When most people think of marketing, they think of the ads and promotions - the visible stuff. But for the great campaigns, the real magic happens long before those ads and promotions are even dreamt up. The real magic happens in the research and insights.
The job of anyone in audience development is to figure out the right strategy to reach the right people at the right time through the right channels...and for the right budget. Since there are few organizations with unlimited budget and resources, you have to be strategic about this. And strategy requires good knowledge and insights into your market, the competition, culture, changing political climates, emerging trends, and platform and technological capabilities.
The strategy should emerge from the insights and the insights come from in-depth research.
The marketing landscape is a very complicated one - inbound, outbound, paid, owned, earned, advertising, PR, event, social, content, native, influencer, SEO, SEM, email acquisition, mobile, local, retargeting, contextual, lead generation, videos, podcasts, whitepapers, tradeshows, etc etc etc - and just throwing tactics at the wall to see what sticks is risky business.
I approach market research through a snorkeling-type method. I take one shallow pass at all of the data available to me - content, audience, conversations around the brand, competitors, competitor content, competitor audience, category communities and conversations, trends emerging in those communities, broader trends and technology, cultural trends for the segmented audience, and more - then I take a deeper dive where I start to see threads emerging that look interesting. I've found insights in hashtags, on Reddit threads, in YouTuber communities, from consumer observations, from customer interviews, in competitor content and more.
What you are trying to uncover in most circumstances is existing consumer behaviors and patterns that you can tap into so that the message will spread effortlessly. The tricky part with insights is that you never know where they will reveal themselves. That's what makes them insights: they are only obvious once uncovered.
There are many tools available - both free and paid - to take the deeper dives, but much of the process is manual. You have to watch and read and listen carefully. You can expect the majority of the hours allotted to creating a campaign will go to the research, but I find that it's the most creative part.
I'll go into a list of the tools at a later date, but if you aren't spending the majority of your strategic planning on research, you are probably just throwing tactics at the wall. Good luck with that.
[img src: Survey Says... by Henry Faber on Flickr]