So you’re looking to be more innovative, create a new product, connect with more people or maybe have a great new business idea. Whatever you do next, don’t focus on research reports or hiring a market research firm to do surveys and focus group type activities.
If I am assuming correctly, your real goal is not to look up population demographics or industry statistics or find out what customers favorite colors are. It’s to get the thing you want to create “right” the first time so people will use it, buy it, donate money or whatever it is that makes you successful.
Now you may be thinking that you just need to ask the right questions about people’s preferences or test some new features — and the fastest and easiest way to do this will be with a few focus groups or sending out surveys. And you’d be right. This is fast and easy — but you actually don’t learn much from it that will make you create the “right” thing the first time around.
Most of the companies I have seen who used traditional market research services only got the answers that re-enforced their original assumptions. The questions and format of the research was either structured to give them a predetermined result or the data was used to tell the story they already wanted to tell themselves.
I don’t want to place blame on these companies or the market research agencies. Each is just “doing their jobs”. The company needs to support a decision that they can’t really turn their back on. After all when they finally do get an idea through the meetings, committees and other bottlenecks to the point where they might actually take action on something — who wants to be the one that says the idea from 12 months ago was actually bad and doesn’t really work now.
If you hire a market research agency you have to realize that they have never built or sold physical products or software-as-a-service or led a non-profit. They sell reports and data that reassures their clients that the decisions they have already made are the “right” ones. You wouldn’t have hired them if you knew they were just going to tell you that your idea was wrong and that you should start back at square one. And you certainly won’t hire them again if they do.
Besides, market research is not designed to help you find real innovation anyway. The research usually makes broad categorizations that assume 1 person equals another 1,000 or 10,000. So they are starting with the 10,000 in mind and structuring the best ways to talk to the masses. But who did they actually talk with at any meaningful level of depth.
Why is it so rare that when the research is conducted by most agencies no one literally sits down and talks with 30, 40 or 50 individuals 1-on-1? Why is it that many market research agencies spend less time talking with their “focus groups” than they do with their own friends over a Starbucks? Why is it that most market research happens in a sterile office instead of where people use the stuff that you are trying to create?
A crazy thing happens when you actually talk to customers individually and in their environments — you get the truth. You see the real side of them and the nonverbal signals that tell you your new product idea sucks. And if you’re looking for it, you can see when they are secretly telling you they would never-never-ever use your service even as they are openly saying “that sounds like a good idea … I might give it a try when it comes out”.
This is not rocket science — it’s just people being people. They act differently in groups than they do alone. They act differently in public than they do alone. They say they do things one way while they are literally doing things the exact opposite in front of you. People even answer survey questions differently than from how they act — because they act on instinct and they respond to questions with consideration and thoughtfulness.
If you want real insights and need to know if what you’re creating will be “right” the first time, take the time to talk to more people. Spend time observing them in their daily routines, warts and all. Ask challenging questions about their habits, actions and emotions. Their guard won’t even be let down in the 1st hour of the conversations and that’s the max length of many focus groups I’ve seen conducted. And do you really think these individuals are behaving in the same way they would at home or work when no one is watching?
However, there is one more secret. If you are the person or the company with the great new idea, you have to be ready to leave your old idea behind. Because once you go on the real journey of talking with a bunch of individuals, you will discover an even better new product, connect with more people on a deeper level, and come up with better ideas.
If you don’t think the method I described is true, just ask someone who has successfully created a product or service how much the final idea resembled the one they started with and how they came to figure it out.