What a smart partnership by Mattel to engage Ashley Graham to revitalize the Barbie brand. Not only does Mattel's newest choice of Barbie model reflect the more realistic portrayal a woman's body as critics have been demanding for years, but they also showcase the perhaps previously unseen design and craftsmanship that goes into making each Barbie doll. Incredible brand story update by Mattel. I'm now as impressed by their design and manufacturing process as I am by their marketing prowess.
It is really important to build a feedback mechanism into your product, especially during beta testing and early releases of your product. Here are a few reasons why:
1) Build customer loyalty - Your customers really want you to succeed, and they really want to tell you how to be successful. They have chosen to be your customer because they conceptually like what you have to offer and you are filling a need. If they like your product they want to make sure you thrive because they rely on you. If they don't like your product they want you to fix the things that make it painful to use. As they say, everyone has an opinion, and everyone wants to be heard. If you ask your customers for their opinion they will feel valued. And if you actually listen and respond to them, they will become infinitely loyal advocates of your product.
2) Prioritize enhancements - It is really easy to take on too much too fast when developing a new product or service. I have seen some scary examples of companies trying to conquer the world by building every feature imaginable into their product at once. Unfortunately this typically means that none of the features are well thought out, and the entire user experience suffers. Rather than developing all of the bells and whistles into your product up front, take some time to read through your users' feedback. It doesn't take long to identify patterns as to the enhancements the majority of your customers would like to see. Of course users don't always know exactly what they want, but they will give you some great insight into the problems they face.
3) Generate more revenue - By cultivating a loyal customer base and developing a high quality product that meets your customers' needs you will by default generate more revenue as your customers evangelize the product they helped you build.
So now that you're sold on why to ask your customers for their honest feedback, let me give you an example of a company that does an amazing job at facilitating this process.
I recently started using Action Method by Behance to manage my own daily tasks as they relate to both client projects and personal initiatives. Sean actually got me hooked on their project management notebooks a few months ago after he came across them at a design conference. While there are a number of amazing project management tools available online, what I love about Action Method is their unique methodology that helps transform creative brainstorming sessions into actionable next steps.
While I first became a fan of their "offline" paper products, I soon craved more organizational excellence from Behance. I ventured to their website and discovered that they had recently launched an online project management tool. I immediately signed up and started playing with the web app. Once I became addicted to their web application, I wanted a mobile app. I noticed that they had cleverly placed a feedback button in the bottom right hand corner of the application:
I clicked on it, and an easy-access feedback window appeared:
I didn't even have to leave the screen I was on to tell them how much I liked their new product and that I would be overwhelmed with joy if I could access all of my projects and tasks from my iPhone. To my astonishment I received a personal message from a Behance employee the very next day thanking me for my feedback, and letting me know that since a number of other users had also requested an iPhone app they were in the process of developing a mobile version of the Action Method for the iPhone.
As if this customer outreach from Behance wasn't enough to make me feel valued, a few weeks later I received another email pre-announcing the quiet release of their new iPhone application, proactively asking for my feedback as well as an early review of the app in the iTunes app store. What brilliant marketing to request that their most passionate, vocal users download and rate their application first. As a result, Behance gained a very loyal customer, obtained valuable user-suggested feature requests and functionality enhancements, and ultimately prompted me to promote their product through this blog post. I can guarantee that they will ultimately generate more revenue from me not just because they gave me the opportunity to speak to them, but because they not only listened, they answered.
Someone asked me the other day how their company should go about conducting market research before the next release for their social media website. How did I feel about blanket surveys, they asked.
It surprises me how many companies don't conduct any market research when they develop their products. It almost seems as though the concept is too abstract and cliché for some companies to bother with. So what is market research anyway, and why would you want to do it?
According to NetMBA, "In marketing, the term market refers to the group of consumers or organizations that is interested in [your] product, [and] has the resources to purchase [your] product...". According to Entrepreneur.com, a target market is "A specific group of consumers at which a company aims its products and services". In other words, markets are groups of people. In my opinion, this means that if you are planning on conducting market research, you should make every effort possible to actually talk to people. Ideally, you must talk to the very people that you want, hope, and expect to buy your product before you get too far down the line developing hard to use, rarely used, or even irrelevant features into your product.
I have seen passionate founders and engineers rapidly build and release products and services that make them wild with delight. Yes, the founders and engineers are elated at the features they included, but scratch their heads when users don't find the functionality nearly as delightful. It is so easy to create your product in a silo, and get so deep into the development that you forget to perform a reality check with the outside world. And let's face it, a start-up with resources already stretched to near breaking point usually has neither the time nor the money for fancy usability labs and focus groups. That's ok. Just start by identifying 3-5 unbiased, objective users to run your ideas by before you start to build.
Really, that's it. You would be amazed at how much information you can get by just talking to a handful of people about your plans for features, GUI design, or roadmap prioritization. In my experience, you very quickly start to hear users repeating the same frustrations, concerns, requests, or enthusiasm about the product and features when you take the time to ask and listen. Casual conversations with as few as three dedicated users can help you identify trouble spots or confirm that you are on the right path.
For prioritization and potential new features, find out who your most active users are, and ask if they have a few minutes to meet with you or speak with you on the phone. For usability testing, recruit some friends of friends that are far enough removed from the product that they can be true "new user" test subjects. For product improvement and competitive research, reach out to a few users who have reduced their engagement and ask them why. To get in the door with large corporate clients, tell them you would love their feedback on a new service you've designed to solve their critical business challenge.
The hardest part about talking to your users is being able to take the feedback. Make sure you have someone who is capable of just listening and absorbing what your users have to say without feeling the need to explain or defend the product. If you can, get permission to videotape the conversation and the user interacting with the product so you can show the gang back home. People always "get it" and believe the feedback more when they see it with their own eyes.
If you want to build an extremely loyal following while gathering priceless user feedback, take a lesson from Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora. For as long as I can remember, Tim has hit the road on a very regular basis to listen to Pandora users at his "town hall meet-ups" at universities and other cool locations throughout the U.S. Check out the roadtrip archives on the Pandora blog to see evidence of how Tim conducts "real" market research.