Most worthwhile endeavors require a fair amount of preparation. No one tackles Mount Everest without years of studying the mountain, the climate, the route, and the experiences of previous climbers. Preparation doesn’t ensure that everything will go smoothly, but it ensures you are headed in the right direction. You may not be prepping to climb Everest, but you’ve discovered (hopefully the easy way) that without preparation, a content marketing campaign falls apart.

There are plenty of ways to prepare for a content marketing campaign, but one of the most crucial and beneficial steps is market research. You may have lots of questions about market research. What’s included in a market research strategy? Why do you need it? Can’t you just write something that will sell the product? And how much market research is enough? After all, you don’t want to get so wrapped up in research that your content development falls behind. Here’s how to know when you have enough market research and what to do when the research process is complete.

What Does Market Research Entail?

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Image via Flickr by jseliger2

Before we jump in, we need to get something out of the way. Even though the two terms are often confused or used interchangeably, market research is not the same as marketing research. While marketing research often includes market research in its process, it doesn’t stop there. Marketing research also includes product research, distribution methods, and more.

In essence, market research is focused on the details and behavior of a specific and narrow target audience. That being said, if you’re reading this and haven’t yet established your target audience, then you need to go back to the drawing board and return to the research process once you have that nailed down.

Market research is the ultimate “Facebook stalk” of the marketing industry. It’s where you learn everything you possibly can about your target, especially as it relates to your product, service, or content. For example, you don’t need to know your demographic’s favorite breakfast cereal unless your content has something to do with the favorite cereals of 35-year-olds, or how kids these days are eating more cereals with higher sugar content. You’re not going into the rabbit holes of people’s lives, but you’re learning as much as you can within the focused bounds of your target.

In more practical terms, market research attempts to determine how the target may receive the content or product and how advertising may differ across demographics. Your research can tell you what types of tactics resonate with your target audience. It can tell you what problems your audience is facing, which then allows you to solve them.

But what can market research involve? Whatever means it takes to get the information you’re looking for. Maybe you’re developing a content marketing campaign around your latest product. Start a journaling phase where you give a sample of consumers the product and ask them to log their experiences. What works and what doesn’t can then inform further action and content development.

Research can include everything from exploring competitors’ content and looking at customer reviews of similar products or services, to combing social media feeds and trends and asking carefully tailored questions to a sample of your audience. Market research also often includes population information taken from government censuses. Employ a variety of different research means. Cover the court. Attack it from all angles.

How Much Market Research Is Enough?

The question of all questions is how much market research is needed. Well, how much money is enough? How much food is enough? Is there enough space? Your answer to all these questions, without anymore context, would probably be: it depends. Just like with so many other questions in life, there’s no one-size-fits-all threshold when it comes to market research. One project will require more than another. But while there isn’t a universal answer to this question, there are factors that can help you know when you’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

First, and perhaps the closest thing to a final answer with market research, it comes down to budget. Interviews, surveys, and other research methods often rack up costs, and once you’ve reached your budget limit for that portion of the project, you’ll have to do your best with what you have.

Secondly, since there’s no quantifiable answer to this “how much is enough” question; it will come down to when you feel that you know the audience. When you can answer any question posed by writers or other content developers. When you know how they feel about certain issues and when you can accurately predict how the majority will react to content or your product. It’s when you can confidently, with little risk, look at a content marketing campaign and predict that it will meet the audience’s needs.

How Much of the Research Do Content Creators Need?

Should you just drop a book full of census data, answers to interview questions, and screenshots of social media posts onto your writers’ desks? It wouldn’t hurt to give your content writers access to the wealth of information that you’ve collected, but what they really need is for you to condense that data in the form of a persona.

A persona is the end result of all your research. If you can sit down and craft a relatable persona that captures your target audience, then you know you did enough market research. What does a persona look like on paper? A persona is an imagined individual who represents your target audience. Persona information should include, age, gender, income, geographic location, as well as their core concerns and issues that your content, product, or service, will solve. It gives the writers someone to write to, someone with whom they can open up a dialogue.

Market research may seem like a daunting process at first, but it could ultimately be what makes or breaks your content. Once you’ve compiled your treasure trove of knowledge, you’re ready to start crafting the content that will change the lives of your customers.