When it comes to mobile products, not all research methods are created equal.
I was having a discussion a few months back with someone about this very topic. When I posed the question “How should I go about gathering initial research from consumers to find out if we need an app?” the response I received went something like this:
Make a long list of all of the features you think your consumers would want in an app. Then, show them the list and have them pick out their top five or 10 favorites. Do this via an online survey.
While surprising, that type of response for mobile product research is pretty common—and the wrong decision. Online surveys have their time and place, but it’s not in product research.
There are many reasons online surveys—or any kind of survey, for that matter—are the wrong approach for product research, but the main one is that you’re not identifying needs that a consumer might not know they have and you’re not gathering this data in the context of how and when a consumer might use your product.
For example, when I’m shopping for cars online, I love the idea of the GPS systems. I think “Man, it sure would be nice to have one of those in my next car.” If I were filling out a survey, I’d for sure be checking the box next to the GPS system.
But do I really need the GPS system? No. Why? Because I already have a great GPS system on my phone that works fine, and I rarely need to use GPS when I’m driving. If a researcher came along for my test drives, they’d quickly figure that out.
The GPS system is like your laundry list of product features—they’re nice, but they’re not needed, and they don’t solve a problem that I might not know about.
The bottom line is that surveys and focus groups tell you what people might do, what they think they should do, or what they typically do. Watching people’s real behavior will tell you what they actually do.
Which research method is best?
So if surveys don’t do the trick, what does? The answer lies in an inefficient but highly effective method: ethnography.
Ethnographic research gets you down to a one-on-one level of interaction with consumers to find out what they’re actually doing and allows you to gather behavioral insights. This is important because these individual behaviors show how people (will) interact with your product in the context of how they’ll achieve their goals.
Gathering behavior insights is easy: be in the place where the behavior occurs and talk to people who are doing the behavior.
The goal of gathering behavioral insights is to both understand people and empathize with them. It’s also good to know the difference between understand and empathy. The first is gaining knowledge. The second is gaining feelings.
If you want to empathize with a segment of people over the problems they’re facing, you want to choose the people who will allow you to watch real behavior occur.
For example, if you’re trying to solve the problem of preparing healthy, delicious meals during the week on a tight deadline, you’ll want to choose people who are actually struggling with the problem and see the problem in action—in their kitchen. Sit at their table or counter and watch them, but don’t help. Record everything you see, hear, and feel.
If you select people who have that as a problem but always pick something up to eat on the way home, you’re not really understanding the root of their problem because you’re not seeing what their routine and schedule are like from the time they walk in the door after work until they put the food on the table. You can’t solve a problem you know nothing about.
The ultimate goal of product research is try to feel how other people feel in a certain situation. The more different ways you can try this out or the amount of times you can try it, the closer you’ll get to approximating their feelings.