Re: Design/Growth Podcast – Researching User Experiences for Business Growth

Summary: Watch the Re: Design/Growth Podcast, episode 20, where Michaela Mora discusses how to connect product experiences to business growth through market research and UX research with Ritvij Gautam, Timothy Rotolo from Trymata.

50 minute video. By author Michaela Mora on October 11, 2023
Topics: Product Research, Podcast, Business Strategy, Market Research, UX Research

Research can help create user experiences to support business growth. Although product use is critical to user experiences, these are created through customer interactions with different aspects of a product or brand, even when customers are not using the product. We need research to understand all dimensions contributing to the state of mind behind product experiences.

Michaela Mora had the opportunity to discuss this and other related topics on how to link product experience to business growth through market research and UX research in episode 20 of the Re: Design/Growth Podcast with Ritvij Gautam, Timothy Rotolo from Trymata (Formerly TryMyUI), on July 28, 2023.

Here is an abbreviated summary of some highlights, but listen to the entire conversation if you can. There is so much more in there!

Relationship between product experience and business growth


Product experience has always been a key driver of business growth. Once you make people aware of your product and get them to try it, then companies start the never-ending process of retaining those customers.

Product experience goes beyond the actual product we use. In customer satisfaction research, we often encounter what is called the halo effect, which is produced by salient experiences that can be positive or negative at any customer touchpoint (product performance, customer service, pricing and value received, etc.), so reducing product experience to product use is a mistake.

In the customer’s mind, all these experiences with and in connection with using the product are connected and create the positive or negative halo effect that impacts our willingness to keep buying and using a product.

The more disconnected the product development is from marketing and other business functions, the harder it is to create a coherent strategy for business growth.


How to do research that contributes to business growth goals


The goal of research in the business environment is to guide decision-making to achieve desired business outcomes. Businesses don’t do research for the sake of research. The creation of product experiences touches many business areas, from product development to operations, to finance, to sales and marketing. They all should be connected to the business product and marketing strategy.

Customers make trade-offs all the time that touch on those different areas. We need to research to understand what those trade-offs are for our products, competitors, and product categories.

We need research to identify the drivers that impact the customer experience. If you want to attract and keep customers, you need to go beyond just product use and explore the drivers in all those different areas that will affect your business.

This is a challenge for companies with founders or product development teams that don’t have a marketing or business background. They don’t see the connection.


Connecting different research disciplines to business goals


The term “user experience” was introduced in the early 90s by one of the founders of NNG, Dom Norman, when his team at Apple realized the experience of using Apple computers was weak.

In the original definition, user experience was defined as the state of mind, combining emotions and attitudes that developed because of user interactions with products and services, with customer support, and even marketing.

However, over time, UX research has become narrower, and in many companies, it became a function to support digital products and digital channels, and it got disconnected from marketing and the business strategy at large.

If you have a very strong focus on UX, disconnected from the company’s business and marketing strategies, you will probably hurt business growth.

In this scenario, you are at risk of developing products for which there is no need in the market, at a cost that the company cannot afford or produce, at a price that may not match the customer expectations or the competitive landscape, focused on features that don’t support benefits customers are looking for, and creating product experiences not aligned with the marketing messages.

UX research alone conducted in a silo is unlikely to have a positive impact on the business. It needs to be connected to the business strategy and combined with other types of market research. If you are focusing on one area and everything else is ignored, you’re not really making a dent in the business strategy or in the business outcomes. Companies will not invest in UX research unless it helps their business.

Direct impact of UX research on business growth – An example


UX research can have a real impact on growth when combined with other research initiatives as part of a research plan to study different customer touchpoints along the customer journey. It’s never only about digital interactions.

In my previous life, as part of the internal research team at Blockbuster Online, for example, we had a research plan to search for new market opportunities that started with qualitative research to explore unmet needs and continued with concept testing, positioning research, pricing research, many rounds of usability testing, advertising research for various marketing collaterals, promotions, and email campaigns, and a customer satisfaction and brand tracker to monitor the experience and the market.

All that research helped us to launch Blockbuster Total Access, which gained 1.5 million subscribers in nine months.

Similarities and differences between Market Research and UX Research


Many really don’t know what market research is. It is usually associated with surveys, quantitative research, or research supporting marketing because of limited experiences with companies that focus on specific types of market research.

However, market research is a multi-disciplinary field that includes qualitative and quantitative methodologies for data collection and analysis. The field is so vast that market researchers specialize in certain methods. It’s very hard to do everything and do it well.

Market researchers have been doing product research, similar to what UX researchers do, from need discovery to user testing for decades in the physical world. The techniques are not much different from those used by UX researchers, even if the latter work mainly in the digital channel.

All interviewing approaches, from jobs-to-be-done interviews, user interviews, and usability testing, are all adaptations to what we call in-depth interviews, which are oral adaptations of written interviews, which surveys are. So, all those data collection methods stem from the survey methodology.

The business and research objectives may vary from project to project, but behind the different terminologies, both groups are using the same techniques; some will be qualitative, and others will be quantitative, but there are no fundamental differences between the disciplines except in their focus, the problems they’re trying to solve in a particular project and terminology.

UX Research is product research on the digital channel. UX research also exists to gather information to guide business decisions, and it needs to help the business make money. Otherwise, they cannot pay your salary.

Bringing Market Research and UX Research together to create holistic user experiences


Companies already realize it doesn’t make sense to have these groups working on their own, duplicating efforts, and showing disconnected insights. We discussed this in the Experience management track at the Insights Association conference this year.

 In my experience, integrated teams in which all research disciplines work in complementary ways and are connected to expected business outcomes are the best approach to this. I have seen a work in practice.

Creating a more holistic approach in practice requires hiring diverse people, not only in terms of different backgrounds and demographics. We need people with different research skills to facilitate insight triangulation and synergistic learning.

Companies also need to create a structure for this to work. Being on the same team, working on the same projects, even from different angles, and having team meetings sometimes are ways to make this integration possible.

It has to come in a mandate from the top indicating we need to work together within an organizational structure that works for us, the type of problems we’re facing, and the products we have.

Why research repositories are necessary and insufficient


You can research repositories that nobody uses. You still must have dedicated resources to socialize the results and to pay attention to this resource.

At another conference, someone from Microsoft did a presentation about their repository system. They created their proprietary system and had a team synthesizing the research, sending newsletters, research summaries, and organizing presentation meetings.

 People really don’t have time to consume all that information. You can have a repository but must create a mechanism to facilitate utilization. Mere access won’t be enough.

Then, there is the research experience issue. Someone without little or no experience in research may not know how to consume the information, what to pay attention to, or why. They still need some guidance to triangulate those insights with others. Interaction with others is still very important in this context.

We want now to outsource everything to technology, but we still need humans in this process to make it work. Please don’t remove the humans because you’ll lose a lot in that process.

How to increase the internal value of research repositories


You must sell the benefit of research to them and show what the company loses if stakeholders don’t have access to a research repository and a mechanism to socialize the research.

You also need to create a common terminology. Everybody needs to speak in the same language about how to interpret and consume that information. A lot gets lost in translation because UX researchers and Market researchers are using different terms for the same thing, so you have to create systems around it.

Organizations should invest in research and education for members of the research team, so you should schedule internal learning sessions to present the research conducted. Discuss not only the results but also the approaches used. Allow for discussion of pros and cons so we can do better next time.

There’s always room for improvement in many research projects because of timing and budget or some other constraints. Suppose you’re going to take that initiative as a head of research. In that case, you must first make it valuable for the top, and position it from the money perspective. What is the organization going to win? How are they going to benefit if we engage in this process?

Never forget that research is a means to an end, and the business needs to get something out of it, otherwise, will not invest in it.

Getting financial support from the C-suite


To get financial support and resources for the research function, you start at the end by asking what the problems are and what decisions management is trying to make.

Researchers and stakeholders sometimes confuse business questions or problems with research questions. Business problems are not the same as research problems. We start with the business problem and translate it into research problems or questions. Business problems are about actions to take. Research problems are about information needs.

Unfortunately, research doesn’t move in the organization unless you have research champions at the top. If you don’t have any, find those who manage the budget and solve a problem for them so they can see the value of research.

The Law of the Hammer in research: The Perils of starting with research methods


In market research, we advocate for fit-for-purpose research. Unfortunately, many companies select research methods based on whatever tools and resource is available internally instead of the problems at hand. They already have invested in a subscription to tools or resources, and they feel forced to use it regardless of fitness for the problems they are facing, so it becomes a Law of the Hammer.

That happens when they go outside, too. I get many research requests from companies asking for specific research methods (e.g., focus groups, surveys, usability testing) without mentioning what problems they are trying to solve. Often, they ask for the wrong method, thinking only about what they know, like a hammer looking for nails.

When I often ask questions about business problems, things may change. Some realize they are focusing on the wrong problem on their path to solving a larger problem. Others decide to do it their way so I feel obligated to decline the business if it is something I can’t defend.

No one method will give you everything you need to solve every type of business problem. There are many different screws among the nails.

The benefits of collaborating with external research partners


A hybrid model in which internal research teams collaborate with external research partners was my preferred approach as an internal corporate researcher.

External research suppliers allow me to bounce ideas and do quality controls. The scope of the research becomes very narrow, and insular, when we try to do it all internally.

In many tech companies, the research teams are small, are familiar with a couple of methodologies, and have limited resources.

In reality, you need to have diversity to do good research. If you cannot hire more people, you need to partner with others who can help you from the outside. They can help you bounce ideas and find different approaches.

Sometimes, I help clients create their research plans, and they realize that their business problems can’t be studied with their internal skills and resources. They understand the value of allowing time and budget to bring someone on a project or temporary contract basis who can expand their capabilities.

Unfortunately, the DIY research trend is still going strong, in which companies try to bring all research in-house, expecting time and cost savings. The problem is they are not thinking about the opportunity costs: What other valuable research the company is not doing because the research team is busy doing things that would be better outsourced?

How to democratize research to enhance the value of the research function


Research democratization is problematic when it becomes an anarchy, in practice.

Democracies still need a government, rules, processes, and institutions to make it work. That everybody can do research with no or limited training or guidance is, in fact, akin to anarchy, which is very inefficient and could be harmful to the goals of the organization. 

The organization is not a democracy. The organization has pretty clear goals, and we need research expertise to guide that process to minimize the garbage-in-and-garbage-out.

We need clear business goals and outcomes to drive the research. The fact that everybody can access a research tool doesn’t mean they should do it if they don’t understand research fundamentals and how they can infuse bias and errors into the process. Democratization can hurt the value of the research because quality degrades pretty quickly in those scenarios.

Research becomes useless when done by those who don’t know what they’re doing.

Stakeholders without research training can still take part in this process.

  • They can participate in the problem definition phase and help refine the research objectives and desired outcomes.
  • They should look at the discussion guides, give feedback on surveys and discussion guides, observe the interviews, and the data collection process.
  • They should participate in developing insights and their implementation plan of those insights. Still, they should NOT be designing the interview guides, the surveys, or doing the interviews and data processing if they don’t have research training.

I like the idea of more democratic participation in the research process, but the question is, how do we participate in this research democracy?

Rit: “Democratizing research means maybe democratizing the outcome of research, more so than the practice of research. The practice of research is best left to researchers.”

I agree!

Find the Design/Growth Podcast podcast channel by TryMata, here.