It’s Better to Ask than Assume

The Power of Market Research

by Claire Cunningham

No doubt about it. Smart marketing takes finesse. Nowhere is that truism more apt than in message definition. If you want to craft a compelling message, you need to understand your prospective buyer's motivation.

I had a boss once whose favorite saying was "Don't assume. It makes an ass out of you and me." Drove me nuts, but you know what? It stuck. It was meaningful, memorable (although corny,) and it was repeated. (A meaningful and memorable message is more likely to stick with the audience. Repetition imbeds a message in the brain.)

The communications lesson inherent in this saying is "know your audience." If you want your promise (message) to be meaningful, you need to understand what's important to prospective buyers of your product or service.

If you've been working in a particular industry or market segment for a while, you may think you know what's important. And you may be right. But why not ask and confirm your thinking? You'll get your information "straight from the horse's mouth," and you'll avoid relying on potentially dangerous assumptions.

I've snuck the term "market research" into my sub-title. Some of you may gasp and yell, "Too expensive!" I say, "Not necessarily." and "Guesswork can lead to expensive mistakes."

If you're marketing computers or fast food, your potential target audience may be huge. You'll need Research with a capital "R." Find a good research company - preferably one with experience in your industry. Tell them your needs and budget and let them put together a plan for you.

Those of us who work in small niches can do small "r" research. Here's what I mean. Think of 3-5 questions that will help pinpoint prospective buyers' hot buttons. Call your top customers and prospects and ask away. You'll have great conversations, and you'll learn something each time you talk to someone. Develop a matrix of everyone's answers, and I'll bet you learn even more.

If you get bogged down on deciding what questions to ask or making the phone calls, call in a consultant. Whatever it takes to get information. Remember: 'Tis better to ask than assume!

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About the Author

Claire Cunningham has 20+ years' experience developing and implementing successful business-to-business marketing and communications programs. Claire can be reached at 763-479-3499 or e-mail:

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