How to put your market research plan to action

In a two-part series on marketing research, veteran marketer and Nonprofit University faculty member Debra Semans tells you why this type of data is vital for nonprofits, provides a primer on the process, and offers tips for executing it on a budget. 

In part one, Semans covered the prep work for your marketing research. In part two, she provides some ways to carry it out effectively, from building your email list to finding low-cost professional help.

Now that you understand the marketing research process and have a better idea of where you can save money, let's explore eight ways to help you put your research plan into action:

Build your internal email list
Your email list is one of your most valuable assets. If you haven’t been keeping one, there is no time like the present to create and begin building your list. Anyone who expresses interest, contacts your organization, or comes to your website should be encouraged to leave an email address. Donors, volunteers, friends, foundations, other nonprofit leaders, government and community leaders—everyone should be on your email list. You should also be able to segment the list by those categories.

Share lists with other nonprofits
Sometimes the only way to answer the questions you are grappling with is to look outside your own database. Consider approaching another related (but non-competitive) nonprofit organization about an email list exchange. For example, a music organization might ask a theatre company to share lists. As long as it is mutually beneficial, this can be a great, cost-effective solution for expanding your sample.

Try Google Consumer Surveys

Google has developed a DIY research approach that sources its sample from millions of search engine users. The product has some limits (no more than 10 questions, question types are pre-defined, etc.), but can be a great resource. Even better, the service includes a raw data set, plus some basic demographic  analysis and graphs. Prices begin at $1 per completed response.

Join an omnibus survey
Think of an omnibus survey as a marketing research timeshare: getting companies that field surveys to representative U.S. samples on a weekly basis to ask the questions for you. You pay for the questions you want asked, which also covers your share of the overhead. Some omnibus surveys target specific market segments (e.g., kids, Latinos, Moms) and geographic areas. Like Google Consumer Surveys, omnibus surveys deliver a full raw data set as well as a set of pre-determined demographic analysis.

Ask your local professional
Make sure you know about the marketing research pros in your network. Ask your board members, trustees, advisors, and volunteers if they work for or with a marketing research firm. Ask other pro bono partners if they have marketing research expertise in-house, or if they have a marketing research partner. Many ad agencies and PR firms do marketing research in-house, though they may not publicize it. Keep in mind that many marketing research firms, like other businesses, want to give back—you never know who might be willing to provide a discount, or even go pro bono.

Business Schools, Graduate Students, Professional Groups
Atlanta is rich with business schools and professional associations that might be interested in conducting a marketing research project for you. Whether it’s a class project, a resume-builder, or a personal passion, schools and trade groups are rich resources of talent and experience.

Don’t overlook freelancers
Marketing research firms come in many sizes, but often the smaller or even single-person shops can offer a lower price point due to their lower overhead. If your project doesn’t need the resources that larger marketing researchers feature (e.g., high-end analytics, PhD. Statisticians), you might be better served by a small shop or a freelancer.

DIY – with a little help
Do-it-yourself research has developed into a viable and attractive option for many organizations. Online survey software now available is flexible, easy to use, and very cost effective. At the same time, marketing research resources for non-researchers—sample questionnaires, white papers on sampling, the difference between online and telephone surveys—are multiplying online. One of the best resources for DIY research assistance is the Research Lifeline.

Marketing research for nonprofits isn’t a luxury—it’s a vital tool that’s never been more affordable. It may take some effort and exploration, but the right approach for your organization’s marketing research is out there—ready to help you make smarter decisions, save money, and better carry out the mission.

Debra S. Semans has more than 30 years experience in marketing, including as senior vice president at Polaris Marketing Research, vice president of The Brand Consultancy, vice president for Carlson Wagonlit Travel, vice president at Holiday Inn Worldwide, and director of new market development at BellSouth. She also owns and operates Debra Semans Marketing Research. You can reach her at [email protected].

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