3 tips to research (NOT market to) your end users
By Tom Swanson, Engagement Manager at Heinz Marketing
Knowledge is power, or so the saying goes. In marketing, this is true in a literal sense, as our grasp of audiences and individuals is the key to reaching them. As buyer behavior changes, we need to not only understand our buyers now, we need to know what shifts are coming and how to adapt. We need a “finger on the pulse” of their behavior and how they are engaging. I am just full of those old sayings today.
Getting a deep understanding of how buyers want to buy is key, but it is not always clear how to do this. In fact, as with most things in marketing, it is complicated by all of the biological parts (read: human elements). People have preferences in how they want to engage, and those are personal. Some channels will work better at scale than others, but that one enterprise buyer you are targeting might be in a niche channel and not see your carefully written social blasts.
So how do you find folks? What is the key to conducting research to inform a strategy that needs to scale, but also needs to reach people at an individual level? The short answer is time and an open mind, but you are here for specific tips, so let’s get into it.
Before we go any further, though, read this crucial disclaimer: this post is not to give ideas for where to market. Many of these spaces are communities that are by the end users and for the end users. You are welcome to lurk, but if you try to market, you will be met with backlash. People come to these places to engage with others in their field, respect that.
Tip 1: Reddit can be serious business
Personally, I hate Reddit. I hate how addictive it is and how easily it sucks away hours of life. I hate that I am susceptible to the ongoing dopamine hits that it promises, just to see another video of ferrets rolling around in the sand (anybody see that this week? OMG!).
However, Reddit is not just an image sharing site, it is a forum. People go on there to rant about problems they have, and the number of niche subreddits is staggering. If you can avoid getting pulled into one of the myriad time wasters, you can find some real great stuff.
Let’s say you are trying to market some sales tech solution, you might go and check out https://reddit.com/r/sales (172K members). In there, you might search for “rant” to find threads of people expressing real problems they are facing today. On top of that, scrolling through the comments will show you people experience similar problems, solutions being offered, and complaints with existing sales tech today.
To give you a sense of the options available on Reddit, here are some other niche subreddits that are interesting:
- Targeting developers? https://www.reddit.com/r/cscareerquestions/ (702K members)
- Targeting sales engineers? https://www.reddit.com/r/salesengineers/ (2.6K members, small but active)
- Targeting cyber security folks? https://www.reddit.com/r/netsec/ (435K members)
- Targeting car salesmen or just want to ask about buying a car? https://www.reddit.com/r/askcarsales/ (134K members)
The value of community is undeniable. It is not that these are on Reddit that makes them popular, it is that they are communities that consistently create value for the users. Sometimes this is raw, angry catharsis, but a lot of the time it is identity validation and commiseration. Either way, both are valuable for marketers to know about when crafting messaging that is meaningful and reflects the true needs of the end user. Get on it.
Tip 2: Demand is where the complaints are
Complaints are a marketer’s best friend. Honestly, this is something of a drilldown of the above tip about Reddit, but it warrants repeating because it is crucial. You need to know the problems your target market faces each day. Product-market fit depends on them, your GTM strategy is fueled by them, your messaging is defined by them, and so forth. Demand is where the complaints are. Not to mention that when people complain, they show you how they really communicate.
There just is no end to the great insight you can pull from real people commiserating with one another. These spaces are a goldmine for understanding your audience. Don’t be dissuaded by funny formats, this is how your audience communicates, you would do well to not get haughty about it. It is also just fun to browse, but let’s not get distracted like I have while writing this post. The more you can embrace the formats, without over-indexing and being too “Hello, fellow kids”, the better your messaging will perform.
An excellent example of this comes from my experience in the Advertising Operations world. It is a high-stress role, and people need a place to complain. So, during my time in the space 10 years ago, we went to https://happensinadops.com/ (language warning, but if you aren’t ready for swearing then this tip might not be for you), the very best place to go to see the challenges of AdOps work, clearly outlined in meme format. It really was one of the best sites of its kind, even though it is now rarely updated.
If you can look past the memes and frustration, what is there are real issues people are facing each day. You owe it to yourself and your product team to find these complaints and understand them. Bring them into your messaging.
One note for this point: these places change often. They are memes by nature and are usually run by volunteers, thus they tend to rise and fall quickly. As much as I love HappensinAdOps, i recognize that the young people of the AdOps world have moved on to TikTok, Discord, and Slack. If you are tapped into your target audience, and have good relationships with your buyers, they can generally point you in the right direction.
Tip 3: Comments > Original Posts
Are you going onto forums, communities, and advice sites and just pulling posts? If so, you are absolutely doing it wrong. It is easy to get hung up on the original post, but the comments are where the real value is. If the comments go deeper than those people who just say “This!” (seriously, who are these people?), then you are seeing something that resonates and drives a person to share their own experience. That means this has weight and is worth exploring.
More importantly, though, the comments are where you will find people explaining their use-cases. Whether you are on LinkedIn, Reddit, or my beloved HappensinAdops, the comments are full of interesting niche cases where folks give you a direct eye into their true needs. Depending on the size of the audience and the niche you are targeting, you can spend essentially infinite time diving in.
Comments are also excellent sources of powerful, qualitative data that can inform strategies and make great additions to slide decks. This stuff is all out there, for free, if you go and find it.
Finally, comments are often offering answers to problems, suggestions for things to try, and similar problems from other fields. If you go deeper into comment threads, you will even find reactions to solutions and people sharing how a solution went for them. Bingo.
To demonstrate this, here is a great rant thread from the solutions engineer subreddit linked above: https://www.reddit.com/r/salesengineers/comments/plkc6p/se_rant_thread/. It was easy to find, I just searched “rant” in the subreddit search bar. Put yourself in the shoes of someone trying to research this target market, and you can pretty quickly see the value. These are real use cases, complaints in real time, laid out in comments.
Here is another one in the same subreddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/salesengineers/comments/ply0tz/ae_rants/. The top comment thread in this one, started by user NetJnkie, is a conversation between SEs about relationships with their AEs. Gold, all of it.
Everyone has different places they go to communicate about their job, but if you can find and respect these, they are a real opportunity for you to get an understanding of your buyers. People want to be heard and understood. If you can dive into the huge amount of qualitative data that people put out there, you can connect your product to their problems in meaningful ways.
So, next time you are doing research into your users, take a step back from the industry reports, market research, and “state of” whitepapers, and dive into what real people are saying. You need all of these tools to really understand who your end users are at both a quantitative AND qualitative level.