How to Run Audience Research for Product Marketing

by 
Anna Shutko

Audience research is important, but for product marketers, there are endless sources that need to come together to get the complete picture.

Anna Shutko is the product marketing manager at Supermetrics, a marketing reporting automation tool. She’s also the host of the Marketing Analytics Show podcast. 

As part of our Wynter Games virtual event, Anna joined us to talk about the best practices for running audience research for product marketing. 

Product marketing comes down to quality audience research

Anna is responsible for creating the go-to-market strategy and the marketing materials for Supermetrics “new-connection” launches.

All of the supporting materials are born out of audience research.

“The audience research that we do act as kind of like a fuel for both internal and external-facing materials, which is a lot,” said Anna.

“Therefore you have to do very, very good high-quality research to be able to create a good work strategy.”

3 stages of research

The audience research that Supermetrics undertakes falls into three stages.

  1. Initial product research
  2. Audience interviews
  3. Combining the insights

Initial research

In the initial product research phase, the key idea is to look at all of the possible ways that the target audience could use and benefit from the product. 

The benefits of initial research are two-fold. 

First, You can get helpful input for the go-to-market strategy.

Second, you can use this as an opportunity to collect smart follow-up questions for the customer interviews. 

Why immerse yourself?

When you’re properly immersed in this initial research, it prepares you mentally to better understand your customers during interviews. 

Being able to operate within their same world-view allows you to have a more productive conversation.

Questions to ask 

Anna typically asks herself four questions when assessing each new product prior to a market launch.

  1. Decision-making: what are the benefits of our solution vs. doing reporting in the native UI?
  2. Result: what are the benefits of the connector X + data destination? 
  3. Product: what are the benefits of reporting the data with connector X + the data from connector Y?
  4. Competitors: why is our connector X better than a competitor’s connector? '

These four questions will be explored and validated through the course of audience interviews. 

Ultimately, the goal is to tease out what the benefits of reporting data with the new connector are. 

“If you imagine there are future connectors, there are many different options how you can combine different data sources in different native destinations and build very, very unique reports and get better related questions,” said Anna. “Also, these can uncover competitors, pricing, and packaging.” 

Audience interviews 

Once the initial research is complete, it’s time to start interviewing. Anna broke down the interview process into three main parts:

  1. Background questions
  2. Process questions
  3. End result questions

Background questions

The purpose of starting with background questions is to understand the context your customer operates in. 

You want to collect the basics such as job title, desired outcome, and success metrics. 

These could be questions like:

  • What’s your job title/role at your company?
  • What outcome would you like to achieve, and why?
  • What are the most important success metrics you’re measured on?
  • What are the challenges that might prevent you from reaching those goals?
  • Any specific features you are looking for in our product? 

“You make sure the product helps them easily show their results in the form of the success metrics,” Anna explained. 

And in terms of specific features, sometimes users already have a variety of features in mind.

“That actually happened to us in the past,” Anna said.

“Some users were suggesting like, Hey, we'd like to use this metric in this dimension. You're a connector. And we'd like to also have this feature on top of that.”

Process questions

Background questions are meant to gather context.

Process questions are meant to help understand how the product is used/could be used within that context. 

These could be questions like:

  • Can you describe the process of doing X before? (How are you doing X currently?)
  • Walk me through some of your most common day-to-day workflows. Where within them would you use our product? 
  • When you found our solution, how did that make you feel?
  • What were you feeling when you decided to switch to us? 
  • How would you like to use our product? 

“Walkthrough questions are great because these are open questions and you're not leading your interview to a certain answer,” Anna said.

“So there is a freedom for you to kind of listen and note what they're describing, how they're describing it.” 

End result questions

The final set of questions that Anna and her team ask are end result questions - questions that help you understand the desired outcome your product has to deliver. 

These could be questions like:

  • What do you expect the product will do for you? 
  • How much time/money are you saving with your current solution? How much do you expect to save? 
  • Who will you share your results with? 
  • What are you able to do with our product that you weren’t before? 

The more end result feedback you can get, the better.

These answers can help you come up with ideas that you might not necessarily think about.

Combining the insights

Once you have answers to the above questions in hand, what do you do next?

Use your customers’ own words

“First of all, we can get ideas on the tone of voice or turns to be used, and get ideas on how to describe the problem,” said Anna.

“You should use your customers or your users’ own words to describe the problem to other similar audiences and users.”

Using the voice of your customer is helpful, because it should allow you to speak effectively to other users who are just like them.

Understand how users perceive value

You can also begin to figure out how your users perceive value. 

They may be able to see and verbalize your product’s value from a variety of different angles and viewpoints that you had not considered.  

Understand cost analysis

A better sense of product cost may also emerge. These could be maintenance costs, switching costs, or other costs. 

“If they're switching from a competitor, how much would it cost to start using our product and use it?” Anna said.

“Expansion cost is another very important thing, because once your users started using your solution they would probably like to use it more. And then how much would it cost them to start using one more connector to improve on their reporting?”  

Bringing it all together

In summary, initial research prepares you for audience research. Together, both types of research lead to insights that drive your marketing program forward.

When you’re armed with deep knowledge of user context and equipped with a smart list of questions to ask, the research process becomes much less intimidating.

With the information you glean from your users, you can decide how to best communicate with future clients, using the same language as your target audience.

Watch Anna's Wynter Games talk here.

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