Customer Research: A Complete Guide
Carol Feigenbaum |
 01/12/22 |
8 min read

Customer Research: A Complete Guide

There’s an electricity in the air online as we charge toward the metaverse and all things digital. It’s an awakening for brands that haven’t paid much attention to customer research, as they’re recognizing how rapidly consumer trends come and go in this age of TikTok – and how this phenomenon will only accelerate as the ‘metaverse mindset’ takes hold. As such, customer research tops brands’ 2022 ‘must do’ list – and we have a guide to help!

What is Customer Research?

Customer research is capturing, aggregating and analyzing a complex mixture of structured and unstructured data sources to reveal everything there is to know about a brand’s customers. It reveals the generations, gender, associated interests, professions, how they self-identify, where they are in the world, where they engage online and what they say. And also, crucially, it reveals what they love, and what they hate – and why.


But that’s not all. Using this intel, businesses can parse customer research to understand their perception of your category, your company and the world. And it all combines to form a tailored to scale psychographic profile. It boils down the macro to digestible micro bits of intel, which are easily visualized on interactive dashboards, available and updated in real-time. Customer research is what separates winning brands and agencies from their competitors, and ensures they maintain a comfortable lead in a competitive market.

But what about the variety of data sources we mentioned? And how it that all combined? We’re glad you asked . . .

Different Types of Customer Research

There are two key types of research in which to bucket the rest – market research and customer research. Each complements the other, but are very different processes. Market research is focused on understanding the challenges and opportunities inherent to your specific category, and the market viability of your products or services. This insight could include (but is not limited to) merger and acquisitions, patents, earnings calls, media narratives, research and reports, as well as key opinion leader activity in a given space.

And then customer research, as noted above, offers a more granular set of data points that revolve around customers themselves. One might argue it’s the most valuable of the two, but it really depends on the purpose of the research. This overlaps with market research as one could gather a focus group to ask broad questions about a category or product, but the real meat of a consumer review entrée is found in the wild – online. Reviews, comments, forums and social media posts are raw, unstructured intel that offers unfiltered and unscripted insight.

For our purposes here, we know that customers ultimately determine whether or not a given product is successful, so understanding their desires is insight that must form the foundation of any organization’s strategic planning. And to do so, there are many incredible and varied sources of insight. We have ten detailed for you below.

  1. Voice of the Customer (VoC)
  2. Emerging Trends
  3. Converged Media
  4. Sentiment Analysis
  5. Advanced Segmenting
  6. Psychographic Insight
  7. Forums & Reviews
  8. Thematic Analyses
  9. Identifying Outliers
  10. Brand Passion

1.Voice of the Customer (VoC)

Following our point above, a brand cannot assume to know what consumers are thinking.

Voice of the customer insight offers a 360-degree view of the customer, allowing brands to create dynamic and comprehensive customer research-powered profiles. And it is sort of a catch-all term that incorporates the insight sources that follow.

For example, the ability to use customer research to monitor people as they travel your purchase path is incredibly helpful when it comes to creating that next marketing campaign.


Understanding brand perception when a consumer first becomes aware of a brand, and how s/he moves through that consideration phase all the way through to purchase offers insight that consumers aren’t even aware of – so it wouldn’t help if you asked them. What spurred their decision to make a purchase? Was it based on their research, a specific flavor profile you just launched – or were they influenced by others?

And then what happens post-purchase? A brand that monitors its VoC intel knows – and generates brand loyalty for long-term customers. That’s the power of customer research powered by advanced AI.

2. Emerging Trends

Being aware of the emerging, peaking, or diminishing trends helps successful brands maintain or grow their share of voice. Trend analysis alerts brands to macro and micro trends that are gaining traction right now, as well as nascent trends on the horizon.

Brands using consumer research to uncover emerging trends are always in the right place at the right time – even when a pandemic hits. They can react decisively, as they have a consistent and trusted baseline consumer and market understanding and pivoting in response to these shifts becomes part of their DNA. Just ask Uber about UberEATS, Airbnb about Airbnb Experiences and other brands that quickly shifted focus in markets that basically died overnight. Rather than succumb to bleak balance sheets, they quickly changed course and survived the storm.


Airbnb Experiences

Observing and analyzing conversations that touch on your market, quickly separating the signal from other noise to zoom in on broad topics to uncover granular insights is powerful, as is the ability to monitor shifting trends over time.

3. Converged Media

Brands often pay too much attention to their owned media channels, basing their customer research on how followers respond and engage with their content or with others on the page itself. This offers a skewed view of what consumers feel and can result in a brand either overvaluing something minor or ignoring something major that’s happening elsewhere online.

Understanding earned media, the conversation you do not typically see, is important. And then incorporating whatever paid media response your brand captures is essential when it comes to determining budget allocation for next quarter. Is your paid media pulling its weight? It may be time to take a closer look at your organic reach and connect with a few micro-influencers instead. Your customer research will tell you!


4. Sentiment Analysis

The amount of love you’re generating online may be based by the channels you’re paying attention to as part of your social media monitoring. But without incorporating the entire social web conversation, these results are most certainly skewed. Sentiment analysis, measured on a scale from -100 to 100 is customer research that reveals the overarching love/hate relationship that people have with your brand. And it fluctuates over time – no brand is immune to sentiment shifts; yet few monitor them as closely as they should!


5. Advanced Segmenting

Gone are the days when brands segmenting their customer research with basic demographic data. Today, they understand that there are endless consumer segments in search of their products online – and the only limitation is how niche a brand wants to go.

Working moms struggling with healthy eating habits for game-obsessed teens would relate to very different meal prep advertising than their SAHM mom friends with toddlers, for example. Surprisingly – teens are pickier than toddlers!

Previously, marketing would blanket promote to “moms,” but today that signal is fine-tuned and relevant. It has to be. They can even market to the teens themselves as their own segment too – how about a grilled cheese with a healthy twist? Many are saying yes.


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A post shared by HelloFresh US (@hellofresh)

6.Psychographic Insight

Customer research requires knowing the who, what, where and why of your brand conversation. And it also requires having a firm grasp of the underlying psychographic insight that separates general consumer profiles from the advanced segmenting mentioned above. How would we know if teens we’re targeting with food delivery were craving healthy twists on grilled cheese?


We can see which interests line up, for one (above) – and we can analyze consumer research intel directly from the target segments mouth on forum and review sites . . .

 7. Forums & Reviews

The power of consumer research is fully realized once a brand sorts out where its audience congregates online. And for many brands, there’s a community to be found on Reddit. More specifically, there’s a subreddit devoted to either the category or (sometimes) even focused on the brand itself.

Reddit is organized by topic into “subreddits,” which are user-created boards that cover a wide variety of subjects. Redditors can up or downvote any content or comments, which generates awareness. Not only is it free and meaningful advertising for popular brands that are getting it right, offering social proof of its prowess – but it’s also sometimes a wild window into consumer perception of your brand. This makes it the perfect platform for customer research, as brands can freely monitor and engage with their audiences.

And when done correctly, having a presence on Reddit can be extremely valuable. Be sure to read our guide on how to use influencer marketing on Reddit before you do though! Too many brands hop on there and run afoul of Reddit’s strict rules and ruin their chances before they even get started. It’s entirely unnecessary to suffer this fate – check it out!

8. Thematic Analyses

When analyzing all of that great forum, review and social media insight – a brand’s consumer research is incomplete if they cannot layer it with themes to see what’s really happening under the hood. Knowing that a consumer is unhappy with a product is one thing, but being able to identify recurring issues in quality or customer service is insight the spurs change that impacts your bottom line.

And then capturing crucial, personalized accounts from those you’re seeking to win over is amazing too. Applying a “personal narrative” theme filters for those all important “I” statements, making this data capture simple.


9. Identifying Outliers

Capturing a quick snapshot of what is happening in a space right now is easy in the right consumer and market intelligence analytics tool – but identifying outliers still takes work . . . in most. What are outliers? They’re the conversations that aren’t immediately surfacing – or surfacing at all, in fact, as they may not have the volume to register yet, or they may not seem entirely relevant. But these outlier conversations are the category creators that lie in wait for the savviest of brands to discover first and take action. They’re the conversations that are exciting and gaining steam, but still very niche with a segment of your audience. By the time you hear about them, you wonder how it came to be right under your nose. Now you’ll be the one leading it, rather than chasing it. That’s exciting!

 10. Brand Passion

And then brand passion – where would brands be without this valuable bit of customer research intel? Consumers may be talking about you, or maybe conversation about your brand is at a minimum – but it’s important to note that the quantity of posts is ultimately meaningless, as how consumers feel, and how passionate they are about those feelings is what sells widgets!


Above, we can see the two elements of Brand Passion – net sentiment and passion intensity – combined to create our Brand Passion Index. This tells brands how they measure up against competitors. We see lots of love and passion for MLK Day and a correspondingly lackluster response (though still positive) to this year’s CES event.

There are so many factors involved in capturing a nuanced understanding of your brand, and it all hinges on having the best customer research. Do you? Reach out for a demo and we’ll show you which elements are essential for your specific needs, and how they look in action!

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