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Brand Strategy For Startups

Customer Insight For New Products And Services

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Customer Insight For New Products And Services

In the early days of MapQuest, which had the largest share of online mapping services in the US (and is now second to Google Maps), the conventional wisdom was that consumers wanted to see maps of the world—but it didn’t take long to learn that they wanted directions along with maps. The insight? People would rather get directions online than ask strangers for help.

What do you need to learn to get inside the end user’s thought process? Should you observe them in action? Conduct real-time research? Host a focus group? Whatever you choose, your method should have these qualities: speed, flexibility (options for both quantitative and qualitative), ability to iterate, and multimedia capabilities.

For instance, say you ask potential customers a question on a survey, and after you see the results you realize there is another question to ask. You should be able to formulate this new question—and ask it—in a matter of days, not weeks or months. That’s why we recommend using a rapid test panel (personally, we’re fans of AlphaHQ.com).

As you gather insights, be sure to compare and contrast your product concept against other players. How are competitors solving the unmet need? How does their solution compare to your own? Bring your Knowns, Unknowns and What-Ifs into the process as another evaluative tool. Fully understanding end-user behavior as well as your competitors will help you shape your vision.

Get A Reaction

A cost-effective way to communicate an idea and get a fast read on it is to use stimuli, ranging from product descriptions to copy to napkin sketches to comps. By using a rapid test panel and turning your attention to qualitative and quantitative measurement, you can answer this question: how does your end user respond? Let yourself see what’s really happening, not just what you want to see—because what’s so powerful about truly understanding a user’s likes and dislikes at this stage is that you can course-correct, which can save you a whole lot of money down the road. At this point, don’t worry about branding. (In fact, branding can become a distraction if you’re trying to learn something about the core idea.)

An experiment we typically run in the earlier stages of forming a product is around value proposition. Figuring out a value proposition for your product or service is a way of building a foundation that allows the product to take shape. We create a simple description of the product or service and list potential benefits to the end user as a way to rank their preferences. This exercise illuminates points of clarity, points of confusion, initial reactions, how users might describe the product or service to a friend, the likelihood of users signing up, and potentially even price.

Where’s The Why?

How do you go about drafting value propositions? We’re fans of Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle”: Sinek suggests starting with the reason your company exists, then looking at how you go about your mission, and finally explaining what you do. Sinek believes that people don’t buy what you’re selling but rather why you’re selling it; what you believe resonates with them, and that inspires them to make a purchase. Hence your value proposition doesn’t come from the “what”—a list of features and functions— but the “why.”

A Touch Of Humility

Our best advice? Be willing to be wrong. Insight often begins in one place and ends up in another, which underlines the importance of prototyping. One challenge to discovering worthy insights is that they’re often obscured by a massive pool of data. How do you cut through the noise? By creating a coherent narrative and by ensuring that your data speaks the same language. Then ask yourself again: are you satisfying the unmet need?

Our eleven point checklist will help validate your idea:

1. What do your best customers look like? Think demographic and psychographic (personality, values, opinions, attitudes, interests, and lifestyle).
2. Do you have a clear value proposition that you can build your business on? Or do you need to take the time to create a value proposition that stakeholders support?
3. What behavior have you observed in your most engaged customers? Least engaged? Remember that you can learn from both.
4. How does your target cohort currently use technology, if at all?
5. How is your consumer currently interacting with you? List the top five methods of engagement.
6. Can you trust your insights? Cross-check them and look for replicable results.
7. Does your insight clearly differentiate you from your competitors?
8. Are you replacing something that’s already being done elsewhere?
9. Is there a market for this?
10. Is the product already on the market? What customer-service feedback do you have and how might this serve as a source of insight gathering?
11. Is this an ancillary product? Look at the current journey of your customer in your attempt to meet this need.

Lastly, remember these points: look through an external lens, define the unmet need you want to solve, gain a deep understanding of the end user’s points of friction or dissatisfaction, begin to see ways to reduce the unknowns.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Jeannette Mcclennan and Flavio Masson. Excerpted from their new book Innovators Anonymous, Seven Steps To Get Your Product Off The Ground.

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