Some products come out of nowhere and become box-office hits, while others, despite great advance praise and extensive advertising, turn out to be absolute flops. In order to avoid the second scenario as much as possible, companies are keen to assess the potential success of a new product in advance. Popular methods are surveys or product tests that reflect the opinions of the respondents. However, it would be fatal to derive a buying interest from this.
Why? Because the actual behaviour — whether I buy a product or not — can differ greatly from the opinion that was formulated at some point in a test situation. The decision for a possibly high investment to develop a new product should therefore not be based on this. Real reactions of potential consumers are much more meaningful. But why? How can such reactions be measured? And how do you derive valid findings for product development from them?
Because successful digital innovation is not only our job, but is really close to our hearts, we deal intensively with such questions. To ensure that strong ideas can be turned into even more innovative products in the future, we would like to share our findings on the area of conflict between user reaction and user opinion with you in the blog series “Psychology of user-centered innovation”. In the first part, we will focus on the two-process model, which explains how our brain works.
Automatic user behaviour instead of controlled test situations
First of all, it is important to note: In the course of the constant trend towards user-centered marketing and the growing popularity of Human Centered Design, the use of qualitative research instruments has an unrestricted right to exist. Especially in the early stages of innovation processes, interviews can provide important insights about the target group and help to develop hypotheses about the potential product.
However, when it comes to testing these hypotheses, qualitative research methods reach their limits. If a potential buyer is specifically asked for his or her opinion, this is more like an artificial test situation than an authentic buying scenario. So in order to simulate as realistically as possible how a product will be perceived by the user, quantitative methods are needed that test real reactions rather than opinions.
Both reactions and opinions are psychological phenomena that can be traced back to complex causes. In a sense, there are two modes in which the human brain works: controlled processes and automatic processes. While the former are characterized by concentration and high energy expenditure, the latter describe actions that take place rather unconsciously and in energy-saving mode. If this two-process model is applied to product innovation, the human brain tends to rely on a more controlled process in a test situation. Automatic processes dominate, for example when we surf the Internet in a relaxed manner.
Roast pork or CO2-neutral multivitamin smoothie?
How the two working modes of the human brain impact possible purchase decisions can be explained using a practical example.
Let’s imagine a company from the food sector that would like to test, in the context of a qualitative interview, to what extent a person from the identified target group is receptive to the planned product — say, a special fruit smoothie. In such cases, study participants are often lured with an incentive such as an Amazon voucher. In our case, the test person is also invited to have lunch in the company canteen after the interview.
The main topic of the conversation: fruits. In the course of different questions and perspectives, the test person thinks intensively about this specific group of foods. As a result, controlled processes take place in his brain, which is why the interviewee also declares at the end of the interview with full conviction that a fruit-based diet makes sense — and that the planned CO2-neutral multivitamin smoothie is just right for him.
After the interview, the test person follows the invitation to the canteen. There they are explicitly informed that they are free to choose from a balanced lunch buffet. The interviewee looks around a bit, walks past the large selection of fruit and finally stops at the roast pork, which he loads onto his plate with dumplings and sauce. This reaction, as part of an automatic process, says nothing about whether the interviewee basically prefers meat to fruit. However, the buffet setting is more in line with the environment in which authentic purchasing decisions are made.
Substantial buffet in a digital environment
Whether roast pork with dumplings or digital product innovation: In order to find out what a customer really wants, it is necessary to show him clearly and unambiguously which product is ultimately at stake. Our smoothie scenario shows that a theoretical opinion is of only limited help in understanding subsequent purchasing behaviour. Instead, look at how he or she will potentially react in a realistic situation. This is not at all difficult, especially with digital products in the B2C sector, and experience shows that it works in (almost) all industries — from beauty products, banking and insurance to mobility and energy supply.
The Internet is the perfect channel for meeting potential customers in their natural environment, while automatic processes take place in their brain. We at candylabs have developed our own virtual prototyping for this. This is a process developed over several years, with which we have already successfully tested digital products in over 60 projects. A combination of an appealing landing page, digital ads, tracking and analytics enables us to collect performance data and analyze user reactions to the smallest detail.
To ensure that digital product tests lead to the desired success, timing is crucial: Even before the actual product development, value propositions should be formulated as clearly and realistically as possible — in other words, in such a way that the user expects to be able to buy or consume the product or service immediately. This provides authentic feedback directly from your target market, and allows you to analyze customer reactions with pinpoint accuracy and, if necessary, tailor the product further to the target market.
Real added value through user-centered testing
Those who test products at an early stage in the innovation process and focus on the user in order to trigger authentic reactions create real added value. Virtual prototyping ensures that the value proposition of a product is formulated very precisely as early as possible and that the added value for the consumer is clearly highlighted. On the one hand, this prevents the innovation team from getting lost in endless concept iterations. And hypotheses that were previously generated using qualitative methods can be quantitatively validated in this way.
The hurdle for companies to test digital products close to the market and authentically in their target group is comparatively low. One prerequisite is to be courageous and just do it. Also important: Accept the neuropsychological conditions to which we humans are naturally subjected to and be fair to your potential customers (and thus to yourself). Give them the chance to make real decisions in an authentic environment. This is the only way to gain insights that can be realistically validated — and on this basis create products that your customers really want.