Very often research is just what is required to focus a team and create momentum over the long haul. Being on the end of an application that fails to penetrate the market is tough for companies and employees. We see this time and again: situations where the energy of teams are lost in the slightest misjudgment about the needs and attention of customers. Doing even a $10K study could avoid the loss of $600K or more in application development, and the unquantifiable loss of team morale.
Understanding how mobile works in reality
One of our customers has the most accurate and reliable economic events calendar available in the market. The product team which knows just how valuable their content is, jumped into developing a iOS/native app for the iphone, primarily for fear of being left behind by competitors.
This team spoke with a few key customers who agreed this was a "killer-app." This was all the group needed to get the budget required and off the company went building an app for the iphone. Six months later (longer than their initial 3-month estimate) it launched but hardly caught users' attention. There were a few things at play here: 1) underestimation of the complexities of distribution 2) misunderstanding of the difference between user "wants" and "needs."
This happens all the time. A concept that is overwhelmingly accepted by users in market research can fall flat when that product is launched.
In this case the company's primary goal was to widen the audience for "unfolding economic news events", and create buzz around the ensuing discussions with business experts. This type of economic news happens in moments, not hours.
With a more flow-based research approach we looked at data analytics first. The data itself had a story to tell. The reality was these events happened during business hours, and were most important to financial analysts and traders who are primarily at workstations during the day, not necessarily in commute or leisure time when mobile phones become more valuable. These events also typically unfolded during "key" times of the day when the customers were in multi-tasking mode, getting their attention would not be easy.
Given that the goal was to add value to economic events, we developed several concepts based on analytics alone. The first concept to research was to look at the existing workflow and tools and determine how we could integrate and create more value with live events, with the ability to capture and playback the news. The second concept was to push news that hit a threshold in "expert" opinion by email and instant messaging.
Again, the value for users is in understanding that there is something important happening that "requires" their attention. In reality knowing when the event was happening was good information for customers to have, however providing the tools to enable the user to integrate the event into their existing workflow, was the killer-app. Research led us to understand how the mobile app could play a role by enabling a quick replay/summary of today's economic events or tell them what is happening tomorrow on their way home from work. However, because the company developed and expected more engagement with end users the initial app missed the mark and did not deliver the type of value consistent with users expectations.
In the end what proved to be far less costly was adding events to their existing outlook calendar (already part of their workflow), with a link to the live event that included a play-back feature.
Is Radio dying or is something else going on?
Recently we had an interesting research project to untangle a web of theories about why perceptions around HD radio were so mixed from both broadcasters and listeners. Initial findings showed that "standard" Radio is alive and well, with more than 90% of the U.S. population partaking regularly (242 million listeners). We had to find out where the value proposition was for HD Radio, in an era of Internet-enabled music services and satellite radio.
As in many companies, the perceptions of employees tend to drive their behaviors. Digital Radio like many services sits in a sea of competing, similar and sometimes better services available from the Internet. Digital radio however is free content delivered via terrestrial airwaves but customers lacked an understanding of what exists and how to get it. Receiving content required an HD Radio that they could purchase in a new car or upgrade after-market. Most users confused it with satellite radio, which has a hefty cost comparatively.
Broadcasters were frustrated as they had bought the technology yet were not able to garner a big enough audience to monetize it through traditional radio advertising. There was a kind of impasse.... or chicken and egg syndrome. Does the content come first? Or do the customers acquire the radios first?
People use radio, depend on it and in many cases take it for granted. What they don't like is how antiquated it feels. Radio while one of the first portable devices available has become less portable over the years ironically. Think about the car stereo... why is it still fixed in the car? why don't most cell phones act like a radio?
We live in an era where desirability of content in most cases outweighs availability. Good content follows good devices and for the most part the devices available for radio are sub-par. The perception of radio is largely driven by its lack of desireability, not our actual need for radio content. We need radio and in times of disaster we all realize the importance of radio. Our basic need for radio has enabled it to exist in the same form-factor it has had for the last 40 years. New channels are buried under existing frequencies and radio interfaces do not allow us to explore the content well. It is rigid and the only customer that will take are radio junkies and commuters. People love radio but hate the delivery. This left us with the realization that if we figured out how to improve the delivery, it would be a game-changer for the industry.
Here is a bit of what we learned...
- Radio is free, local, universal, and habit forming. Internet radio meets different goals.
- Broadcasters will invest when consumers are invested... consumers will invest in a slick device
- Great content follows great devices; and the app experience is a content experience.
- "Desirability" can be a more important consumer driver than "availability"
Getting ahead and driving a new "smart" radio device was the imperative.
- Unchained from the dashboard of the car - the radio moves from the car, to the living room, and around the yard seamlessly.
- Time shifting and playback of "morning" radio at whatever time you commute - on-demand content when they want it.
- Simple features such as format matching when you drove outside of reception area, which happens often in urban settings. Finding and the reliability of the content was seen as weaknesses of radio - users are tired of the old mode of scan and seek. It was free but of poor quality and not desireable.
- Use Arbitron ratings to deliver me recommendations based on what you know about me - connect me to my location. What should i know?