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During challenging economic times like we face today, most smart entrepreneurs see both more opportunity and increased risk. So, when it comes to starting up a new business venture, it’s more important than ever before to guide your decisions with data.
But as a leader in the insights industry, I see traditional research methods failing today’s entrepreneurs. When you’re dreaming of disrupting an existing market or upending the way a problem is solved, the status quo doesn’t offer the blank-page flexibility that you need to evaluate the soundness of your instincts.
Leaders looking to pivot need to make intelligent, informed decisions at rapid speed. So if you’re thinking about starting a new venture or expanding your side gig, here are some research mistakes you absolutely must avoid if you’re looking to make a real impact in competitive marketplaces.
1. Letting surveys write the script
Quantitative surveys are tempting because they’re cheap, quick and inclusive in terms of demographics and geography. But they also have a serious depth problem. The questions are often too restrictive to net you truly authentic insights. You often get superficial answers that don’t offer the context you need to fully understand market potential.
If you’re trying to figure out a brand-new vertical, asking static questions about the world that currently exists isn’t going to get you where you need to be in order to understand if you’re making the right call.
What to do instead
There’s a reason why so many experts in the insights field refer to this as a discovery process: If you go into it believing you already know what you’re going to find, you’re simply going to have your preconceptions reaffirmed.
You need to throw out the script and talk to people. That’s not to say quantitative research isn’t useful — it absolutely is. But to capture the nuance that comes with rich emotional reactions and body language, you also need to speak to your potential audience in a way that enables them to share the “why” and “how” behind the “what.”
Instead of asking presumptuous questions like, “Would product X solve your problem?” you should have conversations with your target audience and allow them to tell you about their pain points. This tests your assumptions about the marketplace and prevents your biases from distorting the findings.
2. Relying too much on focus groups for the big picture
Considering the limitations I just detailed regarding quantitative research, you might be tempted to gather feedback through focus groups. Though more expensive, this option does solve many of the problems quantitative surveys pose. However, it creates a whole new set of issues to work through.
Assuming you want to convene your focus groups in a physical space, you’ll be limited to local participants and those with relatively flexible schedules. Does that fully capture the demographics and geographies you’re trying to reach? Very likely, it won’t. What about people who work during the day — will they take time out of their busy calendar to come to your focus group? How about those with disabilities or challenges with transportation? Are you ensuring they are fully represented?
Even if you decide to convene focus groups in a remote environment, these sessions traditionally require participants to share their opinions in front of others, leading to groupthink and biased results, not to mention the challenges of accurate recall. These are all deadly factors when it comes to launching new ideas or exploring new possibilities.
What to do instead
To discover a world that doesn’t exist yet, you must be wary of the status quo. But thanks to the technology we carry around in our pockets every day, there are some really simple ways to break away.
You can ask study participants to use their phones to record videos of themselves using products in the moment as they would in their daily lives, or even when they’re shopping in-store or online. Without a moderator to lead the discussion, participants will subconsciously feel more free to take you along on their journey, and this is where the real innovation comes in.
Honest, raw and uncut opinions from actual consumers will help bring your idea to life or show you where there might be an unmet need or improvements that can be made. This approach enables you to understand at a really deep level what your audience desires and how to structure your offerings to stand out. It will uncover real usage trends and hidden insight gems. And not only that, the asynchronous nature of this kind of research allows you to avoid schedule-based biases and embrace the geographic and demographic diversity that’s necessary to understand a global customer base.
This economic moment offers incredible opportunities to those looking to strike out in a new direction. Leveraging next-generation research technologies will arm you with the data you need to be part of the next wave of innovation and start delivering experiences your consumers rave about.