How Shepherd Does Fast, Full-Stack Market Research with SparkToro

This brand marketing agency works with SparkToro to streamline their market research process.


Dean McBeth, Founder, Shepherd
Dean McBeth

Shepherd is a brand marketing agency that helps brands get a deeper and more holistic understanding of their customers. Clients include SoFi, Jack in the Box and Hasbro, and their work has been recognized in AdAge. Their thorough approach to market research includes qualitative and quantitative data, and by using SparkToro, they're able to save weeks of time for each of their clients. This is Shepherd's story.

A Bit of Context

Shepherd helps brands get closer to their flock. Working primarily with ecommerce brands, they dig into the quantitative data and connect the dots with customer interviews. And it all starts with first-party data.

Partnering directly with their ecommerce clients, Shepherd sees how customers get to an online store and what purchases they made. From there, they could run a survey to ask these customers more about their interests and hobbies — but then they'd run the risk of inaccurate self-reporting.

Instead, Shepherd runs that first-party data through identity resolution software to match the emails with their public social media profiles. Then they conduct SparkToro queries to understand this audience's sources of influence — what and who they follow, read, watch, and listen to. After that, they reach out to a sampling of customers to conduct 1:1 interviews.

It's the entire stack of audience and market research accomplished, in the time frame of just one to two weeks.

Broadening the Prospect Pool Without Alienating Current Customers

One of Shepherd's clients is an outdoor brand who thought they needed to go all in on a subset of a deeply passionate customer segment: Hunters.

Shepherd took a closer look. They saw that this outdoor brand's casual buyer has some interest in sports, mountain activities, fishing and hunting. And they learned a new insight: Instead of having multiple interests (like hunting and fishing), some of the most loyal, most passionate customers were exclusively into hunting. Or exclusively into fishing.

Shepherd foresaw a potential problem if the brand chose to go deep on each customer segment: that they'd eventually saturate the audience and tap out on growth.

The client initially considered taking the marketing messaging that was working, and simply applying it to another audience.

But Shepherd uncovered other, meaningful data. They found women buyers who weren't just gift givers. They were outdoors enthusiasts. So Shepherd proposed a new marketing strategy to their client: securing partnerships with REI and women's outdoor brands. Shepherd knew that if they segmented the audiences and messaging properly, there would be no confusion with the core customer group of hunters — because those hunters wouldn't see that messaging.

Their core customer group couldn't feel alienated by different messaging they wouldn't see. And Shepherd was right.

When brands find a marketing method that works, they sometimes get too precious about their strategy and they're reluctant to change. But when you combine the knowledge you already have along with SparkToro's technology and customer interviews, you can uncover whole new customer segments. So I think of it this way: Bruce Lee started kicking everyone's ass after he blended different martial arts and now we have mixed martial arts (MMA),

Dean McBeth, Founder, Shepherd

SparkToro showed them a singularly focused audience, and they used that information to discern that expanding the brand to other audiences by reaching them through different channels and with different messaging wouldn't dilute or damage the core audience connection.

So rather than trying to find overlaps with the existing audience where the client already had market penetration to the point of near-saturation, they found a new audience to target, identified the channels and places to reach them, and created a whole new campaign for that new audience.

Tip: Use Your Customer Data to Find New Marketing Channels

You can apply Shepherd's approach to find new marketing opportunities. Run your email list through a data enriching tool like Clearbit or FullContact, find the demographics or self-identifiers of your list, and then run SparkToro queries to find new sources of influence. You'll find the websites, social accounts, press, podcasts, and YouTube channels that are most likely to influence your customers.

SparkToro Podcasts
SparkToro makes finding relevant podcasts easy

We ran a sample query of a niche newsletter and found that most of the subscribers work in the B2B marketing and SaaS industries. So we ran SparkToro queries for each audience. We found that while there were a lot of overlapping podcasts, the top 3 were different.

If you try this method, you may want to consider prioritizing your podcast outreach list by the overlapping podcasts among your queries.

SparkToro Podcasts
SparkToro makes finding relevant podcasts easy

What's Next for Shepherd…

Shepherd is always on the lookout for new and better ways to help companies get closer to their customers. Whether through advanced analytics, new data sources, or emerging tools (like SparkToro), they are adding more and more progressive clients that want faster, more data-informed methods to improve their marketing, product, or innovation efforts.