Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

When We Know What We Want.

Posted on: December 2, 2008

This world is supposed to be full of systems, and systems that carry inefficiencies. Entrepreneurs are in my dictionary, those that can look at those systems – ticking and clicking, and notice where and how the systems can be improved. Some are driven by their hearts and start NGOs, and others get all logical and while at it, also make some money.

In my book, entrepreneurs are those unsung heroes who get set to transform the way – hopefully for the better.

That’s quite a long topic, if we step into that world, and let me narrow it down to the aspect of understanding your end users. Time and time again, we hear phrases such as “Understand your customer” “The Customer is always right” “User-centric design” which in most cases is defined as keeping the customer, and his demands at the centre of the equation and coming up with solutions around them. Do Customers, and users… and most of all humans know of what they really need?

I think this is a crucial question to ask, because analyzing needs and the capacity for a user to pay for a service defines sustainability and in some cases survival for companies – and in this economic situation, for a whole lot of them. So what do users want? Men or Women, as they might be.

I think we have kind of oversimplified the equation at most times asking direct questions about a product. If you get into the details of a product asking questions such as “Imagine if you had an ipod, but better and cheaper, would you get it?”, the obvious answer would be a yes. What one needs to understand, especially an innovator or an entrepreneur is to understand the intangibles. How would buying that product do in terms of the pride, and show-off calibre of that person. A lot usually tends to matter. Long story short, I’d strongly recommend not to ask direct questions. The answers are always in-between the lines. If you interpret it right, you win, otherwise not. But you get better at it over time. Thats the good part.

There is a reason why I am writing this. There was a recent study that I came across that was asked to a group of single men and women as to what is it that they look for in potential spouses. The answers were all tabulated, and then they were observed over a couple of sessions of speed dates. Most of the time, the kind of people that we are “attracted” to, arent the ones that we define as our perfect spouses. And the eerie thing is that, when they did the same survey right after a date, depending of whether a candidate liked a person who didnt match their previous opinion, the answers would sway totally on the other direction. Come back to them after four more weeks and you’d get their old answers back – as the infactuation wears off.

In Summary, we arent capable of knowing what we want. Thats why B2C businesses have such a hard time understanding what their customers are looking for, what ticks, what doesnt, and what makes it all worse.

B2B businesses in that sense are slightly easier, since businesses do tend to have measured and analyzed every process in terms of metrics – either as costs, expenditures, manpower, transactions, or revenue and its all about making a number rise and one go down, and thats easier to measure and deal with.

Do keep that in the back of your head, if you are ideating. As much as customers are king, and their word is final, in most times they also don’t know what they want. You would have to do a little match-making on their behalf. And with time, you’ll get really good at it, if you like doing such things – and that’s the thrill of building a product that clicks.


3 Responses to "When We Know What We Want."

Right on!
If users know what they want, there would never be a WalkMan and may be the subsequent protable music players. Same goes with most of the products which are indispensable these days.
Why users, innovators themselves don’t know what is needed. We all know what Bill Gates said about a Computer with 64k RAM.
Forget about others if we analyse our own behavior, there is a lot of gap between what we think we want and what we actually go for (given all favorable conditions).

well, research does have a way of asking the same question in different ways so that an answer can be derived out of it.. what we want is also a function of time and existing condition among other things.. the coincidence is cool since i was just reading
nichetributes – making products and services relevant by incorporating ‘attributes’ and features that cater to distinct (if not niche) consumer lifestyles and situations.
thats one of the consumer trends for 2009, according to trendwatching 🙂

Also I think instead of asking only Whats it helps in great deal if you can ask why too. Why do you want some feature, how you intend to use it. Why a particular feature should be removed etc.
These whys need not always be asked to user/customer but to yourself as well. I think thats how you can process the information in-between the lines.

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