Demystifying User Research
A decision maker's guide

This 4 minutes read cuts straight to the chase of what is user research, offering business leaders and decision-makers a clear, straightforward understanding of this expert domain. 

We've written this guide to specifically strip away the complexity, presenting a clear overview, practical insights and real-life mini case studies that showcase how understanding your customers can drive phenomenal business success. Perfect for those eager to make informed, impactful decisions in a competitive market, this guide will empower you with the knowledge to efficiently leverage user research in your organisation.

Navigating the intricate world of customer needs as a business stakeholder can be compared to being a visitor in a foreign country.

A line drawing of a globe and a speech bubble merged into one, with arrows showing one goes to the other.

In the world, translation can be a problem

Picture yourself in a bustling city abroad, equipped with a few words in the local language. You're confident you can make full sense of what's around you, yet soon you find yourself mistakenly ordering unappetising meals, ending up with an unsuitable hotel room, or being dropped off at the wrong bus stop. These mishaps stem from a lack of deep familiarity with the language, culture and the local context, and can't really be avoided no matter how hard you try. Picture how much smoother your experience would be with a translator by your side, someone to highlight details and clear up misunderstandings, easing frustrations and steering you away from potential missteps while enabling you to do exactly what you want.

A line drawing of a looking glass showing a person, a speech bubble and some stylised lines of text.

In the business world, there's user research

In the realm of business, this role is mirrored by a user researcher. They provide invaluable insights, translating customer behaviours and preferences into actionable data, ensuring stakeholders are perfectly attuned to the needs and desires of their audience. Like the translator who turns a confusing situation into a clear and navigable one, a user researcher deciphers the complex language of customer behavior and needs, enabling businesses to make well-informed decisions with fewer missteps and greater success.

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Mini case study: Instagram

Did you know Instagram owes its success to correctly reading their users actions, needs and goals? Instagram began life as Burbn, a photo check-in game. But something wasn't clicking. The founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, noticed one feature was clearly resonating with users: photo sharing. By focusing on this aspect, they pivoted, and Instagram was born in 2010. This pivot wasn't merely a change in features; it represented a fundamental shift towards aligning with user preferences – a perfect example of user research successfully informing business strategy, followed by action on the insights provided. 

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So how does User Research work?

User research in business functions similarly to your friendly translator's job. It's not just about asking questions or conducting surveys. It’s about immersing oneself in the user's world, understanding their unique habits, their struggles, their goals, and translating these insights into actionable business strategy data points.

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Mini case Study: Groupon

Actioning insights from user research was the lynchpin in Groupon’s origin story. Groupon started as The Point, a platform for social campaigns, and wasn't gaining much traction. One of the founders was closely looking at what the users were actually doing and talking about on the platform and got intrigued by a group that had banded together to save money by finding enough people interested in a product to be able to go and ask for a bulk discount. The leadership team decided on 2008 to pivot in that direction, transforming into a site for group discounts and a overnight success. These aren't just tales of businesses changing direction; they're stories of how deeply understanding the user can lead to groundbreaking success.

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How robust is user research, compared to analytics for example?

In the course of our team's decade plus long experience, we've heard many common misconceptions about user research. Many people see it in particular as unscientific or "fluffy". They couldn't be more wrong. User research employs a range of scientifically robust methods, from in-depth interviews to ethnographic studies, using frameworks, for example grounded theory, the robustness of which has been validated in social sciences. It's not about just gathering data; it’s about analysing it systematically to unearth insights that drive informed decisions. There's also a misconception that subject matter experts always know best, dismissing customer insights as secondary. However, this perspective misses a crucial point: customers are the lifeblood of any business. Balancing technical expertise with genuine customer insights leads to more nuanced and effective solutions, while ignoring customers usually comes at a hefty price.

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Mini case study: Avon

A poignant example of overlooking customer needs is the case of Avon's $125 million software upgrade fail. Avon launched in 2013 a new order management system, with the expectation that their sales representatives would adapt to it. However, they failed to consider the fundamental characteristics of their resellers: part time sellers who ran their Avon micro-business either as a hobby or alongside full-time higher earning jobs. They had limited time and incentive to learn a complex new system. The rollout of the new software was an immediate failure with users who couldn't make sense of the complicated new interface and didn't value Avon enough to spend time and effort mastering it, therefore wouldn't order or sell. The software was rolled back at great cost both in terms of finance and PR. This story highlights the critical importance of closely aligning product design with user capabilities and goals. 

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The place of user research in an organisation's product strategy

Integrating user research into a business strategy and plan isn't just beneficial; it's essential. It leads to products and services that not only meet but also anticipate customer needs. Quality insights from research well executed can identify key themes that enable a brand to create a genuine connection, a fit so seamless that customers feel the product was made exactly for them. This approach doesn't just satisfy users enough to transform them into customers; it delights them, leading to loyalty, advocacy, and, ultimately, business success.

In practice, business stakeholders can think of user research not as an optional extra or last minute add-on but as an essential component of their strategy and process. It's a practice which uncovers new opportunities, helps mitigate risks and keeps you ahead in a competitive market. It's the difference between guessing and knowing, between hoping and being sure.

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Embracing user research is embracing a journey of discovery and success. 

It's about being curious, open-minded, and willing to deeply understand 

the world around you in order to take the next best step towards success. Just as a skilled translator can unlock the wonders of a new country, effective user research can unlock the immense potential of your product, service or brand, enabling a transformative journey of validated insights-based innovation.

Your best next step

If you'd like to know more about what user research could deliver for your organisation or products, we are offering you a free, no-obligation 30-minute one-off confidential consultation to discuss your unique needs and questions. 

This is an opportunity to see how tailored user research can fit in with your business strategy and processes, and drive success. 

No strings attached, no heavy sales pitch – just an exploratory conversation to unlock new possibilities, all under a confidentiality and non disclosure agreement for peace of mind.

Images credits

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