Validation vs. Discovery

Recently a friend of mine asked me for some advice.  This past summer he had hired a marketing firm to provide some market feedback for a product expansion his team was proposing for 2015 funding.  Earlier in the week his team sat through the research presentation and read through the data, but still was still perplexed as to how to proceed.  The report and presentation were well done; complete with market size, competitive analysis, revenue forecasts, and a summary of customer surveys and interviews.  There had been 25 questions asked of every customer interviewed, and the resulting data was tallied and pivoted in every way possible.   But after one look at the qualitative customer data, it was clear that the questions asked were built around the answers that the company already knew.  The questionnaire asked about all of the features and benefits the product team had thoughtfully planned for in the business case.   No wonder he and his team were perplexed.  They had hired a market research team to validate a business idea; not to provide true insight.  

Questions like “What do you like about this? How would you use this?” immediately focus the customer on the part of the product the company deems important and asks them to comment on that item.  This creates a huge risk and potential disconnect by skipping over the vital question of whether that product element is important to the customer.  “What do you like about the design of this backpack?” is a very different question from “What do you carry with you on a regular basis? Of those items, which do you use the most?”   With the second question you learn about workflow, about customer priorities, about the target customer’s day to day experience.  With the first question, you get the customer’s opinion on something you pointed out to him.  “I like that is has a big zipper at the top of the bag.”   Which information will be more important to your product’s development?  Which will help you to best meet revenue expectations?

Uncovering insight takes more than talking with your customer, more than asking him to comment on your product plan.  Insight thrives on questions like “How come?  Do you have an example of that?  What happens when…? And “tell me more about that.”  Insight builds when you find commonalities in customer workflow, language, experiences, and stories.   And insight delivers when you map those discoveries to your product development plan.  

Is your market research validating your product idea or is it helping you to discover your company’s next true innovation?