How to Understand Your Audience for Product Development Success
We live in a world where a single influencer post on social media can instantly change a vast number of customer perceptions. We also operate in a global digital marketplace where it’s increasingly hard to stand out from the noise.
Within this modern landscape, creating products that people get excited about and continue to want takes more than expert opinions and innovative guesswork. So let’s explore the surest way to develop awesome products or services, while also minimizing risk. It’s called customer co-creation.
To bring you the best guidance possible, this article is based on an interview with our Head of Concept Lab, Mustafa Al-mosawi. His department at Namecheap is dedicated to continuously developing and successfully launching new products that our customers love.
Almost 50 years ago, design engineer Jack V. Matson released a seminal book called ‘Innovate or Die’. It changed thinking around product development definition and ushered in the current tech industry norm — constantly iterating and learning from mistakes.
But how do you know what to fix if you don’t have a deep understanding of what your customers want, and why? Isn’t that like trying to hit bullseye in the dark? And even if your product innovations are clever, how do you know they’re what the market really wants?
This is where customer co-creation steps up and takes product development to the next level. It focuses on finding out what people really want, so you as a business can give it to them. By opening direct lines of communication with your customers, it gives you in-depth insights instead of relying on assumptions and guessing games.
“Where is the customer in their life journey? For example, are they a small business just starting up, with very little experience and low funding, or are they established professionals who need advanced tools? That’s one factor among many.
Understanding where our customers struggle, and by extension, where their customers struggle, is the simplest, most straightforward, and enjoyable way to solve problems — together. Uniting people that have problems they need solved, with people who are great at solving problems. If you can find the overlap, produce that solution at an affordable price for a good number of people, you’ve got a product, you’ve got a business. One that people will enjoy using, buying, selling, and maintaining.”
Product Development Risks
Most (if not all) successful entrepreneurs have a ‘hard-lesson-learned’ story — idea enthusiasm caused them to neglect understanding their target market, resulting in spectacular failure. A good example is Windows Vista: almost all Microsoft customers hated it.
How did Microsoft get it so wrong, with so many clever people working on the Vista product? When it comes to how professionals define development processes that ensure people love the end-product, there are common pitfalls that every business faces, even experienced ones.
“The biggest and most common risk when creating a new product or new business is that nobody’s going to show up. This could happen for a few reasons:
(A) they can’t hear about you because you’re not talking to them on the right channel.
Or (B) you’ve found them on the right channel, but they’re not interested in what you offer.
The reason I believe so strongly in co-creation, in understanding your customer needs, is because it’s so much easier to provide something that people already want. How much more confident will you feel at your launch date?”
Doing it the traditional way, of having a great idea and taking your chances that the market will love it, does work. But it’s very hit and miss. You may get lucky and get a hit right out the gate. But most of the time you’ll face weak or unexpected market response, so you’ll need to be able to pivot and adjust really fast if things aren’t working. It’s a tricky situation to be in.
Another risk factor is that you succeed in building a great product or service, but it’s not the right fit for your customer base.
“We experienced a market that didn’t quite fit with one of our product launches. The product was good, but the customers we attracted wanted something different. So we sunset that product, because we knew that the type of customer the product was intended for was not the type of customer our company was attracting. So it’s really important to know who your customers are and what they need, to make sure there’s the right fit.”
Co-Creation Tools Explained
Co-creation looks different depending on your individual business. At each stage of growth, it continues to be vital, but the tools and methods are different.
“When you’re just starting out, what co-creation looks like is you reaching out to your first five customers. Get in touch with them to see what they think and need. Ask for feedback on how the experience was. Build word of mouth, a strong track record, and referrals. Those reference points for growing trust and broadening your engagement.
In a smallish company of 10 to 20 people, everybody in the organization is still fully engaged in co-creation, people are wearing many hats. You scale up your co-creation by building your customer base for activities like surveys.
Then at the scale of a global company like Namecheap, with millions of customers, you’ve got many products and big audiences, so you need to get very strategic about understanding different audience types.”
Let’s look at the six main tools that Namecheap Concept Lab uses to get to the core: ‘What is the product that people will really love?’
1. Customer Support
Because of the size of Namecheap, we have a number of Customer Support channels, from 24/7 Live Chat and email tickets to social media. Our Product Managers, designers, and developers are constantly engaging with them to solve issues and understand where we can improve, or what we can do more of.
Even if you’re just starting out with a website, be sure to have a contact form and/or an inexpensive chatbox plugin. This is extremely valuable, not only for brand trust and resolving problems. It’s a direct link to what your customers are thinking. Support communication is the first step in understanding our audience.
2. Customer Insight Forum
This is a branch of Namecheap where we encourage customers to sign up for surveys and interviews, so we can really get to know their individual wants and needs. It’s a powerful insight tool, giving us the opportunity for great dialogue with people about business growth pain points and solutions that may be helpful in solving them. With large companies, there’s no effective way to ask every customer, so we reach out to audience segments that represent each type of demographic.
First, we use short surveys to get an initial understanding. Then we ask if people are willing to participate in a conversation during a virtual Focus Group, with paid compensation to show our appreciation of their time. This gives us context and qualitative information around people’s actions and needs.
These days, even startups on a small budget can easily run surveys. There are a number of free and low-cost survey software platforms. And when you scale up, a sample of five to ten of your loyal customers will surely be happy to do an hour interview so you can do a deep dive, in exchange for a good discount or monetary Thank You token.
3. User Experience (UX) Research
Our UX Team runs user studies to find out how customers engage with our products. This also gives us insight into different types of customers and their behaviors.
If you’re a small business or startup, a free UX hack would be to find a stranger (not friends, as they may not want to hurt your feelings) to run through your website (ideally without the branding in place to remove emotions). A Skype screen share would be ideal, so you can see exactly where they have difficulties. Ask them to find various assets, to see if they can access everything easily.
Also, keep an eye on your website analytics for ‘bounce rate’ statistics. If large numbers of site visitors are not staying on an important page, something needs fixing fast. You could also try a UX interview, but bear in mind that what people say and what people do are sometimes very different.
4. Early Access Program
This is a fairly low-cost way to test out a value proposition. Or in other words, to see what level of interest customers have in your new product or service. It gives you a great idea of what to expect from your customer base and what kind of fit it is. If customers sign up for early access price points, you can gauge how it resonates with them and what kind of end-product pricing will be appealing.
It’s a great way for startups involved in new product development to test the waters before getting too deep. Even putting up a page and seeing if people are willing to sign up without the product or service being there is valuable, because you’ll find out the level of appetite.
5. Pay Per Click
A little more advanced than the Early Access program, this is where we test out sending PPC traffic (ad click-through) to a page and seeing if there is interest in a product offering. A few hundred dollars in ad spend will give you a good signal on whether people are interested in your product or service, and whether your value proposition is enticing enough to engage them. This is co-creating by listening to what the market is telling you.
If you’re new to PPC, learn more in this Beginner’s Guide.
6. A/B testing
We strongly believe at Namecheap in making sure everything is A/B tested. What this boils down to is putting different versions of digital assets in front of our audience, to see which one they like best. By giving multiple options, you’re essentially putting aside your experience and opinions, in favor of letting your customers tell you which direction to go in. It drives immense value.
Although A/B testing can be a more advanced tool, the simplest way for small businesses to leverage it is to divide your customer subscriber list into two to five slices. Send each slice a different email variation to see which one gets the most engagement. You’ll be surprised how even something as small as a different color call-to-action button can increase or decrease click through.
Co-creation is not just a case of: ‘What’s another word for being involved with your target audience to gain their insights’. Neither is it another word for development tools during product creation. It’s a way of thinking, the best-practice foundation of everything your business does.
The benefits of constantly gaining a deep insight into your audience are absolutely invaluable, no matter what size your business is, for these reasons:
1. Customer Loyalty
Modern consumers have unprecedented product and service choices, easily available from global sources. That means businesses, especially startups and smaller organizations that don’t have huge advertising budgets, need to do everything they can to earn and maintain brand trust. Showing your customers that you put their wants and needs at the heart of your products and services is the most effective way to gain loyal customers.
Innovative ideas are great, but only lead to heartache and loss if they flop on the marketplace. The best way to ensure product development success is by understanding your customers deeply, and designing products and services around their clearly defined pain points.
To learn more about how to take your business from Idea to Launch, listen to a bite-sized Masterclass on the subject by our Head of Concept Labs.
To co-create with Namecheap so that together we can build products that help your online business success, sign up to our Customer Insight Forum.
For support with growing your business ideas, we welcome you to make contact with our Powered by Namecheap platform. We believe not just in co-creating ourselves, but also in working with innovators to help bring their products and services to life. Send us a description of your idea, and if it passes the eligibility criteria we’ll give you a free year’s worth of business development tools. You’ll also win two one-hour live consultations with our experts, to unblock your bottlenecks and boost your online marketing strategy.