In a world defined by COVID-19, it’s no question that what “normal” is in our day to day lives has changed. And I don’t think it would surprise anyone to think that some of these changes will outlast the pandemic itself – some elements of our “new normal” are here to stay.
Being at the forefront of redefining what normal is for your audiences can give you a huge competitive advantage. Get people used to doing things your way, and your way will be the standard in the future!
So what does that mean for the businesses of the future? It means a potentially uncertain future where processes, services, and products that were successful in the past may begin to look differently in the future. It means a change in not only the products or services on offer, but who your customers are at all. Not to mention what it means like to work for a business – staff expectations, motivations, and behaviours will most likely continue to be impacted in surprising ways for years to come. There have been some obvious and immediate adjustments that many have had to make, but the long term impact this period has had on people’s lives remains to be seen.
This is where user research has a real advantage. It seems obvious to think that if you can understand your customer’s new behaviours, you can help future proof your business or organisation to survive (and thrive!) in a potentially tumultuous time!
Why Do User Research At All?
We can’t assume we know why our audiences seek out our products and services
Products or services are designed to be a solution to a problem. A car will get you from A to B. A plate will keep your food in one place. Shoes will keep your feet dry. But why your car? Why your dishes? Why your shoes? The answer might surprise you. In a saturated market (of both products and information), the deciding factors between two brands might not be immediately obvious.
Understanding what it is that truly makes your brand stand out is going to help you craft your narrative to build your audience base. This is where user research comes in. Analytics will tell you what is selling, when, and where, but what you don’t get is ‘why’? Why are they choosing your products over your competitors? Why are they buying on one platform over another? Speaking to your audiences in order to understand why they are doing something becomes critical to understanding how you can differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace.
Customers are demanding more of the brands they support than ever
Nowadays, it’s not just about the product or service. Gone are the days where “any press is good press”. With the amount of information available to customers these days, they want to know what your brand stands for, how you give back, how you treat your staff, how environmental your practices are…the list goes on.
Using user research techniques, you can understand what your audiences care about, and reflect that back in your organisational practices. Guessing what audiences might care about in regards to your organisational practice and implementing that seems like a risky thing to do when you can just ask them! And if this is what gives your company a competitive advantage in a saturated market, why wouldn’t you listen to the people who determine if your brand will continue to be relevant in the future?
If you don’t know why your audiences buy your products or services, you can’t grow your audiences efficiently
If you don’t know why someone is currently buying your product or service, how are you supposed to find more people who might also be interested? Going deeper and understanding the motivation behind why someone wants to purchase your product or service might provide you with insight into a completely new audience you didn’t think you had. And with shifting priorities and patterns of behaviour, you might find that your audiences start to shift as well. Identifying potential new audiences could help deal with the loss of usual customers and allow you to be prepared for the future.
For example, say you sell an organisational software geared towards working parents that helps them organise the family activities. Through research, you come to find out that the main reason why parents like your particular software is because it allows you to color code different strands using multiple criteria – you could have a colour per person but save different shades of that colour per activity. Parents use this to visually see who has what activity at a glance.
Maybe this is just one feature of many within your organisational structure. But based on this highlighted importance (and some helpful use cases identified through user research), you can see that college students might benefit from this criteria based system as well, allowing them to colour code by class and further by activity required within each class. Now you have a completely different market you’ve identified that had not previously been on your radar before!
How Does User Research Help Us Today?
Recent lockdown has shifted people’s behaviours, motivations, and thinking. this could have a significant impact on how they interact with you or your brand in the future
We have to admit, things are changing. Whether it’s consumers buying more things online, choosing to shop with different stores, or even shifting the values they see as important when investing in a product, service, or brand, we, as companies, entrepreneurs or small business owners, cannot afford to be passed over.
Maybe your audience has changed the way they decide what to buy.
Maybe they have changed where they buy things from.
Maybe sustainability or environmental issues have become a significant factor in their purchases.
Maybe due to economic shifts they are looking for more affordability.
Whatever the case may be, recognising these shifts will allow you to shift your services, products, or messaging to make sure you continue to meet your audiences’ needs.
User research can give you the advantage in a shifting world
So what if you have noticed that your audiences have shifted slightly in the last few months? Maybe they are slightly more or less engaged than they were before, maybe certain products that used to sell well are not performing the same. These shifts may be small, but there’s an underlying current that might mean these changes could be more permanent than we realise.
The truth is, not many of us have lived through a period that has asked us to reflect and change the way we do things before. It’s hard to know what life might actually look like in a year or two from now, but it’s safe to say that normal might not be exactly what we thought before. Even subtle shifts towards buying groceries online instead of in a store, or working from home more often, COVID has shown that things can change, and it has opened the door to new ways of doing things that our audiences might even come to expect.
Being at the forefront of redefining what normal is for your audiences can give you a huge competitive advantage. Get people used to doing things your way, and your way will be the standard in the future! But I can see how this way of thinking feels really risky – you’ve got tried and true methods for converting sales, why ignore the things you know have worked well in the past for a potential future we don’t even know looks like?
User research can mean the difference between success and failure of a new product or service
This is where audience research comes in. If you can start to understand not just how behaviours are shifting, but why they are shifting, you can start to reevaluate your offerings to help solve current and future problems. You can use user research to test prototypes before you invest completely in a new idea, which mitigates the risk that your new solution won’t land as successfully as you thought it would. You could even invite your audiences to help you design a new way of working, bringing them along every step of the way. That means that when you’re ready to unveil your new product or service, you’ll already have a guaranteed loyal audience for a product or service that directly reflects their needs.
User research doesn’t have to be long, difficult or expensive.
That can sound like a lot of different research projects, and if you’re not used to incorporating user research into your process, it might be! But the time and energy you invest in making sure you’re on the right track with the development of a new product or service can save hundreds, thousands, (and in some case, millions) of dollars spent developing products or services that flop. A little extra time and money throughout the process can mitigate the risk of your product or service missing the mark. Wouldn’t you rather spend a few more weeks developing your product or service if you could guarantee that your product or service would be a success?
Besides, fast, agile research throughout the process coupled with iterative development doesn’t require long, intense, and costly research methods. Simple check-ins with your audience could suffice! Saving up all your questions for one big research project is often where people fall into the trap of needing research projects that require months of work and thousands of dollars to complete. Fast and frequent user research projects can keep your budget, resources, and project complexity to a minimum.
Now is the perfect time to think about how you could differentiate your products or services in the current marketplace. People’s behaviours, attitudes, and social norms are changing. By getting to some of those underlying motivations and solving your audience’s new problems at a deeper level, you’ll be able to take your business into the future confidently. But with so many unknowns and rapidly changing norms, integrating fast and frequent user research is the only way to mitigate the risk of unveiling a new product, service, or system of the future.
Why do YOU think user research is important?
Let me know in the comments below!
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