In my last post, I walked you through how my data-driven process led to the launch of Boreal Botanical Brewing, a medicinal mushroom-based beverage for the sober-curious. In this post, I cover the market research tools you can use to make sure that you’re solving real problems for consumers. Most of those tools are free (at least for a while) and aren’t hard to use and will give you a real leg up in serving your customer well.
Use Market Research Tools to Identify Real Problems
There are a multitude of tools out there that will help you figure out what problems consumers are looking to solve. Those tools include research, reports, and even newsletters that will help you learn more about current food and drink trends, i.e, changing consumer behavior. We’ll cover each of these tools here.
Google has access to more data than any other entity on the planet. Luckily for the entrepreneur, they make much of this data freely available. However, it needs processing before it becomes useful. To do this we first need to understand what kind of information the data delivers to us, then ensure that we ask the right questions, and use the right tools to get the most value out of it.
#Bestlife vs. #Reallife
People tend to live their #bestlife on Instagram and Facebook, posting highly curated content that makes them look good in the eyes of their audience. But they tend to live their real life on Google, where they search for solutions to problems they face every day.
Take a look at two identical searches, performed first on Instagram, then on Google.
Search for #newbornbaby on Instagram and be prepared to be buried underneath an avalanche of cuteness:
Now let’s perform the exact same search on Google, this time looking at Google’s autocomplete function, which indicates what questions people are asking in relation to the initial search term.
As you can see, the Google search paints a far less idyllic, and far more realistic, picture of early parenthood. Turns out that babies are not pooping, not burping and, every new parent’s favorite, not sleeping.
Btw, if babies aren’t your thing, try the above with #mycat on Instagram and “my cat is” on google. Turns out there are many similarities between cats and babies.
This doesn’t mean that the search on Instagram doesn’t give us valid data. It does — we can use it to check on current trends on baby photography, clothing, and accessories. Or we think about the world of food, and use Instagram to check on trends in packaging design and photography styles. Just be aware that not all data sources are equal. Learn to use each tool to its strength.
Market Research Tools Based on Google
The OG of listening tools is Google Trends. While a bit of a blunt tool, Google Trends ranks interest by search volume, and is a quick and easy way to validate whether there is an awareness in the world around a particular issue.
For example, when we researched the concept for Boreal Botanicals, we found a clear spike in interest around “sober curious” starting in 2019.
Before 2017 there was not much of a public conversation around alcohol. If it existed, it tended to be in terms of addiction. At that time, if you thought about cutting back on alcohol, mainstream thinking was that you had “a problem.” It was either nothing or AA.
As people started to get better informed about the effects that various foods have on the human body, the conversation around alcohol started to change as well. Books like Sober Curious started to change the public conversation and with it, the perception of consuming, or not consuming alcohol.
We used this Google Trends data to help us develop a product that answers a growing consumer need.
When you type a question into google, you’ll see a suggestion of related search terms, like in the baby example we discussed earlier. These related search terms are incredibly valuable because they tell you what kind of questions people are asking around their initial search.
AlsoAsked.com is a free web application that makes this data accessible. We use the site to help us decide what kind of problems people want to solve around medicinal mushrooms.
Let’s take a look at the results for chaga mushrooms, one of the core ingredients we use in our tonics.
Questions like “does chaga help with anxiety?” (yes) and “does chaga get you high?” (no) are commonly asked by people who are interested in medicinal mushrooms. Knowing what questions people are asking allows us to create both products and information that are relevant to consumer interests. Even more importantly, this type of information helps us get to the holy grail of all products, one that solves a real consumer problem or pain point.
Other Market Research Tools that Process Google Information
Answer the Public pulls out further insight from Google search data. Their free offering is a great starting point to get a general idea for how people are engaging with a specific market or product.
KWfinder, SEMrush and other similar tools allow you to check for very specific search volumes for specific keywords. Again, this allows you to validate your ideas and search out information relevant to your customer base. Tools like these also allow you to keep an eye on the players already in the field who are performing well.
Here’s another example for chaga mushrooms. As you can see, people are interested in chaga tea and the general benefits of chaga — but they’re also interested in reishi mushrooms. KWFinder delivers the precise monthly search volume together with a score on how hard or easy it is to get Google to rank content around this subject matter.
You can see that they also rank the sites occupying the top organic rank on google. You can then visit those and learn from the people who do it best.
Most of these more specific services offer a free trial which tends to be generous enough to help you validate your idea. If you decide to launch, a subscription to help you to continuously monitor consumer pain points and needs will be invaluable for your business.
What Other Market Research Tools are Available?
Apart from Google, valuable information can be accessed from Facebook, Instagram, and the often overlooked but extremely valuable Pinterest. While they don’t make raw data available the way Google does, both Facebook and Pinterest frequently publish trend reports that shine a bright light on consumer interest. Pinterest especially can be used to extrapolate purchase intent because people save content that is of personal interest to them.
To give an example, Pinterest noticed that during COVID, consumers started their holiday shopping in April 2020. That’s a full three months sooner than expected or previously observed. This is invaluable information to the entrepreneur. It’s invaluable because it allows you to shape your message in order to, again, solve real consumer needs. While it may sound ridiculous to talk about the holidays five months in advance, perhaps a highly targeted ad is something that’s worth testing with your consumer base.
Newsletters and Reports
Many research organizations publish annual trend reports. My own marketing company, Nourish Food Marketing in Toronto, has been publishing a highly respected food trend report for the last five years. We knew we were doing something right when we learned that the Canadian government was using data from our research to help inform policy. (Interested? You can download your free 2020 copy from the Nourish website.)
I personally also subscribe to the following sites and newsletters:
https://www.foodhack.global/ keeps you informed about new products and services in food and drink and is invaluable for keeping an eye on product trends. Their “This week in food” newsletter is required reading.
https://thespoon.tech/ cover the intersection between food and technology. Inspiring reading from the food tech revolution.
Food + Tech Connect
https://foodtechconnect.com/ is the platform for good food innovation and regular source of insight for me.
https://www.fooddive.com/ published a newsletter worth exploring.
And finally, https://foodboro.com also publishes a newsletter and insight report worth reading.
There are many others of value — do some research and choose whatever content works for you.
A Note of Caution on Information Overload
Don’t allow information overload lead to decision paralysis. The way I personally deal with newsletters is to set apart two hours a week to read through all of them. I then pull key learning and insights into a notebook. Next, I turn these insights into information that I can use to move forward.
Make sure you end up with a list of action points that will make a difference to your idea, startup or business. It’s easy to start getting into rabbit holes that won’t make an actual difference to whatever you’re trying to achieve.
Using Tools to Track Data and Organize Information
Use whatever tools you’re comfortable with for tracking and organizing your research. I personally work with Notion, but everything from pen on paper to the digital tool of your choice will work. The more important thing is that you make a habit of using it regularly.
A Little About Me
My name is Andreas Duess. As mentioned, I wear a couple of hats. As an owner of Nourish Food Marketing, I help food startups reach critical mass. Yours could be one of them. To talk more, just send me an email.
As a founder of the Boreal Botanical Brewing Company, I help people who don’t want to consume alcoholic beverages to not feel excluded in social situations. If this sounds interesting to you, you can find us at borealbrewing.ca or on Instagram @boreal_botanical_brewing.
I hope the information in this article will help you launch, or build, a more successful food business. If you’d like to talk more, or could do with help figuring it all out, contact me. I’d be glad to offer a hand.
I use the tools shared in this article to build my own business, but I’ve got no affiliation with any of them.