Steve Jobs and Henry Ford had a lot in common. They both created devices that changed the way the world looks in 2012. They were both famously stubborn in their design choices and feelings on customer opinion. And they both make a great case for market research while arguing against its importance in product design.
When speaking about product research, Jobs famously said “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” These feelings were echoing a quote from Ford, often referenced by Jobs. Ford questioned the value of market research, stating his invention of the car would not have happened through product research. He said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faste
All this may sound like an argument against online panel product research. In fact, it’s an argument for the right kind of product research. It’s an argument for understanding over direct information. What we should learn from these quotes is that it’s not enough to just ask people what they want. You need to find out about your target market, to understand their lives and define their needs. In order to do that, there are three factors you need to keep in mind.
Choose the Right Demographic
If successful product research relies on understanding your target market, the first step is to figure out who that market is made up of. Online panels can be really helpful, because they contain ready-made groups of people across a wide range of demographics. As you develop your product, you need to figure out which demographic you want to target.
The key choice you need to make is whether to go broad, or specific. If you’re producing a mainstream product like a smartphone, you’ll want to get information across a number of demographics. But if your product is more business oriented, you may want to be specific and focus on a certain age group or those living in a specific location perhaps.
Choose the Right Questions
Once you’ve defined who you want to target, you need to figure out what to ask them. The key to good product research is understanding customer needs. You don’t just ask what people want. Instead you should create questions that ask people about their habits; try to define their daily needs.
These questions will also rely on the type of product you may be developing. You need to make sure you focus the questions on the issues that relate to your product. If you’re developing a travel mug you need to ask about their commute, but there’s no point in asking people about TV watching habits. However, product research for a smartphone may require questions on both subjects.
Spot the Important Results
When you’re performing product research, the key is how you interpret your results. It’s not enough to just collate the information; you need to understand what that information means. In Ford’s example, people asked for faster horses. What he understood was that people didn’t really mean faster horses. They wanted a more efficient method of transport.
Apple did the same thing with the iPod. When they saw people looking for smaller, more efficient ways to carry albums for their Walkman. They saw that people weren’t really looking for a way to carry more physical albums. The physical object didn’t matter. They wanted to carry more music.
An online panel is a powerful product research tool because it makes it easier to access the demographic you want and ask the important questions. The challenge is knowing what people really mean when they ask for faster horses.