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How to conduct effective product research

Last updated

27 March 2023

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

Developing a product that solves customers' pain points requires more than just dreaming up ideas and implementing the plan. Product research is vital to ensuring your product meets your customers' needs and translates into a successful business plan.

Product research is a continuous process from the early stages of product development through testing a beta product to follow-up once a product is released. It evolves throughout, ensuring the product meets customers' needs and how it can be improved moving forward.

What is product research?

Product research begins with a concept of the product and helps determine if that product is viable and has a place in the market.

There are certain stages to product research; how many you need depends on whether you are developing a brand-new product or refining an existing one.

Stage 1: Is there a market?

The first step in developing a new product is to determine if there is a market. You must determine who your customer will be and what pain point your product solves. You also need to establish who your competitors are and how their products meet or don't meet your customers' pain points. 

What differentiates your product? If there’s an opportunity, how large is the potential customer base? Can it do a better job?

Stage 2: Does your prototype/beta meet the needs of customers?

Once you know you have a market, you need to test the concept of your product to determine if it meets the needs of potential customers. This may take several rounds of testing, tweaks, and iterations before people can use the solution without help or prompt. Then it is ready for development.

Stage 3: Soft release

Once you have a workable product, you release it to a targeted group of potential customers to determine how it works in the real world. At this point, you are looking for bugs, feedback, and suggested improvements, so you can make necessary changes before the release of the final product.

Stage 4: Post-release follow-up

After releasing your product, you can't just drop product research. You need to determine how much customers like the product, what improvements they would like to see in future versions, and how their needs might change in the future. In other words, as long as you’re trying to sell your product in a dynamic, fast-paced market, you need to continue doing project research to keep up with changing minds and markets.

What are the main elements of product research?

The key elements of good product research are:

  • Historical research about your industry

  • Establishing competitors and their products

  • Reviewing your concept to determine its validity

  • Testing your product prelaunch

  • Surveying following the release of your product to target improvements

Why is product research necessary?

Developing a product or trying to improve one without product research is like target shooting in the dark—you might hit the target eventually, but your chances are much greater if you have a bright spotlight shining on the bullseye. In the product space, missing the target will cost you more than just bullets. You will spend incredible amounts of time and money while your competitors are getting ahead of you.

Product research creates that bright spotlight by allowing you to:

  • Learn about your customers

  • Understand their pain points

  • Develop a product to best resolve those pain points

  • Know how to market your product to address those pain points

Without research on those issues, you're making uneducated guesses about what your customers need. You can never satisfy a customer if you don't understand their requirements.

Types of product research

Product research is conducted through many channels. The more thorough the research, the better your chances of developing a product that will appeal to your potential customers. Types of product research are varied, including:

  • Sourcing historical data from trade associations and research groups

  • Running customer surveys, interviews, focus groups, etc.

  • Having beta and soft releases where customers use your product and provide feedback

  • Gauging how satisfied customers are with the final product

  • Looking ahead to improvements that will keep the product fresh in the future

We’ll look at these in more depth later in the article.

What’s the difference between market research and product research?

Let's say you have the idea to develop a calendar app for small service businesses, such as hair stylists or nail salons, that allows customers to schedule their own appointments. Market research will help you determine such aspects as:

  • What competitors are in the market

  • How their calendars are serving small businesses

  • Whether their price point is an issue

  • Whether glitches allow calendars to double-book appointments

  • Whether existing calendars work for multi-seat businesses

Once you have a handle on the market you’re stepping into, you can start product research by testing your solution with your potential users. Again, it’s a good idea at this point to also research and brainstorm with your users about what they’d ideally like to see. This way, your concept isn’t just your idea, but one already validated by the very customers you’re hoping to target.

Next, you can test your prototype with users, make the tweaks and eventually release your product to the world, keeping tabs on its validity.

By including product research at every step in the designing and releasing process, you can ensure the user interface is easy to understand and use, and ultimately solves the problem users need it to again and again.

Benefits of good product research

Good product research guides every step of product development. It gives everyone in your company the necessary tools to develop a product that meets customers' pain points and achieves your business goals.

The benefits of good product research include:

  • Allowing you to identify potential customers and their pain points

  • Guiding the development of a product that meets those pain points

  • Preventing you from wasting time and money on activities that don't meet those pain points

  • Testing your product in real-world situations to determine if it meets its goals

  • Saving you from developing unwanted products

  • Keeping you ahead of your competition by knowing what customers need, direct from the source

How to conduct effective product research

The exact method for conducting effective product research will vary by product and market, but following these four methods will lead you to the best results:

Use accurate, unbiased data collection methods

You're starting your product research with the hypothesis that the product you envision will solve your customer's pain point in the best way. But that's just your hypothesis. To test your theory, you must conduct accurate, unbiased research.

Sometimes this means letting a third party handle your customer surveys and focus groups. Survey recipients or focus-group respondents are more likely to give honest feedback to a third party.

A third party can help you craft survey questions that will give you honest answers, not the answers you are hoping or expecting to hear about your product.

Developing a product with inaccurate information is as bad, if not worse, than developing a product with no product research.

Conduct a thorough competitive and comparative analysis

As you enter a market niche, you need a thorough understanding of where your competitors stand and how they are serving and not serving your potential clients. This is a competitive analysis.

Your potential customers may have other options for addressing the same need but not in your niche market. Understanding how those options could affect your product is a comparative analysis.

For example, if you think you can build a better tennis racket to serve players who only play occasionally, you'll need to compare your product with others at a fairly low price point to develop a competitive analysis.

But maybe your potential customers feel their exercise needs can be equally filled by playing pickleball or badminton. Determining how your product would fare against those products would be a comparative analysis.

Leverage existing research material

You don't have to reinvent the wheel to conduct quality product research. Trade associations, academics, research groups, and government agencies may have already done much of the heavy lifting. These groups often conduct thorough research on marketplace analysis, trends, and projected changes.

Studying social media and influencers in your field can help you stay current with product development and gain foresight on when a product might be going obsolete.

Base your research on your business goals

At this point, we hope it’s apparent how critical product research is, but you shouldn’t do research without knowing why you’re doing it. To make research as effective as possible, it must be structured against business goals. These should be measurable metrics with associated dates and timelines, with clear processes or tools with which to check them.

A basic example is increasing the number of visitors to your marketing site. To set a proper goal metric, you should be explicit. For example, “By April 25, new visitors to our marketing site should increase by 10% from the 5,000 we’re currently receiving every month.” If this is announced to your marketing team in January, they can request research be carried out that will determine exactly what would give them this result. Knowing the goal, researchers will know what research methods would work best and the timeline and scope they’re dealing with.

As a bonus, working with metrics can virtually eliminate unnecessary heavy management and ultimately give your team the autonomy they need to succeed. They will know without guidance if they’re off target and will be empowered to determine what steps are needed to realize the goals you want your team to achieve.

Methods of product research

Many methods of product research are available. Use a range of these to get the full picture of how your product should be developed and/or improved to meet your potential customers' pain points.

Concept testing

Often, before even designing a product, you might want to test the concept before spending money and time developing a non-starter. Once you have identified potential customers or people using a competitor's project, you can pitch the concept of your product to them to determine if they feel it could fill their needs.

Concept testing can be done through surveys or interviews. Bear in mind that interviews could give you more back-and-forth feedback that would be beneficial to growing your product beyond its initial concept.

Price testing

Price testing should be conducted at an early stage to determine where your product might fit in your industry, but it should remain open to further testing down the line as the product becomes more concrete. As you make improvements to your product over time, the market might bear a greater price than your initial research suggests.

Setting the price should be done against statistically accurate data. You should know that a high percentage of potential users would pay the price you’re considering. Price testing could also include testing pricing models.

Finally, there are several testing methods you could use to encourage purchases, for example, using anchoring to list prices next to more costly packages or products to make them seem more affordable.

Product tests

Once you have developed a beta version of your product, you'll want to begin product testing with some potential customers you discovered in your early research. These customers must test the product in real-world situations to determine if it works as designed, contains any glitches, and meets their pain points.

Their input will guide improvements that need to be made before you launch your final product, with continual validation and checking of analytics post-launch. Your product should stay fluid and your product process iterative.

Focus groups

Focus groups can be used at various stages of product development to give direct feedback about your product.

They can be composed of potential customers or other experts in your field, such as academics, researchers, or retired executives who could give a more defined analysis of your product than potential users. They can also be a mix of users who have or have not had experience with your product to offer new insights and perspectives.

Product surveys

Product surveys provide useful feedback after the release of your product, as real-world users can give more detailed information about the product’s pros and cons. You can better address how your product performs in comparison to your competitors’ and identify improvements in the next version of your product.

What are product research questions?

Product research questions are the questions you ask potential customers through interviews, surveys, or focus groups, to determine their pain points and how a product can meet those pain points.

Having a third party help you develop these research questions will take the bias out of the equation to ensure you are getting accurate data.

How to measure the success of your product research

With measurable metrics in place, your research efforts will be much more likely to help your team achieve its goals. However, it’s important to remember research in and of itself shouldn’t be measured as successful just because you’re aiming for these metrics. Good research should remain unbiased and seek the truth, rather than continually bringing your team great news.

If you really want to hit your success metrics, you need to focus on using the correct research methods, rules, and tools to seek truthful answers to the questions you’re asking. This is when research can be deemed successful.

Judging your product research will become more clearly defined once you have clear questions based on the business metrics you’re aiming for. Sometimes your first research method won’t find the answers, but it will always show you what you didn’t know before and often lead you to what you should do next. Conduct the necessary follow-up research and let the results guide you.

Once you have the answers you need from the research, the insights should enable you to move ahead with product development.

Ask yourself the following questions to judge whether your product research has been successful:

  • Have you structured the best design methods so that the resulting data can help the necessary stakeholders work toward the business goals?

  • Have you been able to make actionable suggestions to teams based on educated and data-backed solutions?

  • Have you been able to understand the problem statement more clearly after analysis?

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