Corporations , User , Scaleups — 09.16.2022

The Art of Conducting Product Research for Innovation

Katie Lukes, VP, Product Strategy & Research

Research is the bridge between an innovator’s dream and the real world. For your digital product to live and thrive, it needs more than just code. For it to solve real pains, hook users, provide delight, become minimally viable, and capture imagination, it needs something that’s not inherently hard to create, but challenging to get right: context.

As a product leader, you must understand and model the world the product is going to live in, from both user and buyer perspectives. So how does research build context for product management, design, and product marketing?

Context for Product Management

Every innovator wants to build something that changes the world. Product managers help you choose the right path forward. 

With research, product managers determine what to build and for whom. Then they prioritize the features your designers will create by researching the following questions. 

How and when do users experience the problem?

An innovation is a hypothesis that a user has a problem that needs solved. To test the hypothesis, you must start by knowing your users. 

Users might not realize they need a solution. Often, they’ll acknowledge a pain, but they might not know what’s causing it. Let their feedback guide your team to the core challenge they face. 

What demographics should we research to better understand our users?

While there’s likely one problem to uncover, users can experience it in different ways. Research reveals whether a problem is more or less painful for a given group of people within your audience. 

Demographics determine the groups you should research. Gender and age are obvious factors for a more consumer-oriented solution, but there are endless ways to group your users or buyers. 

Here are a few:

  • User geography
  • Job type
  • Urban vs. rural
  • Experienced vs. novice
  • Education level
  • Family size

How does your audience currently solve the problem?

Anything your audience uses to solve a problem today is competition (and inspiration) for the solution you’re creating. 

Research should uncover: 

  • The steps they take today to solve their problem
  • The tools they use
  • What they enjoy about the process
  • What’s frustrating or expensive

What’s their environment like? Do they have access to Wifi? A mobile device? Digital solutions must fit into an environment with specific requirements. 

What’s their dream for a magic tool?

Users often have some idea of their ideal world, even if it’s not practical. Giving users or buyers the freedom to dream will reveal creative solutions or features. 

Focus on why they’re asking for it, not what they’re asking for.

Imagine you are Dropbox, and you hear customers asking for larger storage plans. As you learn why, you discover they want more storage because they save a new document copy for every version they make of a file when collaborating with their team. By digging deeper into the why, you prioritize better collaboration in your platform (Dropbox Paper) and file versioning (Smart Sync). 

It’s tempting in this type of research to describe the potential solution and ask, “Would you use this?” Nine times out of ten, the answer will be “yes” because people are generally nice and want to be helpful to you. It’s fine to ask questions around a potential solution but save it until the end when you’ve exhausted all other questions. 

Context for User Experience

Knowing what the user’s world is like now will establish pillars for your product’s user experience

What is your user’s relationship with technology?

You may assume technology is only an issue with certain demographics — maybe older generations who don’t have as much experience with digital products.

The truth is different industries approach technology differently. Certain industries have been slower to pick up newer conventions, so it’s good to find out how your innovations might affect their experience.

What are the key workflows and metrics that matter most to them?

At a minimum, research should show the steps users take to accomplish a task. It should also reveal what’s most important to the various roles who may interact with the new solution. 

Ask your users: 

  • What are they held accountable for?
  • What do they do to be successful?
  • What is keeping them from being successful now?

What’s the right tone for this product?

Friendly or clinical? Witty or serious? Research shows us the tone your users will understand and appreciate. 

It’s important to remember that a given product might have very distinct user groups which interact with the product in completely different ways. This is particularly common with B2B2C products where the consumer may interact with a completely different product than the business users. As a result, you may need different tones and workflows in one product.

Context for Product Marketing

Developing the right positioning, messaging and visual identity for your product requires insight into your buyers’ thinking, especially when your buyer is different from your user. 

What metrics matter to your buyer?

Buyer priorities can differ greatly from user priorities. Research will empower product marketing with the right information to resonate with each group.

How does the user’s problem surface for the buyer?

What are the negative effects that a buyer experiences? While a user might have a tactical problem, reaching a buyer means speaking their language and understanding what they value most. Since your buyer likely identifies their pain with different language than your product marketing, research will uncover the best opportunities to reach them. 

How does the buyer approach purchases?

Research is also a great opportunity to discover barriers that keep people from making a purchase. 

Ask your audience:

  • What are some common objections? 
  • What is the process they must go through to make a purchase? 
  • How long is that process?

Aim for Action

Research can be paralyzing and slow progress, so it’s important to recognize when you start seeing diminished returns. The key is to do just enough: document what you find, communicate what you learn with stakeholders and iterate often.

Most importantly, turn what you learn into concrete progress. While research sets you up for success, success doesn’t arrive until you actually bring a product to market. 

Innovation and solutions are just educated guesses. But research will arm you with knowledge and eliminate misleading assumptions standing in your way. Using the right research techniques to build context helps you make the most educated guess possible.

Ready to validate, test or explore your idea? Find out how our product strategy experts can help you with research.