Seeking out and heeding customer input as early and as often as possible is often the key ingredient that can spell success or failure for budding businesses. But, far too many entrepreneurs fail to do this and therefore make key decisions (packaging, distribution, targeting) that cost them dearly down the line.
Honest feedback is what we do at TrySome. We help brands to give the people what they’re asking for, not what they think they want.
Give the people what they’re asking for, not what you think they want.
It’s also why I was so stoked to join the panel of experts on the topic of Customer Feedback and Market Research at the “Artists & Eats: Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs” event at their Soho location in NYC on International Women’s Day.
Here’s a recap of what we discussed or click here to see the blog post in full!
GET ACTIONABLE INPUT FROM THE RIGHT AUDIENCE(S):
Validate your target market; don’t make assumptions about who is buying your product and why.
Friends and family are not valid targets.
Ask specific questions of qualified customers that enable informed decisions.
Get feedback anonymously so that it will be honest.
Do not wait for everything to be “perfect” before gathering input.
Enable dialogue with your customers to gain feedback and build relationships.
DEDICATE EFFORTS TO TRULY KNOW AND LOVE YOUR CUSTOMERS
Observe, analyze and listen to create an avatar of your target customer(s).
Build on the avatar(s) over time; again don’t wait until everything is perfect.
Don’t be afraid to commit to a niche and work it.
Go beyond demographics to understand the human elements; what (and who) drives behavior and decisions.
YES, YOU CAN AFFORD TO DO MARKET RESEARCH!
Be creative with technology; tap into online polling/surveying tools that work for you.
Utilize your own online presence to gain feedback.
Consider the value that bringing in a pro can provide – saving valuable time, doing it right and moving you ahead more quickly.
Recognize how research can come from your day-to-day customer interactions. Favorite example of the night: Work a market to test your pricing; if 8 in 10 buy — your price is probably to low; if 2 in 10 buy — your price is too high!
BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR CAN BE HARD – AND LONELY – BUT DON’T FORGET SOME BUSINESS BASICS
PLAN; map out your vision and what it will take to get there from the beginning – even though it may change.
COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS cannot be overlooked; without it, how can you differentiate your product?
Let go and delegate when you can; it’s impossible to do it all if you want to grow.
“At its core, a brand is a promise to consumers. What will consumers get when they purchase a product or service under your brand umbrella? The brand promise incorporates more than just those tangible products and services. It also includes the feelings that consumers get when they use your products and services.” – Branding Strategy Insider
I asked four market research experts from MTV, J.P. Morgan, Meijer International and Union Bank to answer what that questions means to them.
This is what they said:
“In our world, it’s the brand of the company. As a retailer, this is tricky, because we sell products for many well-known brands. That said; we define brand as what our company stands for (services, products, etc.) and how we want customers to perceive us. We’re tasked with bringing the brand to life through content and creative, so it’s really about how we communicate through tone, visuals and story.”
– Brad Hileman, Director of Digital, Brand Development, Meijer Inc.
“The way a customer remembers you.”
– Xavier Corona, Vice President, Sr. Marketing Manager-Multicultural and GCM
Corporate Marketing, Consumer Lending, Union Bank
“Brand is the public ‘image’ or ‘perception’ of a given company. Brand is more than just a logo or name, it’s the “embodiment of a company and its’ values to the public.”
– Michael Rosenberg, Managing Director, Corporate and Investment Bank Marketing, J.P. Morgan
“Any brand that is turning old models on their heads, for example, mattress companies Caspar and Tuft & Needle that are calling BS on the outdated and opaque mattress industry model. These new brands offer Millennials exactly what they want – perfect design in both product and communications, transparent product details, free trials with no commitment, convenience, affordability and promise of perfection. Industries that try to pull the wool over consumers’ heads like Sleepy’s are dead. Millennials won’t stand for them.”
– Alison Hillhouse, Vice President of Insights Innovation, MTV
UChic is a mission-driven lifestyle brand whose products sales empower our teen girl consumers through scholarships. Our research found that 95% of young women in the U.S. lack the funding to pursue their dreams outside of the classroom. Knowing that these extracurricular experiences can change lives, we launched our company and foundation in 2013, and are getting set to launch our first product — the “Gracie,” a fashionable computer case for the classroom and beyond. The case, available right now through Indiegogo, will help fund the dreams of over 10 deserving young women with $1000 scholarships, kicking off the company’s on-going commitment to funding the dreams of young women through our product sales.
I was inspired to start UChic based on the success we’ve had in creating the best-selling guidebook to college written “for and by” young women — U Chic: The College Girl’s Guide to Everything (Sourcebooks 2013). Over 100,000 book copies have been sold since, and a fourth edition is in the works. Call me a Millennial, but I wanted to do more to empower our consumers.
What are the benefits of the Millennial consumer market when considering a new product launch? How does their involvement with brands influence their peers’ power to purchase as well as to the co-creation of products?
As a Millennial, I know first-hand how much our generation desires to have a “voice” in the world (that’s partly why I created UChic — to give my generation and younger a platform) and thanks to the technological advances we’ve seen happen over the past decade, we have more power than generations that came before us. From presidential campaigns to regime changes in the Middle East to new product design, Millennials are changing the course of “business as usual.”
From the research, we know that compared to older generations, Millennials have 200 more friends on Facebook and are more likely to use social media to express their feelings and opinions, which makes them more influential in their ability to spread the word farther and faster. As consumers, Millennials’ purchasing decisions are also more likely to be influenced by what their peers have to say, so it is critical for companies to figure out how to be a part of these conversations. One way to do it is to ask Millennials to help “co-create” the products they want.
What are the disadvantages of managing the expectations of Millennials when it comes to product development?
The desire for instant gratification in the digital age can make the millennial consumers’ expectation quite high when it comes to product development. If something goes wrong — and yes, even Facebook can get it wrong at times — Millennials are more likely to share their angst on social media. And because of their larger and stronger social networks, such despair can travel far and wide, becoming viral within a few hours of the first unhappy Tweet. Companies can manage these higher expectations by being transparent from the start on the product development process.
What are some of the latest tools and techniques for conducting cost-effective market research with Millennials?
Online surveys and community engagement strategies (i.e., posting questions on FB or Twitter) are some the best and most cost-effective tools around when it comes to conducting market research with Millennial consumers. From my research, Millennials like to weigh-in on the market research process; it gets back to that desire to have a voice or say in the world.
Whether it’s simply positioned as an “exclusive opportunity” to take part in a new product launch or tied to an incentive like a gift card, Millennials are open to being engaged in this manner. And better yet, figure out a way to follow up with them once the product has launched for additional feedback. Couched within a question of “Did we get it right?” should open the door for additional engagement and feedback that can be good for the bottom line.
Ever wonder whyou like to visit some websites over another? How some have features that are more intuitive or enjoyable to read? This isn’t the result of a guessing game, it’s the hard work of people like Billy Carlson, the Director of User Experience at Threadless.com.
What is Threadless?
Threadless is an online retailer. We sell mostly t-shirts, but other products like iPhone cases, wall art. But our unique business model is that we are crowd sourced design. So, anyone in the world can submit their design to our website, and then our community of over three million users will go on the site and vote for their favorite design with a score between 1-5. Each week, there’s a new set of submissions up for seven days, and then at the end of each cycle, the top vote-getting design gets printed and sold on our website.
We are very community-focused, and we’re focused on not only our customers, but our artist base. And we’re very unique in the way that we try to do as much as we can to promote our artists and find the best way for them to monetize their artwork. For example, we currently have a whole line of greeting cards at Target. So we’re trying to branch away from not only Threadless.com, but trying to find great outlets for independent artists to monetize their artwork.
As we all know, a website is really the digital storefront for an organization in the e-commerce industry. Therefore, ease of use, the customer experience, and usability have to be really on point. What are your tips for improving these features to increase the pleasure experienced by your customers, so that they keep coming back and will be loyal and satisfied with their experience?
We’re very lucky, because we have a very vocal fan base of customers and artists. We hear a lot of feedback from them through our social media channels and they also email us. We have a huge forum on our website that gets so much use; there are so many users on there discussing what we do.
But on top of that, we also like to do usability tests; A/B tests for ideas. For example, we redesigned our homepage because we found that we had a promotional slider at the front and center, like many sites do, but users were not waiting to see the other slides, so it was sort of a waste. It was also very engineering-heavy. So we had the idea of the slider, we were taking a lot of time to support it with graphics and more and then when we redesigned it, we listened to our analytics from Google and also what our customers were telling us and we totally redesigned the homepage to be more effective. There are a lot of different areas that explain different parts of the website so it’s not just commerce-focused, it tells the customer about the artist and it gives the artist a chance to shine and hopefully to give them a little more promotion.
We try to listen and then learn. I think it’s pretty simple, but I think it’s also important to never stop iterating on a design. You should work on a design, analyze it, keep tweaking it and don’t stop. Don’t feel like it’s ever finished, I guess.
That leads me into my follow-up question, which is: how do you know when it’s time to update your user interface? And with these updates or these changes, and you mentioned that it was kind of engineering-heavy, how do you not throw off the functionality or what people are used to?
Yeah, that’s interesting. I think we’re always involved in a part of our site. And so, we worked heavily on the homepage for a while at the beginning of this year, and we’ve moved to other parts. And what we like to do is kind of cycle through.
So for instance, we spend a lot of time focusing on a section of the site and will continually do so. We will cycle through the entire site once annually to do major overhauls, but not every eighteen months. It’s typically, again, not only is it us determining if we would like to redesign something, maybe we don’t like the interface anymore. But we’ll listen to our customers and watch what their behavior is, and see if a design is the solution to fixing a usability. Sometimes it’s text-based, Using the proper words can really help change how a page is viewed by a user. A good example of that is that we redesigned our main navigation and titles of our sections our website in the fall of 2012. It was really marketing-heavy and called “make, pick, play, and shop.” But we found that a lot of our users didn’t really understand the difference between picking and shopping. The lesson learned was that sometimes, using clear, actionable copy is the best way to go. Sometimes you want to be a little fun, and sometimes you just need to get right to the point.
How important is the design of the interface to sales?
I think it’s very important to design a layout that properly guides the user into what; the purpose of a page is to learn about a product, and then hopefully select your sizes and options and buy it. You don’t want to bury anything. You want to make sure that you first think of the user’s experience, and then you try to layer on all the design layouts to match that.
I think it’s really important nowadays to be conscious of the different types of devices that people use to access your site and the different screen sizes. So you know, we’ve been moving slowly towards a responsive or adaptive website that, any type of device could view our website much easier than they could even like a year ago. But I think design, not only visual design, but the user experience design, is extremely important to making a great interface. It really helps guide your customers and your users to like, you know, what to do.
And we’re still always tweaking. Our product pages aren’t perfect yet. There’s still more we’d like to do. We’re getting there soon. But again, I think it’s always, think of your customers first. Think of making the actions that need to be put on the page very simple and clear. And then continue to iterate on that.
So I just want to switch gears a little bit, because this is what you’ll also be addressing at the conference, is the differences between marketing research and usability testing. So, could tell us maybe the benefits of usability testing if it’s executed correctly? And maybe explain what the correct way of implementing it?
Sure, we definitely like to test our new features to make sure that any assumptions are correct. So we’ll design an interface or a user experience in a certain way, and we’ll probably A/B test that with the current version to make sure that there is improvement in our users’ thought process while they’re using our product.
We are planning on redesigning our product page and we’ve made some assumptions and changed a lot of things. Our plan is to test each of these pages and make sure that we didn’t change something fundamentally that would confuse our users to buy it. I think it’s really important and it’s really easy nowadays to do usability testing. So I really don’t think there’s an excuse to not.
Could you give us an example of how leveraging insights from consumer behavior on Threadless and/or your mobile app could inform new features or streamline your existing features?
Yeah, that’s a great question! It happens a lot here at Threadless, because we really listen to what people tell us. So, one of the things that I mentioned earlier is that we used to have a promotional marketing slider on the homepage, but we noticed that it wasn’t getting a lot of clicks or attention.
We listened to our analytics and a lot of people told us that they don’t ever even notice it. So we actually redesigned the homepage based on this feedback, took those slides out and made more of a promotional area that was longer and with more content. That definitely increased visibility into what we were doing. We were able to tell a better story of that week’s artist, because we didn’t have one area moving and then everything else below it that not even being noticed.
We really want to focus on our artists. So making this change allowed us to do that. It allows us to spotlight our favorite design of the week, the artist who designed it, and where they’re from.
Again, I want to talk about the navigation. We found from research that the navigation was confusing, so we reverted back to the previous language. At Threadless I am also the Mobile Product Owner. We do a lot of testing and listen to a lot of consumer insights for mobile apps. So, it’s the same thing. We’re currently developing a new navigation system in our mobile app because we’ve heard from a lot of people and in analytics that they just don’t use this feature we built. So we’re going to come up with a new version that we feel is better.
And I think that’s just kind of how it goes. You have to listen to everyone’s opinions and then sort of step back from what you made and really think about it. A lot of the time we get great insights and we’re able to act on them quickly, so it’s nice.