Blog              Newsletter           Free Templates

Join the incubator

Find Growth Hacks with Audience Research


I’m a huge fan of startups analyzing quantitative data but I must admit that qualitative research is also incredibly important to understand your market. Particularly, it’s important in the early stages of your business when you have low traffic and a small user group. Sure, you might know your market from earlier experiences in the industry, but how do you know that these experiences reflect your users’ experiences?

Before diving into the details, let’s look through the three different kinds of qualitative research that are relevant for startups. Each kind of research is related to different kinds of stages.

1. Identify and validate the product idea

2. Learn about the audience

3. Client surveys

The first one is very important before starting to build your product and as you are going through the phases of MVP and beta. If you want more information regarding this type of research I recommend the book Running Lean by Ash Maurya. The third kind will be relevant when you have managed to really scale up your business and want to make sure that you develop and stay relevant for your clients.

In this article, I’ll focus on number 2. Audience research is most relevant for startups who have a product that they are confident in and who have reached product/market fit. Of course, a product is never done and the startup might still have an ambitious product roadmap for the upcoming months and years. The startup probably has a bunch of users, but now it is looking to get that beautiful hockey stick growth curve. Where would you get all those new users to fill up the bars in your exponential graph?

If you recognize yourself in this description, keep on reading, this article is for you.

To be able to attract new customers, you need to know them. You need to step into their minds and understand how they make decisions. The most efficient way of doing this is by surveying a considerate amount of potential customers in your target group.

Once you have understood their behaviour and their decision-making process, you can start to look for ideas of how you can disrupt them during their decision-making process. These ideas behind increases in customer acquisition are often called growth hacks as coined by Sean Ellis.

Many of the big successful startups that we know today once rocketed thanks to good insight into their audience’s behaviour which allowed them to identify efficient marketing channels. As an example, we can look at Uber. They knew that their potential customers (riders) around San Francisco typically used taxis to attend different tech events. They knew that this specific target group was early adopters, keen to try new apps and solutions. With that knowledge in mind, Uber started sponsoring the events by offering free rides to the participants. That growth hack was a great success and therefore used in every new city where Uber launched.

As you can read in my previous article, AB-testing can be used to understand your audience’s behaviour if you have a considerate amount of conversions. If you don’t have that, qualitative market studies will be your solution, which can be in the form of for example surveys, interviews or user testing.

What to Ask

You need to put a great amount of thought into the questions of your survey. It would be really unfortunate if you survey a hundred people and realize when analyzing the results that you miss information and instead asked unnecessary questions.

To find the questions you want to ask, you first need to know why you are doing the survey and what result you expect. To sanity-check, your questions, think how different answers to a question will change your behaviour and alter your marketing decisions.

For example, if a majority of your target audience searches for new jobs when at work in their current employment, you might run your ads for your job app during working hours. If instead, people wait to search for jobs in the evening, you might focus your ads during the evening hours.

Your questions should always be formulated so the respondent answers objectively and precisely. Instead of asking how often they purchase something with different alternatives, ask them to list their purchases for example.

Pick a few well-thought-through open questions in combination with some basic demographic questions. Usually, at this stage, you are not in the need for quantitative information, but rather the qualitative thoughts of your audience. With open questions, you’ll get the general tendency among your target group to sense how they think.

Moreover, avoid hypothetical and leading questions. You usually recognize them as they often start with an if, “If this product would be available on a website, would you be interested in buying it online?”. You don’t want to understand your audience’s hypothetical behaviour, but rather their actual behaviour!

Through your survey, you want to identify when, where and who has the issue you are solving. You also want to identify when and where these people decide to buy. In the end, you want to uncover the context, what are people doing before and after using or buying your product? In other words, try to find questions in the terms of:

  • When does this issue appear? For example, the issue of finding gifts appear before Christmas.

  • Is there a trigger to the need? Your need for furniture is usually triggered when you’ve moved to a new house.

  • Where do they go to solve the issue, do they visit a store or search online? If you’re looking for a new CRM, you might search online for “Sales Software”.

  • Who are the people who seem to have these issues the most often, what do their lives look like? People looking for children’s clothing are usually parents, living busy lives but spending a big amount of their time on Instagram.

  • How did they last time go from identifying the issue to solving it?

  • What have they previously paid for a competitive solution?

  • What criteria of the product are important when making a purchasing decision?

How to Ask

When it’s time to formalizing your survey, there are multiple tools that you can work with. Popular ones include Jotform, Typeform, and Google Forms. Typeform is great if you need a powerful survey tool, as it works great on mobile, is customizable, and well designed so you can get better completion rates. On the other hand, it will cost you a little. Google Forms is a good alternative if you want a free and simple tool.

Furthermore, assure yourself that your survey is not too long. According to a study done by Survey Monkey, about half of people are not willing to spend more than 5 minutes when answering a survey. Another interesting result of their study was that the highest response rates were found during Thursdays and Fridays.

The next step will be to send out your survey. Start by sending it to your existing customers to understand what first motivated them to become your users or customers. Hopefully, you have enough customers at this stage to reach a considerate amount of answers to your survey.

If your existing customer base is not large enough or you are looking for alternative views, paying for access to your audience can be a good solution. The easy to use and obvious solution is Facebook Ads. According to some sources, you can reach a cost per completed response as low as 1 USD. Try to use lookalike audiences of your existing users or customers to only send your survey to a relevant audience.

Alternatively, you can do as Quartz and include the survey in a newsletter. Try and find newsletters or Facebook groups that gather your target audience. Contact the authors or administrators and ask if they want to partner up with you. With a little bit of luck, it could be a great free solution. If you aim your product to business clients you might instead use a Linkedin Premium account to send out the survey to people with relevant roles.

There are three different ways of how to design your survey ad.

  1. Name the targeted audience, “Are you a college student? Take this short survey and help us make your life on campus easier”.

  2. Mention their problem, “Slow computer? We want to fix that and want your input. Take our brief survey.”

  3. Mention your solution objectively, “Our platform helps you find the best hairdresser in your area. Take our survey to help us improve”.

By now you should be ready to send out the survey. Always start small and run it in batches where you test different designs, messages and audiences. You will probably start by sending an email to your existing users. If you have a large user group, send it to a part of them and see what response rate you achieve and if you are satisfied with the quality of the questions. If there is something wrong, you might formulate a question differently before pushing it out to your complete list of users.

Depending on your product and market, you should aim for different numbers of completed responses. If your startup is targeting consumers, aim for at least a hundred responses. If you’re serving small businesses, aim for 50–100 responses. The larger businesses you serve, the smaller amount of responses you can accept.

The next step will be to analyze your responses. If you ask open questions, you will probably spend some time regrouping and interpreting answers to make them easier to analyze. When you have the answers in a quantitative form, you will get the most insight by analyzing the answers by segments. Try to find patterns and correlations between the different answers to understand your audience.

The very last step will be to take your newfound discoveries and transform them into assumptions. The results of your survey can’t be implemented directly, they are simply a set of very good guesses on how you could acquire new customers. These assumptions will be transformed into hypotheses that in turn need to be tested and proved that they work. Apply these assumptions when you go into the next step when you start working with Growth Hacking that you can read about here.

👉 P.S. You can join us in the incubator for only 1€! You will join a community of founders, get answers from me in to weekly calls and get access to a library of packages like the customer acquisition package, the investment package, the product market fit package…

Suggested for you

I started my career in the VC world  - an amazing job where you get to meet hundreds of startup founders. When I was a young and ambitious venture capitalist in a French VC fund, my goal was to find..

Read more..

You have all heard of the mythical moment in a startup’s process, Product-Market Fit. Very few startups make it there and those who do can’t concretely explain how they got there. On top of this, experts have different...

Read more..

The Pitch Deck That Makes
Investors Say Yes

In these uncertain times of Covid-19, it’ll come as no surprise to say that investments, as with everything else, have taken a bit of a hit.
In France alone, investment was down 30% in April 2020...

Read more..

About the Author: 

Melinda Elmborg was a Venture Capital Investor at the French VC firm Daphni. To help founders build, grow and raise capital to their startups, she switched careers to become a startup coach. In 2018, she started Startup Action. 

Based on her learnings, she has developed The Startup Action Framework that guides startups from launch to exponential growth.

So far, over 400 founders have already joined one of her workshops and thousands of founders have taken advantage of her templates and guides to succeed with their startup.

© Copyrights by Startup Action. All Rights Reseved.