Only 10-20% of new products and services succeed on the market, most launches fail for a plentiful of reasons. Very common are conceptual mistakes in market research.

We all have participated in endless conversations on customer centricity. As Harvard Business Review puts it, the infamous adage of Henry Ford “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” has been trotted out. Market research today isn’t fighting about customer centricity anymore, but how to be customer centric at best.

Average research leads to average results. So go for extremes!

Design Thinking has pointed out one major flaw in market research’s ability to gain insights for radical innovations: the sampling of data. In often-applied quantitative market research you’re looking for statistically representative samples. This is because you want to understand the identified target group in a precise manner.

For that, extreme data points are usually left out not to bias the objective point of view. The result is quite a tautology: You only come up with average, incremental products because you only look at average users. But what is really wanted are wild, unexpected observations leading to meaningful and radical ideas.

3 Extreme Steps To Better Understand UsersHow can that be done? “Understand and gain empathy for extreme users!”, is one answer Design Thinking provides. Why does this work so well? Because extreme users amplify needs and behaviors of target groups that would otherwise stay hidden.

How To: 3 Easy Steps

So the idea is to identify extreme users, analyze their behaviors and derive needs, which apply to ordinary users. To do so, you may follow these steps:

  • What functional design aspects do you want to look into? For instance, you may want to understand activities people carry out at bus stops while waiting, or understand how the boarding process there works.
  • Which extreme users can you think of for these design aspects? For example, homeless people staying at the bus stop use them as shelters for a good fraction of the day, or tourists not speaking the local language may encounter serious communication problems when entering buses.
  • Engage extreme users in a conversation and / or observe them. Why are they doing, what they’re doing? A rule of thumb is to ask “Why?” two more times after it already gets awkward to ask more. But don’t be afraid to dig deeper. You really want to understand why people do things. Be as curious as a child.

The insights you’re getting will often be wild. Some might not apply to ordinary users – but some definitely will, and point to needs that many will people have. These are the nuggets you can then work with to come up with amazing solutions that really matter.

As you can see, extreme users provide helpful cues helping you to understand your target group better. Going beyond rationality and representativeness will make a difference.

Photo Credits: AFP Photo / Brendan Smialowski