Customer Development and Research

Out of the Building #1: Vox Pops

Customer development handbooks (like that of Patrick Vlaskovits) usually mention some simple techniques when it comes to talking to people (like calling random people which I personally do not really advise based on my personal experiences and social trends), but researchers have so much more than that up their sleeves.

In this series of blog posts, I am going explore the basic guidelines of exciting methods used in consumer research, ready to be implemented in startup business environment as well. (I also define “getting out of the building” in the broadest possible sense, relating to the general concept of customer discussion and getting realistic feedback.)

Feel free to pick any tool to pep up any stage of your customer development process. And if you really wanna do it right,  consider these elements as controllers on a DJ mixing board to create an exciting mix instead of relying on just one element.

This week’s pick is (drums rolling): Vox Pops. 

WHAT? Sounding slightly like canned soda, it actually reveals a technique well known from the news media: asking people on camera. It technically means “voice of the people”.

WHY? Actually, “getting out of the building” could not get any more realistic. You not only talk to real people, but you also do that in their natural environment (at stores, clubs, in homes, on the bus or whatever the topic requires).

The situation will be so spontaneous that you can expect sincere consumer reactions and you are able to capture real emotions and consumer verdicts. It is not enough time to cover all the topics, however, in real life you would probably only get a few moments to awake interest, so it is also a great test.

By recording the chats (or some of them) on camera, you might not only reveal valuable opinions but may also have a short film to show to your investors, partners or even online. (In this case, ALWAYS ask for the participants’ consent and only publish material that you are allowed to.)

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Don’t be scared, you won’t need to look like a reporter from the Planet of Apes to get people talk. The huge mic plus this facial hair makes it quite…intimidating, anyway.

HOW?

First of all, think about some key questions you wanna ask considering your product, your vague idea or topic. Next, try to identify a public spot where you expect to find many members of your target group(s). Grab a friend or co-startupper and a camera or any similar device.

Walk up to relevant-looking people and ask them if you can chat with them for a few minutes, quickly mention the topic and ask whether you can capture the talk on the camera. (Some people will definitely be scared off, but in this case, you can still talk to them without recording it.) Be engaging, positive and assertive, show your enthusiasm. Also, you might want to point out that you are not working for a big multinational company but you are setting up your own business. This way, people might feel closer to you and be more open to help and support your dreams.

Listen to your instincts and if you feel the interviewee gets annoyed or bored, don’t sweat it; generally, 3 or 4 minutes are enough as it doesn’t exhaust anyone but you can catch some interesting first reactions.

Try to get at least 8-9 interviewees to edit a short video, but of course the more the better.:)

WHO? In the red corner: you and an assistant (a friend, a consultant or your fellow). In the blue corner: people whose opinions count to you, e.g. random members of your target group, potential customers, even people who signed up early adopters etc.

WHERE? Do it in natural customer environment – that is why the technique belongs to the set of “ethnography” research methods. As the CMO of P&G once said:

“If you want to understand how a lion hunts don’t go to the zoo. Go to the jungle.”

WHEN? At any phase of the customer development process – to test your idea, to catch reactions when people meet your MVP, to use testimonials as consumer reviews (even when you have already entered the market!) etc.

REMIXES:

1) Testimonial-like commercials and consumer recommendations are deeply rooted in Western advertising cultures, especially in the USA, so it might be a great idea to create a similar but structured version by inviting your early adopters or devoted users to help you create a video.

2) If there is a special group of people that matter to you (e.g. experts of the topic), you can also grab short videos involving them. Of course in this case, you should take more time preparing the process, coming up with the right questions and scheduling.

FINAL ADVICE:

This is “getting out of your comfort zone” par excellence. Take a deep breathe or even practice it with people that you already know. Also, don’t forget that others might be shy or nervous when approached with a camera (especially middle age ladies, according to my experiences), so compliments about their look or helpful attitude will surely help to get them relaxed. So put on your most charming smile and…action!

You can also watch some real examples here: http://www.voxpops.com/free-videos/

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