An Outsider’s Perspective

Knowing when to look for an external viewpoint.

Diana Lillicrap 7.22.2011

Marketers are experts at knowing a brand inside and out. But sometimes that means we can get so close to the company, product, or service that we can’t always see the forest for the trees.

At these times, it can be extremely valuable to gather outside perspective. And who better to ask for input on your brand than your key audiences—those whom the brand is trying to serve.

A real example

Recently the Minnesota Fringe Festival came to us to help gather some outside perspective. As a non-profit organization with its main event is in early August, both quick timing and a small budget were imperative. The agreed upon approach was to conduct a series of focus groups to ask key audiences for insights about the organization’s primary communication tool, its website.

The process was quick and cost effective. And the outcome not only led to new ideas about how to organize information, what content could improve the online experience, and ideas for engaging new audiences, but an extraneous result was that external brand advocates felt special for being asked for input.

Tips for you

If you’re thinking about gathering some external perspective, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Have a clear plan. Narrow your questions and objectives so the conversation (whether in person or online) is focused and can lead to specific ideas and actions.

Keep it simple. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars and dozens of weeks to learn valuable insight. If you ask good questions to engaged audiences, you’ll get good results.

Be realistic. Not every idea that comes out of this process will be something you can do (for budget, timing, or other reasons). Be sure to acknowledge and thank participants for their input, but don’t be afraid to be honest and set expectations by telling them that not all ideas can be implemented immediately.

Keep an open mind. One of the greatest benefits of qualitative research is honest, personal, and meaningful input. Sometimes things that you didn’t expect to learn are uncovered (good and bad). See them as opportunities to learn about your audience and maybe address broader issues as a result.

Reward loyal subjects. If others are willing to give you their time and ideas, be sure to thank them by sharing your results and providing something of value. It can be a low-cost item for you to give (free products, extra services, etc.) but it should be high-value to participants.

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