How to get to know your consumers

Knowing what makes your customers tick, and that they would buy your product, is essential for any budding brand.

So how do you reach them and how do you find out what they really think?

Well firstly, you’re going to need an idea about who they are, to prove or disprove it. You’re sure to have a hunch about the type of person who would enjoy your products; you may even have developed them specifically with those consumers in mind.

Tip 1: Write yourself a clear customer profile – celebrity examples, where they might live, the car they drive, whether they have kids, their lifestyle or any other distinguishing factor might help you to do this.

Armed with your ‘hypothetical customer’, you now need to canvas opinions that will help you convince retailers to stock your brand.

The main 3 ways to do that are:

  • Surveys (statistically robust data from large scale surveys with questionnaires)
  • ‘Focus’ groups (usually small groups of consumers, talking about and trying the product)
  • Sampling (putting your product in the hands and mouths of your target market)


For most small businesses, large scale surveys are out of reach of the budget; they can run into 5 figure sums, depending on how many questions you want to ask.

You can ‘buy’ questions in larger general surveys (often known as Omnibus surveys), which is cheaper as the costs are shared, but the results still won’t give you the insights you probably need at this stage.

Focus groups…

Organising some ‘focus’ groups may not only be more budget-friendly but also more informative.

There’s no reason you can’t do this yourself if you have the time (rough estimate 2-3 hours prep time over a couple of weeks, plus a couple of hours for each session). You’ll also need access to right types of people to take part.

At the simplest level, you could begin with a group of your friends in your home (assuming they fit the profile of your target customer of course). This can give you some useful guidance but it’s worth factoring in that they are your friends so may not be being entirely honest.

If you can arrange some groups yourself, it’s worth getting someone impartial to sit in and ask the questions if you can. You need to know but may not like what they have to say; if they know it’s your baby, they may not be honest anyway, for fear of offending you. Feel free to sit in but don’t let on who you are (practice your poker face beforehand!)

Costs to factor in will be venue hire (unless it’s at home), samples of your product, competitor products for comparison, refreshments and perhaps a small payment for each respondent.

The benefit of smaller groups is that you can really probe the respondents’ motivations for buying, what makes them tick when it comes to purchase decisions and what they think about your competitors. Though you’ll end up with the opinions of a smaller sample of people than a survey would give you, the insights you gain could be much more valuable.

Tip 2: Stick with smaller scale but more in depth research at this stage – the feedback will give you more insight than large surveys and the cost is far lower.


Finally, sampling is something of an ‘in between’ solution for smaller foodies to canvas broader opinions. In fact, you may already be doing this without even realising it… at Food Festivals, Farmers Markets and Shows. If this is your current route to market, you probably already have a fairly good idea of the opinions of your consumers, but it’s worth formalising a system that allows you to capture more info about their preferences.

For example, you could:

  • Offer a taster on your stall, in exchange for filling in a postcard with simple questions
  • Put a survey postcard in with every bag of product you sell (offering a prize to encourage completions)
  • Create a fun way for people to choose their favourite flavour or variety – a tick on a board or their wrapper in the appropriate bin perhaps

If you’re not currently trading at fairs, you could still apply the same approach but would need to think more creatively about how and where – if your product is baby food, could you visit playgroups? If it’s a lunchtime snack, could you hang out at an office park? You may even be able to create some buzz around the exercise and grab yourself some free PR into the bargain!

For Relish members, there will be more to come on how to get free PR so keep an eye on the website for news.

Tip 3: Sampling at fairs and shows is a great way to test different varieties or flavours if you’re not sure which works best

Wondering where to start?

Look out for all the cracking resources we’ll be providing to members when Relish launches in March 2012 – including a ‘shopping list’ of everything you’ll need to run research groups, suggested questions and timings, where to find respondents, invitation templates and advice on costs & payments.

There will be lots more ideas on other ways of getting to know your consumers too.

Happy researching!

Got a burning question now? Get in touch on [email protected] to arrange a chat.


Image courtesy of Simon Howden,