14 August 2006

Get out of that rut and into the shower [The New York Times]

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Qualitative market research
Yesterday, the New York Times published an intriguing story on companies embarking on qualitative market research. The article lists examples of the hedge fund Second Curve Capital visiting and interacting as customers with bank branches, the faucet-and-fixtures manufacturer Moen Inc. filming people taking real showers in their own homes and using the findings to design a new line of products, and QuickBase, a division of Intuit, trying to make sense of customer behaviour that never fails to surprise them.

“Second Curve Capital is a hedge fund that manages hundreds of millions of dollars by making big, long-term bets on the stocks of banks and financial services companies. That means [the company] spends much of [its] time hobnobbing with chief executives and bantering with chief financial officers — the rarefied world of big-time investors hunting for their next great buy-or-sell decision.”

“Once a year, though, [Second Curve] organizes a different kind of hunt — a “branch hunt.” In it, the entire organization turns its attention from the suite to the street — and, by scrutinizing the fine details of how banks interact with their customers, sees the market from a new perspective.”

“In some cases, getting out of your office means, well, getting into someone else’s shower. A few years back, Continuum, an industrial design and innovation consulting firm in West Newton, Mass., worked with Moen Inc., the faucet-and-fixtures manufacturer, to develop a new line of showerheads for the home.”

“Continuum has a reputation for unconventional research techniques, and it suggested that the best way to understand what consumers would value in a shower was not just to listen to them, through focus groups or surveys, but to watch them as well. That is, to film them taking real showers in their own homes and use the findings to design a new line of products.”

“This up-close-and-personal technique generated all sorts of revealing insights. Researchers saw that people spent half their time in the shower with their eyes closed, that they spent 30 percent of their time avoiding water and that, because of poor shower design, they often risked slipping or otherwise being hurt.”

“These and other findings shaped the design of Moen’s Revolution showerhead, which became a best seller.”

Read full story (permanent link)

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