The Voice of the Customer – How Market Research Leads to Product Success

What is the best way to truly understand your customers’ needs? That’s right, just ask them. It seems simple enough, however many companies and product development teams omit this vital step in the process.

Why Is Research So Vital?

For the companies who engage in market research the findings are invaluable. The information captured during research exposes consumers’ likes and dislikes of a product and its features. It gives a glimpse of the future of a product or category and often generates new concept direction. Research gives the design team a look into the consumers’ mind and an opportunity to tweak designs to compare one against the other until the final design is exactly what the consumer wants and the price he is willing to pay. Compare it to an eye exam. As the doctor flips the lens, the patient tells him which is better. The same applies to product research, giving the designer the best opportunity to hit a homerun.

In addition to capturing the emotional and behavioral response of a product, research can also raise a red flag when you are heading in the wrong direction. For example, if focus groups of parents tell you they will not pay $100 for a certain type of toy as it is presented; you can almost guarantee that it will fail on the market if you ignore their warnings. This finding is certainly invaluable when you compare the cost of re-evaluating the product to the cost of failing in the market place.

As markets and consumer expectations change, knowing who your customer is and how they spend their money becomes more and more important. And, just when you think you know who the customer is and what they need or want, it changes. Research gives strong evidence of who the customer is and how to best reach them. More importantly, when used over a period of time, trends and market changes can become more easily identified. Analyzing the history of the research also reminds the team how the consumer and the product have changed over its lifecycle, which may lead to new areas of interest for future product development.

As consumers have become more savvy, so have retail buyers. They have come to expect companies to perform due diligence as proof that a new concept, category or design will be successful. The most effective way to do this is to present the new product through the eyes of the consumer, through market research. Without this, you must rely on cold statistics, studies and your “gut feel”.

In addition, rising product liability concerns have increased the need for product research. Understanding how users interact with products and the assembly, use and misuse of products has quickly become an important effort in liability consideration. Fortunately, liability concerns can often be seamlessly tied into many research methods, allowing companies to gather demographic, preference, market, trend and liability data with the same research program.

Types of Market Research

Market research can be very flexible, based on project needs and budget. There are several research methods that can be used throughout the product development process.

Focus groups

Focus groups typically consist of a group of participants and a moderator. The moderator asks the group questions to begin interactive dialogue. This research method is an excellent way to learn why people make the choices they do. The group dynamics often leads to uncovering new ideas and unidentified needs.

Mall Intercepts and Surveys

While focus groups concentrate on the “whys”, surveys focus on “what proportion”. Surveys can be implemented as a mall intercept, where consumers are individually interviewed in a mall or retail establishment, by telephone or through an online survey. All of these methods can successfully gather quantitative information quickly and accurately, however due to intellectual property concerns, care should be taken when using online surveys to gain opinions on concept sketches, etc.

Observation Studies

Observation research studies, a less formal research method, add a unique perspective to how consumers interact with products. By simply watching consumers interact with products in stores, you can gain great insight into their preferences and how products compete on the retail shelf.

Trend Research

Trend research should be considered during the brainstorming and concept phases of the product development process. Trend research often results in new category development and unexpected product applications. This is exactly how a new version of a classic themed product became a best seller at Target. While the Catalyst design team worked to address consumer assembly issues of an item currently in the market, they identified a niche opportunity that was a perfect fit for their client. After recognizing a grass roots affection for a nostalgic stool design, the team presented the idea of re-introducing the stool design to the client’s marketing team, but with modern improvements for the mass market. Just like that, Catalyst had identified an opportunity that became hugely successful simply by taken the unbeaten path during trend research. This type of research can include things like internet research, retail audits, industry and non-industry related trade shows or other events to name a few.

Choosing the Research Team

The people included in the research team can range from corporate level management to marketing assistants. Market research companies may also be included for the design, facilitation and data analysis of the program. However, for product specific research, studies show that the inclusion of product designers (internal or external) plays a valuable role for several reasons.

First, designers view the world from a unique perspective. They can often capture and sketch participants’ ideas on the spot for clarification. This is particularly valuable when weeding out product concepts or brainstorming new concepts.

Second, a strong designer takes personal ownership in his designs. Since designers are intimate with the product, they offer valuable input on things like questions that are asked and what type or how many concepts should be included in the research. In addition, the design team may need feedback in areas that other members of the team may not consider as valuable. Designers want to understand customer needs and expectations, but in order to do that, they need to see and hear the participants’ feedback first hand. Both positive and negative feedback challenge the design team to see their concepts through the eyes of the consumer. It challenges them to dig deeper into their design not only to meet consumer expectations, but to exceed them.

The few product development companies who understand the importance and value that research adds to the product development process actually integrate market research services into their process. While careful not to let the market research consume the team, budget and timeline, they and their clients often rely on research results to validate concept direction, cost/value clarification and feature/benefit preference.

As odd as it may sound, market research results are often considered among the list of “authorities” during the decision-making process, especially since research results should be reviewed by non-linear disciplines within the group. Consider this example: marketing team members will tune into cost/value comments and suggestions while product designers will most likely focus on ergonomic/style feedback. At the same time, engineering representatives will weigh fit and function comments more heavily than others. Relying on only one of these interpretations is short-sided, leaving significant opportunity on the table. It is the combination of these perspectives and the pure, honest consumer feedback that helps companies determine product direction with confidence.

Market Research Leads to Product Success

The inclusion of market research in the product development process can often make the difference between success and failure. Rather than assuming the team has all of the answers, engaging in one or more of these research methods can confirm your position, raise a red flag to a potential issue, identify a new opportunity, validate cost versus value or give them a new perspective on how their product is used and perceived in the marketplace. Market research increases the opportunity for success by removing all of the guess work and understanding your customers’ wants, needs and expectations simply by asking them!

The Advantages of Having Personal Productivity Software

Personal productivity software is an application that no business should be without. This is because of the simple fact that this piece of software makes a great contribution when it comes to ensuring productivity in the workplace. But if you are not too convinced about the importance of purchasing personal productivity software just yet, well, this is actually normal. A lot of business men do become wary when presented with the notion of purchasing such software because computer software is a bit pricey in the market right now. However, when presented with the many benefits businesses enjoy with these software applications, the activity of convincing businessmen becomes very, very easy to do.

So, why exactly do you need personal productivity software in running your business? First of all, this piece of software can give any type and size business the professional touch it needs. The software comes with applications and programs that make it very easy for you to produce professional looking letterheads, marketing reports, brochures, mailing campaigns, and the like. Even the simple act of developing professional looking paychecks is easily done with the use of such software as well. And this is just one of the minor benefits that come with such software!

When you get the basic package, you actually get a word processor, a spreadsheet application, presentation software, and the like. For a more cost-efficient option, you could consider getting one of those suites that contain a number of these tools. This way, you are sure to get more value for your money. Some examples of these suites include Microsoft Office, Sun Staroffice 8, Microsoft Works, or Corel WordPerfect Office. An interesting fact about Microsoft Works is that it actually comes free with personal computers. Aside from these suites, you can also choose to get supplementary software packages that can make your whole life easier.

One of the popular software packages includes QuickBooks. This choice is popular because it is known to be very efficient in handling and managing inventory and business finances, such as payroll and benefits packages. Now, with all these abilities, you have to be sure to allot a hefty budget for your suite of tool and the additional applications and programs you would be getting. The typical price for suites and the individual applications range from a hundred to five hundred dollars. So, if your PC is meant for more than just doing the regular email and the basics on word processing, then you should consider this option thoroughly.

You may also be worried about the hidden and recurring fees that might come with having personal productivity software installed in your system. Yes, they do come with long term costs, but these are just minimal when you compare them to the benefits you would come to enjoy with the software. An upgrade would occasionally be needed, especially after a few years or so with your own application suite. Plus, your business should be growing in a few years, right? Thus, it would make much sense to avail of this upgrade, to foster improvement for your company in the business setting. Do not worry too much about upgrade expenses because they would definitely be lower than that of the original purchase.

How Facilitation Skills Improve Meeting Productivity

Meetings take up a significant amount of time for employees in small and large organizations alike. At some point, employees at every level of the organization will have to attend a meeting with other employees to obtain information, participate in a brainstorming session, or for a number of other reasons. Yet when employees are in these meetings, they are costing the company money. If these meetings are unproductive, they will cost companies even more money because additional meetings will have to be held down the road. In order to have a good meeting, one needs:

  • Goals that are thoroughly explained and understood
  • A defined strategy for reaching these goals
  • Employees committed to arriving to the meeting prepared and ready to participate
  • A feeling among participants that their thoughts and ideas are valued

When a meeting lacks the qualities outlined above, it will be unsuccessful and the company will need to hold additional meetings. One way to ensure that these qualities are present is by putting an individual with facilitation skills in charge of the meeting. Since many organizations do not provide meetings training for employees, they usually end up having to hire someone from outside the organization to properly plan and run the organizational gathering. Hiring an individual with facilitation skills will prove beneficial before, during, and after the meeting.

Before the Meeting

The hired facilitator begins by meeting with organizational leaders in order to gain background information including specifics about the company, its industry, its goals, and its employees. This individual will also make sure to ask about the purpose of the meeting so that he or she can set goals for what the gathering should accomplish. This is the time when organizational leaders should inform the individual with facilitation skills about all known personality conflicts within the organization, so he or she can address these during the gathering. Once preliminary research is complete, he or she will type up a summary of this information and distribute it to participants before the meeting begins.

During the Meeting

Facilitators effectively oversee the meeting and make sure that all organizational goals for the meeting are met thanks to knowledge acquired through meeting training. He or she encourages member participation by asking questions to spur discussion and by helping shy employees to come out of their shells. Once everyone has had a chance to speak, the facilitator will use facilitation skills to help the group reach a consensus on which every team member has agreed.

Following the Meeting

When an individual with facilitation skills is put in charge, the meeting will be run so smoothly that fewer meetings are necessary in the future. In fact, the facilitator will ask members of each department whether they understand their role in reaching the organization’s objectives. By giving everyone a chance to ask questions before work begins, the organization is able to keep everyone on the same page.

Once an organization is ready to hire an individual with facilitation skills, it should check an online database of facilitators. Ideally, the company should find a facilitator who has completed meetings training.