How to get started with consumer profiling for your brand

So you’ve decided it’s time to run some consumer profiling for your brand? Good call! 

But before you start writing your survey, there are some steps you should take to make sure you’re setting up your profiling to be as beneficial as possible. And if you needed any more convincing that you should run this research, here’s what can happen if you don’t run consumer profiling.

We’ve compiled the top tips from our in-house research experts to bring you the key things to think about before running your consumer profiling. 

1. Start with a hypothesis

To give your consumer profiling some initial direction you should start the process by making predictions on what your research will reveal. What are you hoping to learn about your audience? This is what your hypothesis should summarize.

Your hypothesis could be something like:

  • ‘The customer segment that’s most interested in buying our product is females aged 35-45 in the Midwest of America.’
  • ‘Single British males will not take out our product subscription.’
  • ‘Our target users are children aged 10-15, but it’s their parents, aged 35-50, who we need to target’.

The great thing about hypotheses is that it really doesn’t matter if they turn out to be wrong. The point is that, once you’ve gathered your insights, you’ll know more about your target consumers than you did before. That might mean that you need to go back to the drawing board for parts of your strategy, or you might find out that who you thought were your most valuable customers are actually not the market you should be targeting. 

Whether or not your hypotheses are proved disproved, you’ll know more than you did before, and you can take this new knowledge to the next stage of your marketing, product or creative strategy.

2. Work out how you plan to use your insights once you have them

How you craft your consumer profiling research will depend on how you’ll use the insights once your research has finished. 

At the beginning of the process, define which of your colleagues will use the data and what business objective(s) it’ll help to achieve. 

For example, if the business objective is to learn about a potential new customer segment, it might be your commercial and marketing teams that need to be involved—find out what information they want to learn about the customer group that will inform their sales and marketing activities. 

It also helps to know how and when you might need to share your insights with other people in your organization. 

Your Insights team might gather and own the overall data, but your CEO and board of directors might want a high-level breakdown of what the research has revealed, so that they can figure out how it’ll shape the business’s long-term vision. 

It’s useful to bear this in mind when you’re crafting your research, so that you can build additional questions and sections into your research if needed. 

3. Come armed with some industry knowledge

This one should come naturally, but it’ll really help your consumer profiling research if you apply your deep industry understanding to your survey creation. 

Since you and your colleagues are already industry insiders, this’ll involve applying that lens when you’re writing, reviewing and amending your research. It always helps to talk to as many departments as possible to make sure you have a complete understanding of your brand’s approach, but that will be particularly beneficial when you’re crafting your research. 

And remember that everyone in your business has a uniquely valuable perspective on your current and potential customers, which is super valuable when building your research and delving into the results. 

Your Marketing colleagues are on top of the latest knowledge on media consumption; your Product colleagues have a deep understanding of what your brand offers and how people use it; and your C-suite will have a valuable view on the direction your market and market-product-fit is heading in. Use the experience and understanding your colleagues can bring.

4. Set up your research! 

While no two consumer profiling projects are ever the same, you’ll be glad to hear that there are some tried and tested practices that our Customer Research Team use to guide brands through their research. 

Here are some of our top consumer profiling best practices. 

Use 500-1,000 as a standard sample size

Between 500-1,000 people in your consumer profiling sample size is ideal. 

This volume of respondents will give you a really reliable set of data which you can use to guide you where you go next with your research, and to inform decisions across your business. 

Any more than this and we find that results don’t tend to change by a significant degree—and the more respondents you approach, the longer it takes and costlier it gets. But it’s also not such a huge volume that it will make sure you get your results quickly enough to make those important decisions when it really matters. 

You should also bear in mind that you might need to dig deeper into specific groups within your main sample. So 500+ respondents gives you breathing room to get even more detailed when you dig into how specific respondent segments answered.

Need an exact sample size number?

We’ve built a free sample size calculator to help you out.

Sample size calculator

Filter down to people who use your category

It makes sense to start your consumer profiling with a larger, broader sample of consumers. What this entails will depend on things like the type of product or service you offer. 

For example, if what you offer appeals to most people—let’s say your brand is an energy provider—then a nationally representative sample makes sense—everyone uses energy. 

If your offering isn’t as broad as that, it’ll make sense to run your consumer profiling to a more specific, but still quite broad, group. For example, you might know that your potential customers are pet owners, so it makes sense for your sample to be made up of those people. 

When you need to get specific and find out more about the kinds of people who buy or might buy your product, you’re going to need to take a more targeted approach with your research. It makes sense to establish your segmentation so that you can know which customer groups to target with which rounds of research.

This is something that we talk about a lot when we’re working with brands on their consumer profiling—how often should you run your research?

A lot of this is dependent on your industry. For example, developments in the car industry happen pretty slowly so that you can probably run consumer profiling every 5-7 years (unless there’s a big consumer-shifting event, like a global pandemic…). 

Meanwhile, fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) is, by definition, fast moving. So if this is your sector you should be thinking about running your consumer profiling every 0-5 years. 

It also makes sense to check in with consumers on a regular basis with smaller pieces of research to get up-to-the-minute pulse checks on the market. This way you’ll be able to spot trends even before they emerge elsewhere. 

Your survey length sweet spot is 15-20 questions 

Another conversation we have with brands all the time is about the length of consumer profiling surveys. 

Depending on how in-depth you want your research to be, you can often get away with 10 or fewer questions for more basic consumer profiling research. 

But for profiling that really starts to get to the heart of what your consumer segments think and do, we recommend 15-20 questions. Here’s some inspiration for questions to use in your market and audience profiling research.

With a survey this long you have the space to get really specific with your research, giving you and your colleagues the most useful insights possible. But this length doesn’t ask too much from your respondents, so they don’t become less engaged and stop paying full attention to your survey. 

Open our Consumer Profiling survey tempalte

Our in-house research experts have written this consumer profiling survey template to give you a head start. Just add in the details for your brand and category and hit send!

Open the template

A small tester sample is a good idea

If you’re thinking about a sizable piece of consumer profiling research, run a smaller test version of the research first—if you do this it can make sense to run it to the equivalent of around 5-10% of your eventual full sample size. You could even run the sample internally. 

This is so that you’ll find out before you launch that big research project whether there are any aspects of your survey you might want to revisit. The test version might reveal some logic in the survey flow that invalidates responses, or it might even give you inspiration for other questions or future versions of the research. 

The Consumer Research Academy is brought to you by the Customer Research Team—our in-house research experts. Any research questions? Email or chat with the team.