Developing the Product Experience: 7  Creative Online Research Methods in Action

Laura Butterworth

Pitch It: The Business Case for Customer Salience

As insight experts, we understand the power of insights, their inherent value in key decision-making...


Emily James

    What is a Product Experience?

    An experience can be defined as two things: “Practical contact with and observation of facts or events” and “an event or occurrence which leaves an impression on someone”.

    Notice the latter definition. Translated for the product experience - the product is the event or occurrence that leaves an impression on someone. And it is our aim to understand these impressions in the mind of a customer. What are they; how were they created by the product experience journey; and what impact do they have on customer behaviour going forwards?

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    Product Experience -> Product Impression -> Future Customer Behaviour

    Delving deeper into the dictionary definition, ‘practical contact’ would assume some degree of encounter with the product is needed to engage with and experience a product to the full. And sometimes I would agree, it is. But that doesn’t put online research methods out of the running in terms of quality feedback collection, at all! In fact the anonymous nature of online research often provides accuracy beyond that of face-to-face. It’s simply a question of being creative. And with this in mind, here are my top 7 preferred creative methods for researching the product experience remotely.

    1. Vlogs: New Product Experience

    Already proven popular on the likes of YouTube, ‘unboxing’ vlogs are ideal for capturing initial product impressions. This method can be used for pre-launch reviews or an evaluation of an existing market product with new customers. You will of course need to send the product to your participants ensuring that it is only opened during the video task.

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    Not just for YouTube. ‘unboxing’ vlogs are perfect for product experience research

    The video task should include the answers to a few questions set by you to guarantee the necessary insight. Vlogs will capture the emotion in participant reactions; they will enable them to demonstrate any issues with ease and will reflect the context of their use. Smartphones have removed any barriers to the collection of audio-visual customer feedback. Just tell your participants what you want to know and invite them to add any additional comments.

    2. Mobile Diary Studies: Existing Product Experience

    Our relationship with products cannot be described solely in words, we find ourselves itching to use imagery to tell a story, share an emotion, or to express an opinion. Mobile enabled and complete with image and video upload, emojis and text feedback; a diary study provides the ultimate in contextual product experience depth.

    Invite people representative of your target customer segments to participate in a variety of diary tasks across either two or four-week periods. The diary study should ask customers to feedback in a different formats and at different times, recording their use of your product. Moderate individually with each customer for added insight value and add a free form journal for participants to feedback on product experience elements that fall outside of task remit.

    3. Interactive Online Whiteboards: Product Experience Visuals

    Qualitative and innovative, interactive online whiteboards use sentiment analysis to explore product packaging impressions and digital product design. Respondents can attach positive, negative or neutral sentiment tags to their comments, providing instant visual summaries of popular opinion. All providers of interactive whiteboards tend towards heat mapping to represent sentiment. Our SmartboardMR uses red, amber and green for example.

    Because interactive whiteboards enable participants to pin to the exact product packaging or digital design element eliciting a positive or negative impression problem specifics can be identified at speed. Comments accompanying sentiment tags should be analysed for critique and improvement suggestions. Respondents enjoy the visual cooperation, researchers benefit from both ‘big picture’ and detailed feedback. A win-win scenario all round.

    4. Live Chat Discussions: Product Experience Specifics

    We like to talk about our experiences – using technology to share our thoughts and emotions with our peers is now second nature. In the world of online research, this is gold dust. Collaborative online discussions regarding the product experience allow for organic peer-to-peer exploration and consensus building. Participants will often share more with us in this setting, sometimes without conscious intent.

    I am a personal fan of live chats for such discussions. They’re fast, fun and focused. With a dedicated software program you can pre-upload topic guides so that you can concentrate on the conversation unfolding, prompt and probe. As they are live, these discussion should only last approx. 30 minutes so they best lend themselves to specific product experience areas identified as needing further investigation.

    5. Suggestion Box: Product Experience Improvements

    Every single one of your customers will have an opinion about your product experience. And a sizable percentage of them would like share it with you. It’s natural. So, let them. Create an online ‘suggestion box’, which allows customers to feedback on existing product features and suggest changes. Make this permanently available if possible. Make sure that it’s secure: not vulnerable to abuse or hacking but leaving it open on going. In this way you will be able to monitor how the mood surrounding your product experience evolves over time as well as soliciting a rich stream of customer centric development ideas. Simple, creative, effective.

    6. Surveys: Product Experience Quant Evaluation

    ‘Creative’ is not something which instantly springs to mind when thinking about surveys. Online surveys today however, are no longer limited to the traditional, boring textbook layout of multiple choice after multiple-choice question. Imagery, video integration, and even interactive ‘drag and drop’ questions are all examples of the creative survey questions now available to provide a unique twist on product experience quant.

    I am a great advocate of creative online qual in general, and the methods outlined above for the rich, emotive, contextual feedback required for accurate product experience development. Where possible though, I do like to sense check the more sizable development plans with quant via a creative survey program.

    7. Online Customer Communities: Continuous Rounded Product Experience Feedback

    For continuous feedback on your product experience create a closed, opted in online customer community. In doing so you can track individual customer feedback over time and expand on areas of interest with topic specific forum and poll combinations. With the interactive social functionality offered by many community software providers it’s a creative play on social networking popularity for dedicated research purposes.

    An online customer community will stand alone as a 24/7 product experience ‘listening’ method but you can also use any number of the creative research methods previously mentioned in conjunction. Simply invite sub-groups to the task at hand. Be it a diary study, whiteboard, live chat discussion or panel survey.

    In Conclusion

    In a dynamic marketplace, a product experience that begins and continues to delight customers is essential to commercial success. Being creative with your online research approach will identify changes in customer needs and opportunities for product development both faster and more effectively. I hope my suggested methods inspire you to pursue your product experience research online. And if you have any of your own to share, please do so below.

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