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Building Products That Users Need: Significance of User Research
Before we begin talking about user research and the significance it has on a Product Manager’s journey, let’s understand this better with a case study of a brand we’re all familiar with!
Kellogg’s Cereal: A Breakfast Indians Did Not Need
Kellogg’s, or Kellogg Company, was founded 117 years ago. Today, it manufactures and markets a plethora of products in about 180 countries across the globe. Products like Corn Flakes and Chocos can be commonly found in Indian households. But do you know that Kellogg’s did not see this success from the get-go? In fact, it faced several setbacks in the Indian market, ranging from poor sales to even protests against itself. So how does an organisation as big as Kellogg’s stumble, despite its long experience and expertise? Let us examine a few factors.
After the liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991, Kellogg’s, like many other brands, was eager to enter the vast and untapped Indian market. It saw an opportunity and jumped to grab it. It did so by following the same product playbook that it had used in most of the Western markets. Kellogg’s products, such as Corn Flakes, Wheat Flakes, and Rice Krispies, were sold as breakfast cereals, as was in most of the other countries in which it sold its products. However, the Indian consumer habits were nothing like the other Western consumers.
Let us see the three most distinct habits:
- Indians do consume milk as a part of their breakfast. However, it is warm and mixed with sugar. Kellogg’s cereals were supposed to be consumed with cold milk. This required Indians to change a habit that they had developed over a very long time, which obviously did not happen. Indians consumed the cereals with warm milk, making them lose their crispness and ultimately become soggy. As crispiness was the key feature that Kellogg’s marketed its cereals as Kellogg’s did not see a lot of repeat customers.
- Second, Indians have a vast diversity in their breakfast, parathas in the north, poha in the west, idli, and vada in the south, just to name a handful. Although significantly diverse, one thing is common – the breakfast contains spicy flavours, whereas the cereals are sweet. This, again was a huge gap between what the Indians were used to consuming and what Kellogg’s expected them to consume.
- The last and probably the most unrecognised habit of Indians in the 1990s was the commitment of Indian mothers to cook their families a fresh and filling breakfast. Mothers serving ready-to-eat meals were afraid of being judged as lazy or careless by the society they lived in.
Thus, despite being a renowned brand and having a humongous marketing budget, Kellogg’s fell flat on its face in India. Kellogg’s introduced a product range that had no particular demand and solved no specific problem in the Indian FMCG market. Its products were not solving any user pain point, rather going as far as to criticise Indian food habits through its marketing campaigns. Kellogg’s did not just misjudge the needs of its potential customers but also failed to empathise with them.
Do I think a thorough and critical analysis of the Indian market could have saved Kellogg’s from all the trouble? Positively. I say this because of the success that Kellogg’s had after its second attempt at tapping the Indian market. It realised that although it was not a successful breakfast, didn’t mean that it would not be a successful snack.
In this advertisement, it is evident that Kellogg’s has moved away from positioning Chocos as a breakfast cereal and more like a snack to be consumed. Kellogg’s had also introduced Special K, a low-fat breakfast alternative for women that saw some success.
The case of Kellogg’s highlights one thing very clearly – identifying and catering to the user needs is as important a step as product development or marketing.
The exact same phenomenon stands true for digital and tech products. So:
- How do you know what kind of products resonate with your target audience?
- How do you ensure repeat customers?
- Speaking strictly for digital products, how would you capture your user’s attention and minimise the churn rate?
Let us see how you can accomplish this with the help of user research.
So, What Exactly is Good User Research?
A major role of Product Managers is to help in creating a product that satisfies user needs. Through user research, the Product Manager should fundamentally understand the user and convey this understanding to the whole team. User research is the opportunity for Product Managers to become the voice of the users. The process of user research should equip the product manager with in-depth knowledge of the users’ or potential users’ needs and demands, their pain points and problems, the interaction of the users with the product, and the motivation behind their actions. User research provides a vision for the products, it provides the direction for further product development.
Often, an idea or concept seems intriguing to a certain group of people that they just jump to the product development or production phase. Pepsico’s Frito Lays did the same by introducing six new flavours during the 2011 cricket world cup. Lays did it all – from pumping money into marketing to setting up new production lines. However, since not all of the flavours were accepted by the audience, it had to discontinue most of them. This led to huge losses for Pepsico.
Budget, resource availability, and tight schedules could be some of the constraints that hold back companies from carrying out user research. Sometimes the arrogance or overconfidence of founders or senior executives makes them feel that they know what the user wants. This leads to them developing products that spell disaster from the get-go.
Product Case Study – iProf
iProf was one such Indian start-up. Its core product was delivering educational content to students, including digital notes, lecture videos, and practice questions. The positioning of this product was done as a supplement to the core curriculum. It charged a hefty fee of Rs 15,000. However, schools did not accept their product, and on top of that, there is already plenty of material available online for free. Then, there is the tuition ecosystem running parallel to the schools, which provides many additional facilities such as face time with the teachers, peer-to-peer interaction, and so on. There was no defined problem that iProf was solving for its consumers, the parents, or its users, the students. Neither did it talk to them or gather enough input from potential users whether they needed it or not. No wonder iProf had to shut the shop.
It is also important to note that user research is not at all confined to the initial development stages. User research should be an ongoing regular activity as you build your products.
When & How Should You Conduct User Research?
The main objective of conducting user research is to align product strategies with the needs, expectations, and pain points of the users. The objective of user research varies slightly depending on what phase the product is in.
Ideation Phase – Pre-Product
If a product is in the initial conceptual phase, user research should be used to determine if the product is going to solve any specific problem for the user. It provides clarity about the product that should be developed for the market. Carrying out user research in the initial development phases helps adjust the products to better cater to the user needs. User research also helps in developing the personas of the potential customers, thus providing data for product marketing strategies as well.
MVP Phase – Pre-Launch
User research should be conducted once the minimum viable product (MVP) is developed. This will help you figure out if the product will actually effectively solve the problem that you set out to solve in the first place. The user interaction with the MVP should be studied carefully. Their feedback should be recorded objectively. Evaluate how the users are using the product. Make sure that your product is easy to use and that the users like it. This will indicate any improvements that you need to make in your product to optimise its viability.
Product Development Phase – Post-launch
Once a product is developed and launched, it becomes even more imperative to conduct user research to see if the users are getting the best possible solution to their problem. Many would believe that fixing bugs in an app or modifying the exhaust system in a car is enough. However, the product team should be more vigilant than ever in tracking the user experience after the product is launched. They need to make sure that the user experience is smooth, standardised, and ultimately delivering value to your customers.
Product Case Study – Google+
Do you remember Google+, a social networking site by Google? Do you remember using it? If not, don’t worry; neither do I. It was a social networking app created by the tech giant Google, and they wanted their users to share everything through Google+, from multimedia files to emails. They wanted their users to connect with other people through other Google platforms like YouTube and Gmail. It had a total budget of a little shy of $600 million. Of course, they had the best developers and user researchers, yet it failed.
Google+ had complicated design features that were confusing the users. The users were not able to navigate through the sharing features that allowed them to connect with other platforms, which was the primary objective of the app. Most of the time, the user would not know which platform she shared the file on. Although the quality of the media shared was excellent, it was not solving any specific user pain point. For example, Facebook allows people to connect with each other, and share photos, videos, and posts from other pages. For the users who felt that their Facebook wall was too cluttered, Instagram provided an alternative, it focused only on sharing pictures.
However, Google+ did not provide anything new. Its design was not user-friendly. Statistics indicate that almost all user sessions on Google+ lasted less than 5 minutes. And thus, not being user-centric and not solving any particular user pain point led to the demise of Google+.
Common PM Mistake: Confusing User Research with Market Research
Many times, market research and user research are used interchangeably. However, they are quite different from each other. As you have seen above, user research helps in identifying the user’s pain points and problems. It focuses on how users interact with the product and then optimises the user experience. Market research, on the other hand, focuses on how to sell the already-developed product to the target audience. Market research analyses the purchasing behaviour of different groups of people and develops strategies to sell the product to the target audience. Product research analyses how the users interact with the products once they have purchased them.
User research can help develop the marketing strategy as well. Effective user research will not just help in creating a product that the users need, but the data gathered on the user personas can also help in deciding how to price and market a product.
For example, if your target audience is University students, you might want the price to be affordable. Knowing where your users are most likely to shop will help you show and sell your products via channels or platforms that are likely to attract the most users. You can also derive what type of messaging resonates best with the users and base your promotional strategies based on that.
There exists enough evidence in terms of failed products and wasted resources to support the fact user research is a crucial part of any product development. Thus, not only should this step be carried out before you start building any new product, but you must also be mindful of selecting the right user research methodology.
We assume that you have understood the significance of user research along with a better understanding of how and when to conduct research. However, to become a successful product manager you must ace all aspects of product building. That is why it is imperative to keep your skills and knowledge updated and robust, and that is when Emeritus comes into the picture.
Emeritus offers online courses and training programmes in product management from renowned universities like IIM, MIT xPRO, IIT, and S.P. JAIN Institute of Management and Research. Wait no further, just enrol in a product management course and enrich your knowledge in product management.
Before spending any time or money, obtain information about your target market while you are still in the product development stage. Collecting solid data and insights to steer the creation of new products, directly address consumer wants, and fill that vital market gap. User research should be conducted at every stage of the product life cycle, not just during product development.
Read our post on how to conduct effective user research if you want to learn more about user research throughout the life cycle of your product.