One of my clients was an international software vendor for library catalogs. The produced a large suite of software for public libraries, private libraries, universities, professional organizations, and any other agency with a large body of content to curate.
Their offering, however, had spiraled into more than 30 brand-name products. Upselling customers from one line to another became confusing, even for insiders.
Our task was to identify products based on sellability - sales was one (easy) metric, brand recognition was another, perceived brand value was yet another.
Pick Up the Phone
The easiest way to determine whether or not a customer recognizes a brand is to ask. Determining how they value that brand in juxtaposition with others also involves asking.[ref]Often, but not always. There are other ways to suss this information out, but if you already have the customer on the phone, asking is far easier.[/ref]
For several weeks, my days consisted of several hours of calling customers and asking them various questions about our client's products. Quantitative questions - on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this to a friend? Qualitative questions - if you were explaining this product to a new colleague, how would you do so?
We then took additional time to extract keywords and perform sentiment analysis on the qualitative results, yielding a strong "brand report card" for our client that helped identify which brands were sellable, which were obscure, and which could safely be rolled into unified line offerings.
This kind of market research helped evaluate products already in the market and gauge their strength. Customers with real experience using the product helped produce actionable intelligence about comparative product value.
New To Market
In a later job with a startup, we again performed market research to gauge customer interest in our product offering.[ref]Unfortunately this research was conducted before any marketers joined the company, so it was heavily biased, poorly conducted, and yielded incredibly suspect results. Acting based on this research eventually drove the company into the ground.[/ref] While helpful, it was far less actionable than the research above.
Again, we would reach out to prospective customers directly, asking them a mix of qualitative and quantitative questions and attempting to aggregate a report. Early questions aimed at discovering pain points in the customer's life. A product demonstration followed, paired with questions aimed at mapping features to pain points.
The product seemed to do a great job at addressing unmet needs in the customers' lives. They were also fairly receptive to the concept of paying for the product and rated it at a considerable advantage to ancillary competitors in the market.
When it came time to launch, however, very few of these customers came back - not even for the free trial. Absolutely none of them ever paid for the product either, despite having led management to believe they'd pay up to $100/month for the service.
Market research conducted against vaporware is rarely, if ever, actionable and more informative than a hunch.
Solving the Problem
There is a discrete difference between people saying they'll pay (the second example) and actually paying (the first).
Yesterday, I pitched the idea of a premium newsletter subscription to this site and asked for opinions. My inquiry was less to gauge whether or not people would pay and more to judge whether or not they think it's a worthwhile pursuit - even if the never pay me a dime.
My goal here isn't half-baked market research. My goal is to judge:
- Does the idea make sense?
- If you were in my shoes, would you consider such an approach?
- Does this idea align with or compromise my objective of transparent content production?
Would you pay for such an idea? Great; saying so will encourage me, but I won't count on your cash until you prove it.
The only way to judge a real willingness of customers to pay for something that exists only in my mind is to ask them to actually pay.
In the interest of researching real market behavior rather than just market sentiment, allow me to run an experiment. Anyone interested enough in the idea of a subscription newsletter can pay me today any amount they wish. Any amount.
If you contribute anything you will be granted a newsletter subscription upon publication that will be valid for life.[ref]If the newsletter concept does not materialize by June 1, I will refund every penny.[/ref] How much would you value a lifetime subscription to the newsletter service I proposed?
Here's your chance to prove it:[ref]I've pre-populated the form with a list of potential payment options. If you want like the idea enough to subscribe, but don't see an amount in the dropdown that fits your opinion of the download, feel free to send any amount direction to my email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Then drop me a line and let me know you did so I remember to add you to the list.[/ref]