How does your business stack up against the competition? Are you listening to the voice of your target audience? How do your customers feel about your product or service? 

Gathering market intelligence is invaluable to understanding and adapting to the ever-changing competitive landscape. Many companies use standard market research techniques such as customer surveys, focus groups, and the purchase of analyst reports to keep abreast of the market. Midsized companies have it rough, though, with well-funded large enterprises at one end of the spectrum and disruptive startups at the other end. With such intense competition to contend with, standard research just won’t cut it. You need research that uncovers deeper, transformative insights to give you a competitive edge.

To that end, here are a number of unique market research techniques that will provide you with a mix of qualitative and quantitative insights, enabling you to unleash new business growth.

Gain Competitive Insights with Software as a Service (SaaS) Technology
In today’s technology-driven world, the internet reigns supreme for gaining insights into your competition. Powerful SaaS tools provide an opportunity to learn from your competitors’ mistakes, capitalize on their success, and adapt accordingly to increase your market share, while enabling your data collection to go well beyond the traditional survey or focus group.

According to Gartner’s recent CMO Spend Survey, CMO marketing technology spend is on track to surpass that of the CIO spend level. Ashu Garg, a general partner at the venture capital firm Foundation Capital, predicts that annual marketing technology spend will increase to $120 billion by 2025. You should be making full use of the many marketing technology options at your fingertips to unearth competitive details previously unavailable. 

An example of a marketing tool that helps to keep you ahead of the competition is competitive intelligence SaaS. Using this type of application, you can uncover your competitors’ online advertising and video strategies, their digital ad budgets, as well as the keywords for which their paid search ads are appearing. Beyond advertising, competitive intelligence SaaS enables you to identify your competitors’ content performance, online mentions, and the keywords for which they are appearing in organic search results. In addition, you can discover the topics, content types, and social networks that perform best for each competitor.

Using this type of competitive intelligence technology, our agency identified that the market for one of our clients, a social media software company, was full of other tools providers, but that white space existed in the market for strategic consulting services. In other words, this company’s competitors were each focused on selling a widget. Our client was able to differentiate itself by focusing on strategy, going well beyond its technology, bringing a different value proposition to its audience.

Harness the Power of Social Media
There’s no denying it, social media has changed the way in which we interact with one another. But it also has changed the way in which we can learn about our market. Millions of voices discussing the things they like and dislike reveal valuable insights into their needs, and also help your brand to identify emerging market opportunities. 

Leverage social media in the following ways to provide your businesses with a unique perspective into the minds of your audience:

Post questions to relevant groups within the key social platforms your audience is engaging with to learn valuable qualitative insights. 

Use social monitoring tools. These tools feature advanced social media data analytics to help identify trends, uncover marketing opportunities, alert you of new threats, monitor content about your brand, and more.

Read through forum sites to understand the questions people are asking that are relevant to your business. This will allow you to better understand the types of challenges your audience is facing when they are looking for answers, ideas, and solutions.

An example of a company making use of social listening is Arby’s, when the fast food chain launched its “Meat Mountain” marketing campaign, displaying a sandwich stacked ridiculously high with turkey, ham, corned beef, brisket, Angus steak, and other meats. The original intention of the campaign was to make its target audience aware that Arby’s sandwiches were available in meats other than roast beef. However, people went wild with excitement on social media, mistakenly thinking that it was an actual sandwich on the menu. Arby’s quickly picked up on the trend, and launched it as a “secret menu item” – the Meat Mountain sandwich available for $10 at its stores nationwide.

Interact Directly with Your Customers
Let’s face it, the internet is an amazing tool, and it’s difficult to imagine our lives today without it. The internet, though, also has its limitations. Getting out from behind the computer screen and directly interacting with your target audience breaks down the impersonal barriers the internet fosters to open up more meaningful dialogues. 

The following techniques provide an opportunity to engage with customers and prospects in-person to gain valuable audience insights:

“Living with the Tribe” is a method of directly observing how your customer interacts with your brand or service. Take P&G, for example. To better understand how mothers use Tide detergent, representatives of the brand visit the homes of actual mothers and observe how they do laundry. This method is very effective in identifying improvements you can make to your product or service to align more directly with the real-life, not-so-perfect, warts-and-all situations with which your audience members are dealing.

Inviting customers or prospects to lunch (or even out for a slice of pie) can be an effective way to informally pick their brains and uncover what makes them tick. Remember to let them do most of the talking. They are more likely to open up in an informal setting. Plus, there’s something magical about food – people just relax and tend to share more of their thoughts over a mouth-wateringly delicious dish. 

Tap into the Subconscious Mind

Technology today has opened the door to new innovations in neuroscience, allowing you to gain a greater understanding of the subconscious mind of your audience. 

Emotion recognition technology (projected to be a $22.65 billion market by 2020 according to MarketsandMarkets) is paving the way in collecting quantitative data to measure actual buyer feelings when they interact with your brand, including watching your ads, engaging with your website, etc. Using innovative tools such as eye tracking, facial expression analysis, and galvanic skin response (GSR), you can now accurately measure people’s reactions and emotions, which can otherwise be easily influenced and difficult to discern when otherwise asking them questions in a focus group, for example.

These research methods provide an outside-the-box approach to learning about your competition or your audience. Remember to always use a mix of both qualitative and quantitative research techniques to draw well rounded conclusions and bring your midsized business to new heights.