January 31, 2022

How to create a Customer Research Framework in 4 Steps to Fuel Your Marketing

"Where do I find my customers?"

This is a question that every entrepreneur or marketer has asked at some point. There are many ways to answer this, but they all boil down to one thing: know your customer! This article will help you understand who your customers are and how you can get in front of them while maintaining the appropriate level of professionalism.

Step 0: Start with your why

The first thing to do is to calibrate your mind in a very special way of thinking. You should be coming from a place of actually wanting to help your audience.

Before we can help them, we need to have a very vague idea of the people we’d like to serve. For example, I want to help SaaS Entrepreneurs. How I chose them? I’m naturally inclined towards technology and I think it’s helpful for me to explore the space while being paid to solve a problem. Thus, I created a customer research agency that would help Software-as-a-Service business owners. My research indicated I can help them transition from MVP to Product Market Fit using the method I'm about to describe, so decided to pursue it.

What’s yours?

Step 1: Who will you help?

Now that we’ve chosen our own target audiences, we have to observe them in their virtual habitat. This means, we have to find the place where they spend their time online, based on an interest. SaaS Entrepreneurs would be interested in SaaS-related forums. Reddit is always the best place to start such queries, so I typed in Google “SaaS Reddit” and I came across a decently sized forum called “/r SaaS”. It was the first search result- don’t overthink this step. All we are looking for is a decently sized community of individuals that are likely our future customer.  Mine chosen one has 16,000 members, which is pretty good for a start. I’f you are wondering what size to choose, I'd say look for at least 5,000 members in a given community. Remember, that’s a start- so don’t overthink it.

What happens next is we have to sort them somehow. So I always like to start by clicking “Top”. You will want to go through all of the options. If you click the little dots, you'll also see "rising". Make sure not to forget it.

The dark Reddit theme is pretty sweet

For time period, I like to start with “This Year” option- it will give you results ranging 12 months back from the current date. Since the approach we’re currently using focuses on slowly defining the customer, we’re also exploring them from outside to inside, or top to bottom- whichever way you prefer to call it. That’s why I research first in yearly, then in monthly and finally in weekly time frames. It tells me what the dominant trends are, what trends are currently developing, and what’s happening within each developing trend. That’s 3 levels of information covering the long, medium, and short-terms.

Overall, you want to find several places where your audience spends time. Reddit is just a start. When looking through the threads, you are likely to see posts linking to websites/blogs/other forums that are outside of Reddit. Make sure to follow those links and see where they take you.

Step 2: What to look for?

Now, we just start reading. While reading, observe the topics that people talk about. Make mental notes on the language they use, how helpful and supportive are they. Maybe you find out they are toxic rather than supportive. This is the time to ask yourself the question if you’d like to serve such people in the first place? Or maybe you’ll be interested to see how to solve their toxicity. So, from here on, you can pivot the research towards understanding where this toxicity comes from. What caused it? See, that’s already a high-level problem. Now we have to go deeper. Maybe we find they are actually very friendly people, but they’ve become such due to their environment when growing up. Not really their fault. So, inside, they are still this innocent child they once were. And that’s the whole idea- getting to the child.

The inner child never really dies, it just forgets it’s still the same being it was back then. If you get to that place of your audience's mind, then that is where you talk to the actual person. Also, they are most vulnerable too, so I really hope your intentions are to actually help them. We’ve had enough dishonest marketing campaigns throughout the years- no one likes them anymore.

Personally, I use the intention of getting to the inner child of the customer as my Northern star. It guides the direction of the research and makes it on point. It's on point, because marketing is all about connecting to the deeper parts of your customer’s brain. All of the successful campaigns are centered around that. So, each piece of information you find could potentially contribute to a marketing strategy. Record everything you find.

Step 3: How to structure the data recording?

First things first- pause your thoughts for a second. Slow down a bit.

Now, open up a blank text document. Start thinking about if you were to make a new friend and had to decide on the second if you want them in your life, what would you like to know about them? Again- don’t overthink, just go with the flow.

For me, I’d like to know questions the answers to which you could find by exploring several levels of depth.

• Specific language/ acronyms and meanings?

• Are they generally helpful/supportive or are they toxic/negative?

• What topics are they interested in?

• What are the associated emotions within each topic they are interested in?

• Are they mad about something?

• What do they hope to achieve? What are their motivations?

• What business problems do they experience?

• What are their personal problems?

I’ll use the above questions as a framework for my research. This is not an exhaustive list- it’s just a start. When you answer one of those questions, another 2 sub-questions will arise. At any point during the research, you can decide to pivot it to explore something you’ve found interesting. You let your inner interest be the captain that steers the ship. It’s basically your inner insight guiding you.

Step 4: The process

In step 0, we made sure to calibrate our minds for the type of research. We’ve opened them. Step 1 was about defining who to help, while Step 2 helped with our destination. Step 3 was about defining the research framework in a way that would make sense for us. In a sense, we created an algorithm. Now we need to start feeding it data.

So, start looking into the the places we defined in Step 1, recording the data using the template we built in Step 3.

While researching, if you want to find something but struggle to do so- just post a thread in the community asking them politely. You just need 1 person to help you point you in a direction, you don’t need a viral thread. Then, you start exploring the direction they gave you and see if it makes sense.

Record as much data as possible. It takes me about 2 weeks to get an initial understanding of an audience. These 2 weeks take me about 50% through the time required to know the audience more deeply. The other 50% depend on the findings and how the research would pivot. That’s why having a goal is important, as it will help you decide when and where to pivot to.

Final Step: Defining the Persona

The next logical step is to transform the data into something useful. At the end of the day, you still want to create a friend out of your customer. By now, you have quite a lot of information about them, now is the time to structure it. So lay back on something comfortable and start thinking about your audience as if it was a single person. Let's name that person Josh. Now imagine you had to thoroughly describe Josh to your friends. What would you say? 

You should also record this somehow. It could be in writing, or it could be in a voice memo. Whatever works for you. You'll know you are ready when you are happy with the result.

Time Frame

A deep customer research should take anywhere between 1 to 2 months. It’s not an easy task, but it’s definitely worth it. Once you know your customers this well, you will find that making money becomes natural and easy to do. Also, the research stays mostly relevant, but it is a good practice to update it every few months. This way, you stay on top of any newly developed trends that would help you capture more market share. That's also something we offer- after defining the persona for you, we will constantly update its interests, so you would know you always have relevant information about your customers readily available.

Don't Miss

Marketing is only as strong as the information it’s fueled by. If you have a sniper rifle with a misaligned scope, you will never hit your target. The process we went through made sure to help you align your scope. Now, you need to choose what to point it to.