In the development of novel product concepts, a short field trial can generate invaluable early feedback on a product’s actual value, likely usage patterns, design flaws and how best to position it. Effectively, a trial allows you to create a small set of informed customers who can then help you shape the product’s design and messaging more effectively.
Real users have different interests and concerns and will use the product differently from anyone in the Lab who has previously tested it! That’s their value but be ready to wince when they misunderstand (or simply ignore) your operating instructions or when they repeatedly press the ‘wrong’ button or when they generate software errors you’ve never seen before or even rubbish a design feature of which the developers are particularly proud. You cannot afford to be defensive. They are the users.
On the upside, trial participants often take us completely by surprise in the innovative uses they find for a new product – applications which the developers may never have thought of. Interestingly, women are particularly adept at this.
A field trial usually consists of 3 steps:-
1. Selecting and recruiting a handful of different participants who reflect the intended customer profiles for the product. Identifying suitable and willing participants is often the most challenging part of the process but is a good learning experience in its own right we usually find.
2. Giving the participants a trial product (free of change) for a period of, say, 4 weeks and asking them simply to ‘live with’ the product and record for us their uses and reactions. We can provide them with a small dictaphone for them to record ad-hoc comments or reactions as they occur and we also ask them to take photos of them using the product.
3. Eliciting the participants’ views and reactions to the product. We usually structure this feedback session into two distinct parts. Firstly (and most importantly) one simply wants to hear them talk about their experiences with the product over the trial period, where they kept it, how they’ve used it (or not), how they feel about it, what they call it and any reactions from their family or friends. The richest vein often comes from analysing the language which people use around the product and the meaning it has started to have in their lives. In the second part, we ask the participants to act as ‘informed’ insiders helping us think through design refinements, product labelling and positioning, customer profiles, pricing, retail outlets, etc. Participants really enjoy being involved in this way and often generate excellent insights based on their different perspective.