Over the years, we’ve designed a variety of practical and valuable tools to help elevate learning businesses. While we’ve mentioned them in various places before, we’ve decided to shine the spotlight on each one in an informal series we’re calling tool talks. These episodes, which will air in between interviews over the next few months, will showcase how and why to use each tool.
In this first installment of our tool talks, we’re highlighting the Tagoras Market Insight Matrix™. We explain why you should use it, what it is, and how to use it. We also offer specific examples of what learning businesses can do in each step in the market assessment process.
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[00:00] – Intro
Why Use the Market Insight Matrix?
[01:14] – Rather than jumping straight into what it is and how to use it, we want to start with why learning business professionals should care about the Market Insight Matrix and why you might want to use it. Understanding your market is an essential part of what any learning business has to do.
Market assessment is key to being able to identify ideas for new products and services that are likely to address a real need or want and be successful if they’re developed and launched. Market assessment involves asking and answering key questions.
Some of the key questions we expect to engage with as part of market assessment include the following:
- What problems or opportunities do our learners face?
- How much do they care about those problems and opportunities?
- What are their alternatives for addressing those problems and opportunities?
- How would our offering be different from the alternatives?
- Are they willing to pay appropriately for a solution?
The answers to those questions is likely to vary significantly over time, from customer to customer, and learner to learner.
That means market assessment needs to be a process. Market assessment needs to happen continually, habitually. Market assessment should not be a time-limited, annual or even biannual event. It’s something you do really week in and week out or, even better yet, day in and day out.Celisa Steele
Your market assessment should also take advantage of multiple, diverse inputs rather than just relying on a single source, like, for example, your internal education team or an annual survey. It should also use agile techniques that can be used and reused. Given the need to do market assessment frequently and to involve diverse inputs, you really need something agile and quick so that you don’t bog down in a cumbersome approach and then just wind up abandoning the work.
[03:58] – At Tagoras, we’re experts in the global business of lifelong learning, and we use our expertise to help clients better understand their markets, connect with new customers, make the right investment decisions, and grow their learning businesses. We achieve these goals through expert market assessment, strategy formulation, and platform selection services. If you are looking for a partner to help your learning business achieve greater reach, revenue, and impact, learn more at tagoras.com/services.
What Is the Market Insight Matrix?
[04:34] – The Market Insight Matrix is freely available on the Tagoras Web site. (Tagoras is the parent company of Leading Learning.)
Combining the stages (idea generation, idea verification, and idea testing), and the types of activities (tracking, listening, and asking) outlined in the Matrix creates a rigorous and practical process to help you better understand your market for lifelong learning, continuing education, and professional development. It also helps you identify learning products that will address market needs.
The Stages of the Market Insight Matrix
- Idea generation
The higher the quality of the ideas you can come up with initially, the easier and more effective the subsequent parts of the process will be. Ensure diversity of input at this stage. In our experience, many organizations stop here and proceed to building a product.
- Idea verification
A better way to approach assessment is to take the ideas generated and then put them through a verification process to get a sense of whether your product idea is really likely to fly or not.
- Idea testing
Put the concept or a version of the product out into the marketplace and see if you can get people to take some action.
The Activities of the Market Insight Matrix
Tracking focuses primarily on historical quantitative data. What can you tell about the behavior of your learners and customers in the recent past? What content has interested them? Where have they found the content that interests them?
Listening involves focusing on observing what learners and customers are saying. What are they saying as they interact with each other, as they interact with your organization and its offerings, and even as they interact with your competitors and their offerings?
This is where you engage directly with key stakeholders to request their input and is the path of traditional tools like surveys and focus groups.
The goal of the Market Insight Matrix is to ensure you don’t place undue emphasis on any particular stage or any particular path so you’re getting that critical diversity of input. And the stages combined with the paths take you through a logical progression that helps you be rigorous at each stage and filter down to the best options, which then of course yield the best kind of educational products, the ones that reach many learners that generate revenue and that have big impactJeff Cobb
How to Use the Market Insight Matrix for Idea Generation
[09:10] – The three columns and three rows of the Market Insight Matrix give us nine boxes. You need to fill in each of the boxes with specific things you’re doing or might do.
We’ll offer some examples for each of the nine boxes, but they are just examples. They’ll hopefully get you thinking in some ways you may not have thought before, but the real value will be in you taking that matrix resource and starting to experiment as part of your organization’s market assessment efforts.
We suggest you download and print a copy of the Market Insight Matrix and take notes as you read about some specific tools and actions that you might make use of.
Idea Generation: Tracking
Pretty much everything that happens on the Internet is captured and can therefore be tracked and reported on. That means there is a wealth of data about what people are searching for and what’s popular. This can tell you a lot about what problems your learners and customers are trying to solve and even how they might be going about solving them.
Web site analytics is one of the most valuable activities you can do in this idea generation stage. It allows you to track many of the actions users take on your Web properties. You can do this using a tool like Google Analytics, and also connect it to Google Search Console (both are free). You’ll be able to tell what the most popular pages on your site are, including the catalog pages/specific product pages, where traffic is coming from, and what types of technologies were used.
Then think about other systems that you use beyond your main organizational Web site. Good sources for data include your LMS or e-mail click data from a marketing system or reports from a CRM or AMS.
Idea Generation: Listening
[12:37] – We don’t necessarily mean literally listening, but you can observe what kinds of things learners do as they engage in online communities or participate in any listservs your learning business might host. You can see what people in your audience have typed into chat logs, for example, from Webinars. We also include feedback here that you might get through open-ended questions from evaluations, for example. All of these sources can provide valuable clues into what’s going on in people’s minds, what problems or opportunities they’re facing, and what types of products might be most useful to them.
The listening we’re talking about doesn’t have to be time-intensive or require elaborate training for your staff. In fact, just about nothing in the matrix really has to be time-intensive or require a lot of training. With this, it’s a simple matter of tuning in and listening on a consistent basis. Also, it doesn’t have to be on your own listservs or in your own community. You can listen in on sites like LinkedIn or wherever your customers and learners are active.
Idea Generation: Asking
[14:29] – This is where a number of traditional activities come into play. For example, you could go to your education committee or your subject matter experts and ask for ideas. It’s also the place where focus groups, brainstorming sessions, or interviews can be valuable. While these activities do tend to be very good for idea generation, you have to use them appropriately and recognize some of their shortcomings.
If you’re going to use focus groups or interviews, for example, you really have to make sure you get as representative a sampling as you can from your target markets. As much as possible, you want the ideas to come from the people who are actual potential customers, the people who are actually going to buy your product.
One very simple activity for asking at this stage that often gets overlooked is e-mail. Send a question to people who are likely to be engaged enough to provide answers. The abilities we have now to automate e-mails make this even more powerful. You could have a trigger in place where if someone completes X action, it’s going to send them an e-mail and ask them for more information.
One simple approach that we use regularly—and we’ve seen many learning businesses also use this successfully—is to use just a single question as part of an automated sign-up sequence. Then in one of these emails (often the last), you ask a single question. It’s usually open-ended and relevant to where the recipient’s mind and motivation are likely to be at that time. It also relates to your product planning.
With any of these asking approaches, it’s very important to be as open-ended as possible at this stage because, again, this is idea generation. As part of that, you want to make sure that as much as possible you avoid assumptions.
So don’t lead people too much. Give them time to truly think and interact and then be prepared to go in different directions based on the interactions that you have with people. It might help you refine or see a new direction you might go. And then too don’t rely on the input in this box as your only input for moving forward with a product. We see a lot of organizations do that. Maybe you’ve done it yourself, and that can just leave far too much open to chanceCelisa Steele
This is a good place to make some notes about what you’re doing in the idea generation stage and what you might add in each of those categories—tracking, listening, and asking.
How to Use the Market Insight Matrix for Idea Verification
[17:34] – The goal in this stage is to take an idea you generated in stage 1 and then verify its potential and, as part of that verification, start to refine it.
How powerfully does your idea resonate in the market? What is its potential reach and impact and revenue? How might your idea need to be modified to really fit market needs?
At this stage, you want to cast your net broadly enough to include not just your current learners and customers, but your prospective learners and customers. Again, you rely on the three main categories of activities—tracking, listening, and asking. And, again, there are a variety of possible activities and tools in each path, just a few of which we’re going to highlight.
Idea Verification: Tracking
[18:27] – In the tracking category for idea verification, one great approach is a simple Web search. When you use a search engine like Google, you’re getting a report on the behavior of thousands or even millions of people on the Web. What ranks high in the results are the things that most people have found relevant and valuable based on the algorithms. But it is based on this idea of relevance and value. That means that it’s worth searching on a range of terms that describe whatever it is you plan to offer and see what comes up. The power of that really can’t be underestimated.
We’re talking about simple Google search, but you can also use tools that help to leverage Google and other forms of search to give you even deeper information, say, about your competition or about the keywords, the things that people are going to tend to type in to get to you through search. You might want to look at tools like those below:
Type in a competitor’s Web site and see what keywords/terms people are searching on that get them to that competitor.
Put in a topic and find out what kind of questions people are asking about that topic.
See what’s actually trending on social media in the topic areas that you’re interested in.
We’ve been talking about active searching, and that is the core of many of these tracking activities in the idea verification stage. But you also have the ability to set up passive monitoring or listening posts that will push information to you, which is a really important part of this listening stage as well. You can use a tool like Hootsuite—and there are various others—to give you the ability to set up monitoring of multiple public social media streams that are relevant to your field and industry.
You can, for example, track mentions of your organization on networks like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and have that rolled up all into one place. You can also easily assemble a list of people on Twitter who are influential in your market. This gives you a social dashboard for quickly tuning in to market conversations.
Idea Verification: Listening
[21:48] – As part of verification, what you want to look for and listen for is evidence that people are actually talking about issues or terms that relate to whatever your product idea is. The more evidence you see of that, that tells you the stronger your idea is.
That’s really what you’re looking for here is evidence. Signals from your audience, from the market you’re trying to serve that the topics, that the ideas that you’re thinking about developing products around actually have some resonance, that they are things that people are paying attention to and then seem to have some need for knowledge and learning on.Jeff Cobb
We’re big fans of RSS readers (Web-based tools that allow you to subscribe to any content source that has an RSS, or really simple syndication, feed associated with it) like Feedly for listening. This includes blogs, but it also a variety of other resources like saved searches or alerts that you might set up for particular topics. Feedly even allows you to create RSS feeds for sites that don’t have them right now.
Using this as a tool, you can again put together a dashboard that enables you to quickly monitor key news sources and thought leaders in your market. It’s actually a great potential source for idea generation, but it’s also a way to take the idea or ideas you have generated and get a better idea of how well they resonate in the broader market and how they might need to be refined.
Idea Verification: Asking
[23:43] – This is a good time to run surveys or to conduct focused interviews. We mentioned interviews earlier and how they should be open-ended at the idea generation stage so that you’re not bringing too many assumptions to those conversations. At this point, you can do more focused interviews because now you know enough about your idea that you can ask some good questions.
When coming up with questions for your surveys or for your interviews at this stage, we strongly recommend that you not ask about preferences. Instead, ask about actual behavior because that is a much stronger indicator of future behavior than preference.
Related to survey distribution, you may want to go beyond your usual list. There are now a number of really sophisticated services out there designed to help you reach out and survey a particular target market. For example, Ask Your Target Market, GutCheck, and SurveyMonkey offer services for getting your survey out to particular markets and audiences. This can be especially helpful if you’re headed into new markets, or you don’t have a significant list of your own.
This is another natural place to stop and make a few notes about what tracking, listening, and asking activities you’re doing to support the idea verification stage.
How to Use the Market Insight Matrix for Idea Testing
[26:11] – Relatively few learning businesses ever reach this stage in our experience. The idea here is to see what kind of reaction—or, even better, commitment—you get to your product or your product idea before it is complete or, in some cases, before it has even started. One of the very powerful opportunities the Internet provides is the ability to put ideas and concepts in front of people very rapidly and easily, and in ways that help you engage what their reaction and behavior to an actual product are likely to be.
Idea Testing: Tracking
A simple example of an activity in the tracking box is to send out two versions of an e-mail related to your product or product idea, each with different subject lines or body content to see which one gets more open. This is called split testing.
You can also try offer testing to create a landing page for a product before it’s actually available and use it to gauge interest for the product. The key is that you want people to take an action based on what you tell them about the product. That may be even as simple as getting people to sign up for an e-mail list to receive more information. If you can’t get them to do that, then you really have to question whether you’re going to be able to get them to give you a credit card.
Ways to structure an offer include providing incentives. It might be a free e-book, white paper, video content, or bonus content. For this to work as a real test for a potential offering, it’s important to set up a compelling landing page that has a really solid description of the offer and a clear explanation of the value of this product. If people won’t hand over an e-mail address or take whatever action you’re aiming for, you really probably then need to find a more compelling value proposition.
Idea Testing: Listening
[28:49] – Another approach we like is to test out a prototype or mockup of your product and see how users react. This is going a step further than just setting up a landing page, and you can do this quite easily using something like UsabilityHub. This offers testing tools that can help you uncover design issues early on so that you can correct them, helps with marketing your offering, and to optimize landing pages or e-mail campaigns. It can also help with the design and layout and usability of online courses, for example.
Idea Testing: Asking
[29:50] – Options include the following:
Piloting keeps your initial user groups smaller and hopefully also some of your costs. You can use results and feedback from the pilot to finetune your product and mine that feedback for promotional material to help you with the big post-pilot launch (assuming that you move on to that, based on what you find out in the pilot).
Pre-selling means that you go out and find a buyer for a product before you ever build it, and you get those buyers to commit to enough purchases to make it worth it for you to build it. Usually this will happen with a big customer or a set of customers.
There are now platforms in place that enable pre-selling to happen even with that dispersed base of individual customers. Kickstarter is one of the most popular sites for this kind of crowdfunding. The idea is that you connect with people who need or would benefit from whatever you’re making. Even if this doesn’t seem appropriate for your audience, you can take the crowdfunding approach without the formal external platform like Kickstarter. For example, “I will run this workshop if I get X number of people to sign up.”
Take some notes and think about how you test ideas for new educational products or services. What else might you try?
The Market Insight Matrix is only valuable if you use it. Don’t focus too much on any activity in a single row or column. If you’re able to do something, even something small in each of the boxes, that’s a good sign that you’re engaging in a thorough market assessment.
The activities that fit in the Market Insight Matrix aren’t particularly hard or time-consuming. It’s easy to take a look at Web site analytics, to set up some dashboards for social media, and run a pre-selling campaign. And, sure, these things take some effort, but one person can usually pull them off without a huge time investment. The harder part is setting up the processes and habits to make sure you’re tracking, listening, and asking on an ongoing basisJeff Cobb
[33:29] – Wrap-up
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