July 27, 2022
A few years back, I asked for salt at an upscale restaurant. The haughty maître d responded, "There's no reason for salt. The food is perfect when it comes out of the kitchen." It reminded me of handoffs from R&D and manufacturing to marketing. "The product is perfect the way it is," and, by the way, here are the specs that will sell it." Sometimes their suggestions are spot on, and sometimes they're way off. And you're stuck selling the product without any real consumer insight.
What is customer insight?
Usually, it's a strategic idea based on crawling into the head of the buyer to understand their perceptions of the product, barriers to sale, and the product position in the market and vis-a-vis of the competition.
Research cancels a launch
A great example of failing to develop consumer understanding comes from our research project for a large multinational. Before launch, we moderated a set of focus groups to gauge doctors' reactions to a new diagnostic device. The consistent feedback was that none of the doctors needed the tool, and they would, at most, pay no more than $100 for the $15,000 product. The launch was canceled. Though disappointing, the medical device company saved thousands of dollars on marketing, tradeshow presence, and sales force education.
Probing for Insight
Whether you pursue formal focus groups (the best) or granny research (not so much), you need to talk with and listen to consumers. The earlier in the development process, the better.
Granny research is usually conducted by someone in the marketing department (like you). Typically, it's handled over lunch or on the phone for a one-on-one. You'll concisely outline the product to them, determine interest, likelihood to purchase, reaction to the device's appearance, if you have a prototype or a rendering, and even pricing. The results will be biased because you'll know the people you're talking to, and they won't want to disappoint.
By contrast, focus groups (qualitative research) are conducted anonymously by an outside agency, like Biotica, to prevent bias. A trained moderator, who is familiar with your product, will lead the group. They'll sequence questions in the proper order, pose them to prevent bias, and react to strategy or creative boards. The respondents will be randomly selected from a list of doctors or other consumers. Then you can segment the group to create segments, for example, current customers and non-customers.
The feedback will be more detailed and actionable, and you can gain feedback about marketing approaches and product positioning. If you're using research to make a high-stakes decision, like "no" or "not go," you'll want a quantitative study (surveys, for example) with a much larger respondent base that can report answers with a probability similar to a poll with a margin of error.
Yes, research is an investment, but one with high returns, like consumer insight that profoundly impacts your launch's success.
Humans still need to make decisions based on research, but you deserve to work with the best information available.