Whether you’re a lean startup or a budget conscious behemoth, there’s nothing wrong with saving a couple dollars, especially if it’s on something as important as marketing. But with plenty of snake-oil salesmen and low-quality services out there on the Internet, you want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. Here are five affordable tools to help you get the lay of the land when planning your marketing strategy.
Cost: Free up to $65/month
Survey Monkey is an oldie but a goodie. The service has been around since the nascent days of the Internet and its continuing adaptation and development are just accessories to the fact that it performs one basic task extremely well: collecting customer feedback. From real-time results to random assignments for answer order, even seasoned marketers will find exactly what they’re looking for.
Plans come in an array of prices. The free option offers the most basic tools (of course), but upgrading to the “Select” or “Gold” plans offers enhanced security features and unlimited questions and responses without over-burdening your bank account. The “Platinum” plan even features the ability to customize the appearance and branding of surveys and utilize your own post-survey redirects. With even more add-ons like audience targeting, what’s not to love?
While querying your existing customers can be useful, brand new companies (and even established names) can always benefit from understanding the clients they haven’t made yet. This is where the US Census comes in. From information about median income to population distribution to detailed facts like computer and Internet use, there is no shortage of useful tools to help paint a picture of potential customers.
But the Census doesn’t just document people. Detailed information about industries, employment, trade, and so on can help your business understand the greater context of your market. Between these exhaustive statistics and a bevy of research articles on the data itself, there’s no question that, whatever you’re looking for, you’ll probably find it here. Did we mention it’s free?
Blogs play an integral part in shaping the cultural and consumer habits of the connected public. Keeping a finger on the pulse of trends, commentary, and discussion is never a bad idea. After all, statistics have stories to tell, but people are more than just numbers.
Technorati is another tool that you can use to shape your marketing strategy. An exhaustive directory of nearly 1.5 million blogs, the site acts as a search engine designed to scour the medium specifically. Additional tools, like the choice between searching posts and topics, viewing top tags and sites, and the annual Digital Influence Report, which covers the state of social media and online marketing, it’s no wonder why site has remained relevant for so long.
It’s no secret that Google indexes its data, but the NSA isn’t the only organization benefiting from this fact. Google Trends takes the billions of online searches per day and breaks them down by category, top hits, and geographic region. As if this wasn’t helpful enough, the service even prepares graphic data and customizable reports using the Explore feature.
But the real strength of Google Trends lies in the name: Google. Utilizing the most heavily trafficked search engine on the web provides instant access to the behaviors, thoughts, trends, and interests of a cross-section of the population that would otherwise take a huge amount of money and time to survey on your own.
As we mentioned earlier, knowing your market isn’t just about knowing your customers, it’s also about knowing your competitors. With government mandated filings for publicly traded firms, posted in plain view for all to see, the SEC stands as a veritable gold mine of information.
Two primary items drive the usefulness of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s postings. The first one is comprehensive annual and quarterly reports in readily accessible PDF and HTML formats. The second, however, is probably the most attractive for time conscious tycoons. XBRL (short for eXtensible Business Reporting Language) meta-tagging of vital financial statistics ensures that data can be cataloged and presented in quick-reference, easy-to-understand tables. The combination makes for an insightful look into competitors, risks, and market trends.
Just as widespread in use as search engines, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ provide a unique opportunity for research. Besides being heavily-visited and free distribution channels for content and product announcements, the services stand as one of the most potent methods of rapid-fire data gathering on the Internet today.
While surveys and census data can provide powerful insights, social networking exists in a space where people are encouraged and happy to communicate and provide feedback. The ability to simply click in a comment box, fire off a response, and hit enter, all in a matter of seconds, means an outlet for customers, and a steady stream of intel for you.
Creating a comprehensive picture of your market is no easy task, but with some low cost options at hand, the job becomes a little easier. Remember to combine information from all sources and get whatever value you can out of each service. At the end of the day, you’ll have a better understanding of your target market, and you’ll save some money in the process.
What other inexpensive online market research tools do you use to shape your marketing strategies? Leave a comment for us below!