Is deep consumer research worth the cost?

Posted: August 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

I don’t know…

It depends on a host of factors including what’s being built/created, how much is in the budget and who’s developing the thing.  Let’s start with what’s being built or created and work our way down the line.

There have been a few articles written recently around mobile being the resurgence of ethnographic research, especially for digital agencies.  And it doesn’t take to much thought to figure out why.  There are certain variables that hold true pretty consistently when we’re on our computers.  Based on the time of day, the site we’re going to or the way we get there, pretty strong assumptions can be made around our intentions and how best to fulfill those.

In looking at mobile, your phone might as well be a third hand or sixth finger.  It’s attached to our bodies in a way that might only be surpassed by our wristwatch.  So when we’re developing solutions that may be used in a limitless number places, times and situations understanding human behavior within those situations becomes exponentially more important.

Point number two isn’t going to be all that insightful to be honest.  If there’s no money for research than you can’t really do it.  There’s always the argument of saying don’t do something without understanding who you’re building for but if we’re being truthful here it happens quite frequently.  This can be fun, it’s a guessing game where we depend on our own assumptions and grab as much information as we can before taking a leap of faith.  Just make sure in this case, whether it’s your boss or your client that expectations are measured.  We can do this fast/cheap or we can do it right, and it’s your call…I just want to make sure you know!

Finally it depends on who you are.

Why are so many tech companies successful when launching new products or even entirely new businesses without a wink of research.  It’s because they eat, sleep and breathe their demo…hell they are the demo.  So are all their friends, probably their entire social circle.  They live in perpetual ethnographic research, it makes fulfilling real needs much easier when you have this sort of insight.

At the same time this can be dangerous for businesses that start with a small niche market that the founders truly did have an understanding of.  Often as the business grows, the market diversifies and that initial assumption about understanding still holds true when it shouldn’t.  Make sure to constantly be checking yourself.  As we all know, the world changes pretty darn quick.


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