Keys to Successful Product Development #6: Ethnographic Research - “Deep Dives” Into Consumer Needs


Do You Know Where Game Changing Unique Product Ideas Come From?

How do some companies introduce amazing, game changing products every year?  What do they know that everyone else doesn’t know?  They know how to create products that fill unmet needs, which solve unsolved problems.  They are the first to introduce solutions to problems everyone has but no one recognized before.  That’s why they are industry leaders.

Do you need to be a billion dollar company to be a leader?  It certainly doesn’t hurt, but the tools needed to discover unmet consumer needs are available and affordable to all companies who are serious about investing in their businesses.

We recently conducted an ethnographic study for a client in a housewares category in which the client is a big player with a long history.  We were concerned that we might not be able to find unmet needs or unsolved problems in their mature category, but we also knew from experience that carefully embracing the discipline of ethnographic research has never let us down.  We pre-screened consumers for category involvement and visited their homes.  We photographed them with the items they owned, both in storage and in use.  We spent time in their homes observing them using the products and asking questions, especially when we saw them struggling or compensating for product shortcomings – shortcomings which they quickly adapted to and forgot about.  We asked them to wish for and describe better products and they did.  Our client sought one new product idea for this project.  We identified six areas of unmet needs/underperforming products which ultimately could be translated into six new product ideas, even more by combining some of the new features into different concepts.

Our ethnographic research is always customized to the needs of each project.  We employ many techniques from psychology and anthropology to evoke new ideas.  We visit consumers in their homes, we photograph their homes and relevant products in context, we ask them to complete usage diaries, even to write letters to their products or to imagine and describe perfect products.  Sometimes the assignments seem silly, but silly assignments can deliver fascinating insights.   Sometimes we go shopping with consumers or ask them to go shopping and to keep a shopping diary.  When food preparation is involved we ask them to cook meals and photograph the results.  Deep dives are not only a great way to generate new ideas, they are also a great source for understanding for category attitudes and usage practices.

Our client invested $15,000 seeking one new idea and was rewarded with six – or about $2,500 per idea.  How many really good, new ideas does your business need for next year’s introductions?  What would one good, new idea be worth to you in sales volume and increased profit?  Call us today to talk about how we can help you to find that one new great idea for next year.