The most crucial piece of any strategy is first to understand the brand’s audience. Skipping that first step is the easiest—yet most avoidable—way that engagement will fall flat or even derail the entire campaign. But what if you don’t have (or even need) access to an enterprise-level research platform for the data you need to create audience insight? These five free research tools are some of the best for strategists to start with:

1. Governmental and Institutional Sources

But the audience is constantly shifting, and there are few better ways to understand demographic shifts than with the US Census. Government shutdown notwithstanding, U.S. Census data are an indispensable resource for strategists planning how to engage and understand their brands’ constantly shifting audiences. Try using long-term demographic trends to project the future of the audience. Also, you might want to take a look at the wealth of information at data.worldbank.org.  As Edelman Digital SVP Phil Gomes wrote, “An empty Web page on this subdomain is more useful than 90% of the sites you probably visit on a given day.”

2. FactBrowser

Once in a while, all a planning deck needs is a factoid. Factbrowser shines at delivering these single data points. A tool that aggregates single data points from research giants across the web, like Nielsen and Comscore, it divides facts up by categories ranging from age, demographic and location to industry vertical, technologies and even individual companies.

3. Statistic Brain

When putting together research about your target audience, looking at only social platform research can be limiting. Understanding offline behavior, demographic information and other stats can help you be more informed about your client’s business. That’s why bookmarking Statistic Brain is a good idea. Whether you want to know stats about the cruise industry, the number of people eating breakfast cereal, or anything in between, the site is a good repository of a ton of data.

4. Google Trends

One of the best ways to understand online consumer behavior is to understand how they are using search engines to seek out a topic. That’s where Google Trends comes in. Understanding trends over time, what is causing the spikes in searches and understanding how these searches match up with comparable searches is essential for building content and strategy.

5. Google Think

While you can find endless amounts of research on industry verticals, some of the best research costs a lot of money. If you’re on a budget and looking to get a better understanding of verticals like automotive, CPG or healthcare, Google Think Insights is a great repository of research. Understanding specific industry research as it applies to comprehensive online behavior can be extremely valuable while in the planning process.

Which tools do you use to kick off audience research?

This Friday Five was written by Christian Rooney and Nick Lucido.

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