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Getting Started with Product Research

Product research is frequently forgotten or pushed aside because of a lack of resources and understanding. In product research, you conduct qualitative and quantitative studies to develop a deeper understanding of current and potential customers. It reduces uncertainty in decisions and removes assumptions, helping to mitigate risk and focuses investments on concepts and features that will increase revenue and customer retention.

By investing in research, you’re able to:

  • Uncover current market pain points and opportunities that your team hasn’t discovered.
  • Eliminate rework by testing assumptions before launch.
  • Understand and anticipate market adoption.
  • Generate support for investment decisions.

Start by Finding or Defining KPIs

Every company has (or should have) Key Performance Indicators. Revenue is usually the metric most people pay most attention to, but it is a “lagging indicator” because you can’t do anything about last quarter’s numbers. The goal is to find more timely KPIs that we can leverage in weeks, not months.

If you have no idea where to start, I recommend following Google’s HEART framework.

Pick Your Methods

There are dozens of research methods. Here are a few that I’ve found particularly effective.

Surveys and Intercepts

Surveys and forms have primarily been the method marketing uses to gather product insights. Surveys are a cheap way to reach a large audience and an excellent place to start. They allow you to get a feel for customer engagement and retention without having to ask on an individual level. In product research, surveys are more frequently used for initial product development (like a beta) to gauge the success of a product — both from a customer acceptance and a development standpoint.

User Interviews

Customer and user interviews involve a candid conversation with a user in a more informal one on one setting. The goal of the user interview is to go in-depth with a particular user to determine their processes and thoughts. The ideal candidate to interview is one with buying power and influence. Find out why they use your client’s product and not the competitor’s, what lead them to that decision, what they like and are frustrated with about the product and any other thoughts they may have. Customer interviews can be time-consuming to set up but almost always lead to valuable new insights.

Field Research

Field research is similar to a customer interview but always takes place onsite with a customer. The goal is to understand your user(s) in their natural habitat. Most communication is nonverbal; look around at how people act, what they assume and what they write down because they struggle to recall. Field research broadens your understanding of your user base overall and allows researchers to feel more connected to their users. Frequently, field research is combined with additional formal user interviews; but don’t assume you have to come with a complex testing strategy. Just sit back and get ready to observe.

Industry Analysis

Industry analysis and insights look at the specific vertical and industry of the client and find trends and fads amongst the industry. From there, the UX professional can decipher what the client should parody or ignore in their product. A UX person could also bring over trends from another industry, such as what they see in retail over to manufacturing.

Want more methods? Check out this article from NNGroup

Test and Tie Back to KPIs

Testing is largely dependent on the method you pick. Identify your budget before testing and research will scale appropriately. With a small investment you can gather insights, but more profound insights will require a much more significant investment.

Create a Road Map

Product research with no action is ultimately useless. Create a road map or product strategy to ensure your team leverages research results. Your roadmap should include future research to be conducted, incremental progress that should be measured, testing schedule, a target audience and budget, and a plan for using discovered insights.