In most market research, you start with a hypothesis or a set of assumptions and you take it from there. Those assumptions often aren’t conscious – for instance, when asking a user to rank a set of product attributes you’re assuming you know which attributes are most important – but they’re almost always present. For most research that’s fine, however for problems that are large and unknown these assumptions hinder our ability to identify a solution. This is true not just for traditional market research efforts, but for analytics-driven research as well. Diving into data – big or small – to try to answer a question doesn’t guarantee a correct result.
For those big, vexing problems, we need another approach.
Customer Research Without Assumptions
Serendipitous discoveries require that we shake those assumptions. We need to be able to observe and learn without our questions or research getting in the way of themselves. In order to do this, we need to adopt a customer-centric perspective. We once again need to stop thinking about the customers and start thinking like the customer.
Obviously, in order to perform research you still need to know what it is that you’re seeking to understand. We therefore still need to be able to ask questions and set goals, but we need to ensure those goals are assumption-free. To do so, start with the problem you want to solve or question you want to ask, and then convert that into a broad but addressable customer-centric issue. In other words, you need to be able to frame it as a human experience.
Addressing problems framed in this manner is not something that can be done with surveys or some kind of defined Q&A process – both require questions which embody assumptions. Instead, such research must be primarily observational. You want to be able to gather information in an open-ended manner. Questions should only be asked in response to observation. The primary issue in the design of such studies must be: what about our customers can we observe in order to gain the necessary understanding?
When to Take an Assumption-less Approach
The assumption-less approach to market research should only be undertaken for big, unknown problems. If you are even moderately familiar with the customers and the market, can envision a defined set of possible outcomes with a good degree of certainty, and can frame a set of hypotheses, then the problem is capable of being defined in a manner which does not necessitate an observational, assumption-less study.
The assumption-less approach is best when:
- You are highly unfamiliar with the customers, market, or problem.
- The problem at hand is novel.
- Other methods of research or analytics cannot be used or have failed.
- You cannot define a set of likely outcomes and have no hypothesis to test.
Aided by technology, many life science marketers who perform market research are increasingly relying on a combination of surveys and analytics to perform market research. These methods, however, cannot answer all questions. Hypothesis-driven market research imparts assumptions which can confound the understanding of unknown problems. To best tackle those big problems, take an assumption-less approach and perform an observational study which seeks to better understand unadulterated customer experiences.