topic that came up repeatedly was the need for market research. Throughout my career, I have seen many leaders—in both the for- and not-for-profit sectors—dismiss investing in market research as a waste of money because they were confident they knew what people were thinking.

They did not.

As I’ve said before, messaging is a two-way street. If you’re just sending your message out and not taking others’ messages in, you’re bull-horning, not communicating. Market research can be time-consuming and expensive, but, it is time and money well spent. However, if you can’t secure either, here are some fast and not terribly expensive ways to listen to your constituents.

  1. Talk to the people they talk to. There are people in your organization who talk to the public more than others. If you have customer service, front desk, or telephone support colleagues, ask them what they’re hearing people say about your work. They may be afraid of the “shoot the messenger” syndrome, so be sure to promise and deliver the support they’ll need to be candid.
  2. Have random conversations. Regularly pick up the phone and check in with people: donors, employees, patients, clients, and whoever is important to you. Randomly choose people and simply ask them how they are. Listen with intention and sincerity. Then, bring the conversation around to your organization’s work and encourage their candor.
  3. Set up an intercept survey on your website. Most all survey vendors, such as, offer intercept surveys that you can use to engage people who visit your website. Keep the questions to a minimum and keep them short. For example, How likely are you to recommend us to a friend? What brought you to our site today? How familiar are you with [name of service or offering]?
  4. Pose questions on social media. Here’s a great way to get insight into what people are thinking. Pose a question on your most relevant social media platform along the lines of “What do you see as the biggest challenge you will face in the new year?” Do not make the question explicitly about your organization and its work. That could devolve into a nightmarish bitch session. Be certain to watch the conversation and thank people for their input.
  5. Host listening sessions or focus groups. Bringing in some people who understand what you do or who should understand what you do can provide a lot of relevant insights. Focus groups are more interactive, and listening sessions are just that. They talk; you listen. (They work particularly well for employees.) Whichever direction you follow, it’s best to have a third party moderate them to keep them on track and avoid groupthink.

These are not substitutes for full market research, but they can augment what you have or tide you over until you can move forward with something more substantial. If you have any questions, let me know!

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