One of the great things about being a market research agency is that we get a front row seat to our clients’ business planning processes. We’re connecting with them at critical junctures in their strategic planning and helping guide their paths forward.

And, as typically happens, the year-end season is just one of those critical junctures. It’s a time to reflect on what went well, what went not so well, and what didn’t even get off the ground. And, perhaps more importantly, it’s a time to start arranging how to kick things into high gear in the new year.

We’ll share with you some of strategic questions that keep coming up again and again across as we connect with our clients for their 2024 planning. And, we’ll fill you in on how we’ve suggested they start answering them.

Typical 2024 Strategy Planning Questions

Our work spans across industries, from sectors as far flung as UX consultancies and personal injury law practices to consumer games and apparel. Yet in spite of how different these sectors are, and how different their target customer bases are too, we keep hearing the same sets of strategic questions.

Question #1: What Is The Right Way To Prioritize Our Product Roadmap?

This question comes from savvy product teams that know they need to prioritize the features, products, or services they put resources towards in the new year. They’re often deciding between product elements that help with retention and customer delight versus those that could support new customer acquisition. Or, figuring out how to do the right mix of both.

How To Answer This Question:

At its core, this is a question about product and feature concepts. And, more specifically, about the ideas that will have the strongest resonance with existing or prospective customer groups. We typically suggest one of two ways to address this question:

– Product Concept Testing: This approach requires gathering data from the right customer group to take a pulse on what ideas have the greatest appeal and relevance. It usually includes sharing product or feature ideas and then gathering feedback on those ideas. It’s a great way to quickly benchmark ideas against each other to see what yields the most excitement or interest.

– Feature Prioritization Studies: Sometimes it’s less about broad sweeping concept ideas and more about nitty gritty feature details. When that’s the case, we suggest a product feature prioritization study. This survey-based approach is a specialized way of requiring respondents to select their most and least preferred features. By requiring respondents to make real trade-offs, teams get a clean read on features that are “must haves” versus “nice to haves.”

Question #2: Who Else Could Buy Our Product?

Businesses that increase their addressable market increase their revenue potential as well. After all, it means increasing the size of the “pie” they could go after and opening up new market opportunities in the process.  This question mostly comes from an established organization. Sometimes, it’s because they need to sustain strong growth trends. In other cases, it’s because they need to boost growth after a long lag.

How To Answer This Question:

While not always possible, sometimes the same product meets multiple customer segments’ needs. However, organizations need to pinpoint what those segments are to then assess if they are viable targets. This leads us to frequently suggest two approaches:

– Buyer Persona Research: Our clients usually have some hunches about who could buy their products. But, they need to validate those hunches. For this, we suggest buyer persona research. This type of research, often done initially via interviews, lets us connect with different potential customers. In doing so, we learn their pain points, category and product engagement, customer journey process, and roles in the buyer journey. This gives us clear insight into who is a viable target and why.

– Product Concept Study: We could also start answering this question via a product concept study. However, unlike the approach we described above, this time we would test just one product. But, we test it with different audiences. This approach lets us see if anything rises to the top with some audiences while sinking with others.

Question #3: How Do We Really Stay Differentiated From the Competition?

Both new category entrants and established players struggle with staying fresh and current. But, as categories get crowded, it gets harder and harder to really stand out from the pack. Forward-looking business leaders across marketing, sales, product, and strategy frequently have this question looming in the back of their minds.

How To Answer This Question:

This question often begs two exploration areas. The first is understanding what competitors bring to the market. The natural follow up is determining how to create differentiation given what’s in the market. We usually use one of two approaches, if not both, to dig into these areas.

– Competitive Audit Research: It’s always valuable to get a lay of the land with competitive audit or landscape research. This covers exploring a wide set of dynamics across competitors including features, pricing, marketing, positioning, and customer journey experiences. It provides an apples-to-apples comparison to benchmark what the market is doing, and where you can create a singular position.

– Product Concept / Feature Studies: We won’t harp on this again. But, let’s always remember that testing new features with the market, and then building them, is a solid way to keep advancing and offering newness to the market. And, when the strategic issue is about differentiation, we make sure to include questions that help us understand just that.

Question #4: What Is The Best Way To Spend Our Marketing Budget?

This question tends to come from organizations with solid proofs of concept. They have an in-market product and an existing customer base. With solid market validation, they want to drive customer acquisition. But, they have limited resources to do so. This leads them to wonder about the best ways to allocate their funds.

How To Answer This Question:

This question really comes down to go to market planning and channel marketing. Our clients must understand where customers spend their time or go to learn about a product category. With this intel in hand, they’ll know where to focus their resources. We typically take one of two paths to evaluate this:

– Exploratory Interviews: When we really have very few ideas going in, we suggest asking. Spending the time to talk one-on-one with clients is key. By asking them about conferences, events, newsletters, influencers, or other places where they spend their time or do work-related activities, we hone in on channels our clients should consider.

– Marketing Channel Surveys: The flip side of this is when we have initial ideas but want more certainty. For this, we suggest go-to-market surveys. You can quickly test several different channels across may customers and easily identify where they spend their time.

Question #5: What Is The Right Way To Talk About What We Do?

This question tends to come up when organizations are in flux. Sometimes, it’s an early stage startup still assessing product-market fit. Other times its a more established organization reformulating its value propositions and customer targeting. Essentially, they need to know how best to present themselves to get customers excited and ready to buy.

How To Answer This Question:

At its core, this question centers on product or brand positioning. This is because good positioning homes in on the value propositions, benefits, and customer targeting that yield strong market resonance and drive customer acquisition. We often suggest a one-two punch approach to address this question.

  • Customer Segmentation: Start off with customer segmentation. Whether done via surveys or interviews, segmentation studies identify which types of customers in a given market are the right target. And, implicitly, they help bring clarity to who is not a customer.
  • Brand Positioning Research: With the right target customer, you can now see what type of positioning works. Consider running a brand positioning survey, a process of showing different target customers different positioning options. This lets organizations compare and contrast options and isolate the one with the greatest resonance.

Prioritizing 2024 Strategy Planning Questions

The list of strategic questions above is no small feat to answer. In fact, most organizations can’t explore all of these questions at any given time. They simply do not have the resources.

How then, do you prioritize what to tackle? We always say follow the data! Consider these metrics…

  • YoY new customer growth is declining….This likely means it’s time to start looking at new customer segments to build your addressable market or explore if competitors are taking away potential customers.
  • The “competitor” tag is appearing more often as a reason for losing deals…It’s time to understand how to better differentiate yourself to win more business and grow revenue. Start with an audit to get a better lay of the land.
  • Customer churn rate is increasing…This generally means the initial product promise was attractive, but it didn’t deliver enough value. Consider buyer persona research to identify underlying needs and where the product falls short.
  • Low Close Rates or Trial-To-Customer Conversion Rates…The product or brand promise was likely not quite right. Look at your positioning to see how to adjust it.

In essence, use your business data to guide your 2024 strategy planning. And, if you haven’t made a point of collecting historical benchmarks, now’s the time.