Some of the key challenges when working towards building a product is facing the uncertainty of the product/ feature and its success. There are many mantras and blueprints available which tell you how to build successful products. However, these mantras are difficult to execute within organizations as they can be a real drain in terms of expertise, cost & time.
So, if we were to travel down the list of steps to be taken to build a successful product, one of the first things that all product building blueprints would suggest is:
“Listen to your customers to identify problems, don’t listen to their solutions.”
Consumers today are dynamic, involved, thinking, responding, reacting and evolving personas. Consumers also have a great deal of information at their disposal, they understand what technology can do for them and what is being done. Their willingness to pay for a feature depends not only on how well the feature solves their core problem but many other factors.
So, apart from the arduous challenge of conducting a statistically valid and viable consumer research which would lead to any actionable insights, how does one go about understanding the consumers, and how does one translate that understanding into product features and creating value?
How do we know we are on the right track while building a solution?
The answer lies in applying the right methods at all stages of product lifecycle. It starts right from the beginning product conceptualisation stage. This approach applies to both B2C and B2B products.
Consumer/ Market Research & Insights becomes an important starting point in the journey to building a successful product. At this step, the endeavour is to understand as much of the existing information as possible.
After all the product is for the user, hence must be built for them to use, for their convenience and as they prefer. Their convenience and preferences are the insights we seek to ensure we meet expectations, thus, making the product successful.
These insights contribute towards establishing the core value proposition and the product category.
The User Personas are used by the product and design teams to understand consumers, their problems and work towards building solutions. User personas are a brief sketch or snapshot of a consumers or target segments preferences, lifestyle, value systems, activities, etc.
These help understand what are the different scenarios user faces in their day to day lives and how they would interact with products or how they would want to have certain problems solved. In B2B products, user personas may be replaced by user roles and responsibilities.
Empathy Map is perhaps the most important tool at the disposal of a product manager & the design team to understand the consumer and their needs. However, Empathy maps are easily misused, mainly because personal bias creeps into our thought process as this exercise is not conducted in a controlled environment.
In fact, most product conceptualization discussions are empathy map discussions in disguise.
The best scenario is to conduct focused interviews/ group discussions with a sample set of one’s consumers to get the relevant insights. However, this may be laborious and may require expertise, process and resources. We can also use the user personas and substitute for the consumers themselves, however, the discussion has to be moderated to ensure that the suggestions, insights are true to the consumer’s persona.
Here’s how to conduct an Empathy Mapping exercise:
A team size of 4–5 members or more (who are familiar with the target audience persona) is recommended with different backgrounds for this exercise.
The team is then instructed to recollect/ suggest possible scenarios encountered by the consumers. This has to be done without having too many restrictions except limiting the brainstorming agenda to the related areas relevant to the lifestyle/ function being addressed by the proposed product.
What does the user say?This quadrant is dedicated to capturing what the user typically says to friends/ family/ colleagues, etc. about the relevant product/ lifestyle/ function/ feature. Team members can recall or hypothesize insights here. The moderator will have to take a call on whether it is true to the user persona under discussion.
What does the user think?As the user is going through the experience of dealing with relevant scenarios like using/sharing or talking about the product/ functionality, what are the main thoughts occupying the user’s mind.
What does the user do?What are the user’s typical actions related to the product? How does the user go about taking those actions? What are the consequences of such actions?
Here data can play a big role in analysing user actions. Typically using heat-maps, usability studies and other analytic tools give very accurate insights into what the user does. There could be very straightforward identification of problems and solutions at this step.
The Main challenge at this step is understand the rationale for the user’s action and also user’s reaction to the experience or interaction with the product.
What the User feels?Finally we also discuss what the user feels as he is going through each of the other process like what he does or what he thinks. These Emotional states indicate whether user is positively inclined or negatively inclined towards the given experience.
Once the above four are sufficiently addressed, there should a good number of points which should be available for further processing.
Establishing the Pain and Gains of the consumer.Some of these Insights and Ideas would be indicating pain points for the users and may need to be solutioned for and some of the insights could be making the customer feel better or put him in a positive frame of mind. These would be things consumer gains.
The next step is to prioritize the pain and gain points for potential solutions. How to prioritize is a whole another topic for another day.
In conclusion, These steps are a pre-cursor to any product building activity. The degree to which any business may immerse itself is a choice. Some of the big advantages gained are:
- Identifying & addressing core problem areas for the consumers.
- Envisioning conveniences and preferences for the customers creating enhanced value.
- Being able to envision a differentiated product offering.
- Being able to prioritise the scope of the product/ feature based on value for the consumers and business.
- Being able to define the solution architecture of the product with future scope in mind.
The insights gained at this step help all aspects of getting the product to the consumers. This includes product marketing plans, sales and even engineering teams.Companies starting out and many organizations skip this step or go through it with intuition rather than as a trained exercise often resulting in partial solutions or products.
Investing in these steps as an exercise to stay relevant and true to your consumers would go a long way in building successful products