How you can do impactful consumer research — without the hefty bill

“This is so much fun, I can’t wait to do the next interview”, said Ellis beaming, as we drove back into the city, the evening sun setting in the distance.

I smiled. It was the reaction I was hoping for especially as she’d been slightly anxious before the interview. We’d done a small amount of interview coaching beforehand but there’s nothing like the actual experience of doing it yourself to learn how to do something.

Ellis is the Delivery Manager for a small fintech start-up. She’s never done ‘user’ research before. Until now.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Consumer or user research is 'expensive'

Consumer or user research is often regarded as expensive, involving outside agencies who come in, do their thing, and then leave you with a pile of insights that you're not sure what to do with. And a hefty bill. (That's not how we work.)

So companies take on the mantle of user research themselves. They try to do it on the cheap by, variously, delegating it to staff who aren't trained; trying to speed up the research cycle from weeks to days if not hours; talking to anyone who vaguely fits the research profile on the phone (because any insights are better than none, right?). The list of ways to shorten or circumvent doing quality research is long.

While I'd agree doing some research is better than doing none (with some caveats), I'd like to share an approach I'm taking with a client. It means you get powerful insights without the hefty bill. Because the reality is that small start-ups can't afford what they perceive as an expensive service. (Unfortunately research is the first thing that gets left on the table despite the fact that *not* doing the research could cost your business far more in the long run.)

Building capability, not dependency

LOQBOX knew they needed to get to know their customers better. As Ellis explains, “We run experiments, change features and follow trends but there is no comparison to speaking to people to try to understand how they think.”

Recognising they didn’t have the expertise to do user research and, as a small but growing start-up, couldn’t afford to pay an outside agency, we came up with an idea and a more affordable option: I'd teach them to do the research, take them through my process step-by-step, so that in the future they can do it themselves.

Ellis and I are working together, as a team, from deciding which interview questions to ask, recruiting participants, interviewing people in their homes, to the data analysis (which I will largely do because this is my ‘secret sauce’) and finally delivering the insights and translating these into actionable steps.

What our co-research project doing is building capability, not dependency. More specifically it's achieving the following:

  • Getting LOQBOX closer to their customers
  • Guiding business strategy
  • Demonstrating the value of quality 'user' research.

Getting LOQBOX closer to their customers

LOQBOX are getting closer to their customers in the literal sense that Ellis is sitting right there with them in their lounge or at their kitchen table (and not in a sterile 'user research' lab, treated like lab rats) but also because she is talking and getting to know them, their lives, how they think, feel, and experience the world.

Ellis is seeing LOQBOX's customers and potential customers (because not everyone we’re interviewing is an existing ‘user’) as real people, not as cardboard-cut-out personas. LOQBOX are building closer relationships with their target audience, relationships I hope will be ongoing. I’m encouraging them to stay in touch with each participant and develop a more nuanced, longer-term view of their lives (what you might call a longitudinal study).

Guiding business strategy

The knowledge and insights LOQBOX will acquire through this research will help guide their business strategy, develop valuable content for their website (because they will have first-hand knowledge of how their target audience think and feel), and help them design products and services their customers will actually want and need. This is powerful  by deeply understanding their customers, well, that’s a strong competitive advantage right there, isn't it?

Demonstrating the value of this type of research

I love explaining to clients the immense value of this type of qualitative research. But there’s nothing like someone seeing and doing it for themselves — it's a game-changer. Ellis is seeing first-hand what I do and how I work. She’s more appreciative of the skills, knowledge, and expertise that I bring, that it’s not as easy as it looks, and that my knowledge as a social anthropologist is valuable because I can explain why people are doing what they are doing or not doing. (That’s my ‘secret sauce’, and while I can’t train Ellis how to be an anthropologist, by working with me, she can see ‘how I think’.)

And it’s fun for me because I love teaching and sharing my knowledge. I get a buzz from the excitement clients feel when they are up close and personal with their customers, that this newly-acquired knowledge will translate into strategic action that will turn their business around.

Follow our journey

We're only part-way through our co-research project  Ellis has completed her first interviews  but it's the start of something amazing. We'll share the rest of our journey with you in subsequent blog posts...

If you want to understand your consumers' behaviours and connect with them more deeply, contact Mundy & Anson today.


Photo credits: Team Monday by Annie Spratt; women slapping hands by Jeffrey F Lin; sunset mountain top by Natalie Pedigo; co-working by Marten Bjork.