How to Accelerate Growth By Applying Agile Market Research Throughout the Product Lifecycle

Morgan Molnar, Head of Product Marketing and Insights @ SurveyMonkey
Ascent Conference 2019

[00:00:05] Hi, everyone, so great to be here from sunny California. The energy at this conference is really invigorating. So thank you for having me today. I’m going to be talking about How to Accelerate Growth by Applying Agile Market Research throughout the Product Lifecycle. And there’s a lot to unpack in this pretty lengthy title. So first, what do I mean by agile market research? I’m sure most of you have pretty grasp familiarity with agile software development and that framework. And, you know, it’s the idea of taking large, complex, long term projects and breaking it down into smaller, more manageable chunks or sprints. The same really applies in market research. If you’re taking a long term project that’s going to take maybe upwards of eight months, maybe it’s a product development initiative and you plan it all from the start and you don’t adapt along the way, you might risk launching a product that’s irrelevant or doesn’t meet a market need. And so what agile market research does is pretty much the same thing as agile software development. And it takes the market research and the insights you need throughout that product development process. And it breaks it down into smaller, more manageable iterative chunks or sprints where you might be exploring a market, testing ideas, validating those ideas, and then track optimizing and tracking along the way. And so what I’m going to talk to you today about is how to apply agile market research to the entire product development lifecycle. And so here’s the textbook diagram of the product lifecycle. You’ve got development prelaunch. It’s when you’re first coming up with those big ideas, you know, are going to be a winner and then you get into where the revenue growth curve actually starts. So introducing your product to market growing, then peaking at maturity and then ultimately declining. And there are research methodologies and projects that make sense. And you should be doing along each of these stages of the product development lifecycle. And we’re going to go into a couple of these, along with some real life stories from survey monkey customers who are excelling at this. And so let’s focus first on development. So there’s a lot of things you can be doing. Again, this is where you’re really coming up with those amazing ideas that you’re going to be taking to market. First, you want to be sizing that market and segmenting the prospective buyers. What is that total addressable market? What do they want? What do they care about competitive intelligence? So who are the other players in this space? What are their differentiators? And how is your idea going to provide unique value to the market? Uses an attitude which is kind of research lingo for a collective consumer behavior study. So it could be anything from understanding buyers, behaviors, attitudes, opinions, the shopper experience, buyer journey, how people make decisions when purchasing and then concept testing. So once you have some prototypes, once you have some early stage ideas, how are you testing? How are you getting that in front of people getting feedback from an unbiased representative group of your target market? And so while all of this is going on in that development stage of the product lifecycle, founders and entrepreneurs are also carrying about another big thing, and that’s fundraising and that’s winning over investors. And all of this research that you’re doing to help inform the early stage of your business is also going to help you win over those investors. I got to sit down with Zoe Schlag, managing director of TechStars. It’s an accelerator program that’s internationally known. And she said in her own words, When I’m backing an entrepreneur, one of the things I’m looking for is unique market knowledge that no one else has. It’s coming to and in an investor with a unique perspective on a market problem that no one else has tackled from the same perspective. And so to win over an investor, you need that data to pack up your idea, your unique perspective, and sometimes you can’t get that anywhere else. You’ve got to do that. Research yourself. Here’s an example from an early stage startup still in the development stage. It’s called Bridge Care. They are they are trying to make health sorry, child care more easily affordable and findable through employer benefits. And what they did is use market research to understand the roots of parents struggles with child care costs. Early on with this company, they were looking into how do we help parents finance child care? We’ve got student loans, we’ve got mortgages. We don’t have anything helping people for a child care.

[00:05:01] And so this was something that they were researching early on. And Jamie, the founder, knew that she needed a unique statistic that would really just prove out this need this problem, this issue that she was trying to solve and help prove out what kind of business model would work best.

[00:05:22] And so, in her words, a lot of people reuse the same statistics to stand out to investors, though, you need the right data to prove out your own unique business model. What Jimmy found was a lot of people who are entering this child care space. We’re quoting the same statistics over and over. There’s a really famous one from Lean In that says 43 percent of women are leaving the workforce due to child care or other caregiving responsibilities. And that was getting cited again and again and again and events. Investors would hear that in her pitch and they’d nod like, yes, we know, what are you going to do about it? And so Jimmy knew that she had to find that money stat that was going to tie this. You know, the problem of women leaving the workforce to the child care costs to this idea of financing. And so she did her own market research. And Jamie’s money stat was one in three parents are taking on credit card debt as a direct result of the high cost of child care. So for the first time, investors were hearing not just women leaving the workforce, but that parents were taking on other types of financing because of this high cost of child care. And so for the first time, investors would listen to her pitch and their ears would perk up in their upward. Did you get that? And she said, I did my own homework. I did my own research. I surveyed over a thousand parents of children of a certain age. And I this is what’s happening. This is what’s going on. And so she was able to win over investors.

[00:06:54] She got into the TechStars program and she’s still growing and acquiring customers and adapting her business model again to the needs of parents. But again, what really helped her get that initial round of funding get into a really great accelerator program was having this unique stat.

[00:07:12] To win over investors, OK, next stage introduction, at this point, you’re really doing it, your product is out there, it is in the market is not stealth mode anymore. You are are in the real world. And so while that’s all well and good, that research does not stop there. So in the introduction stage, the main things you want to be focused on are product item optimization. So after you’ve launched that MVP, how do you continue to refine the product features? How do you refine the pricing you’re targeting, etc. and then shopper insights. So continuing to understand what’s going on at the shelf, the entire buyer journey. And then you want to be testing and refining your messaging, whether that’s on your website, it’s on your physical packaging, it’s on your product itself, it’s how you talk about it, how your salespeople talk about it, et cetera.

[00:08:04] And so we’re going to talk about some product testing, product testing example. This is a company, Helix Sleep there, a mattress and sleep accessories company based here in New York City. They make customizable mattresses tailored just to your sleep preferences and comfort levels. And they used market research to develop their most recent product, the Helix Pillow. And they had a hunch, they had a hunch that people were buying pillows along with their mattresses and did some research on that and found a guy. Actually, not only were they buying them, but two to three per mattress purchase. And so they’re like, OK, there’s something here, there’s a market here, let’s figure out how we can solve it. And they did some more research. So they they really did iterative research throughout the entire product development process of coming up with this idea and launching this idea of a new Pelo. And one thing that they found was that pillow comforter and pillow preferences were just as personalized and specific to the individual as mattresses were. Some like it hot or cold, soft or firm, high profile, low profile. And not only this, but they found a unique stat that this was also not just different person to person, but even the same person’s preferences would change based on the season, the temperature outside. And so what they developed was a new pillow that had removable inserts, a cooling cover. So it was customizable not only person to person, but even for your same needs throughout the year. And it was wildly successful. They sold out this pillow in the first month of their launch. And according to the founder, Jerry, using DIY market research and iterative market research, they’ve been able to cut the product development cycle in half. That’s basically doubling their speed to market. So huge success there just by doing a few market research studies as they’re coming up with these ideas and refining these ideas, they launched a successful new product.

[00:10:08] All right. So now growth, this is where you really, you know, step on the gas pedal. And once you already know, your product is awesome, this is where you can start to track and continue to keep a pulse on the market and continue to refine even further. One of the big things that almost every brand is doing is tracking key critical brand metrics periodically throughout the year. Ad testing is big. So now that you’ve you’ve developed product market fit, you’re in that acceleration in growth stage. You’re probably developing a cadence of marketing campaigns and ads that are going to, you know, evolve and improve your brand perception in the market. And then you obviously always want to keep in touch with market trends overall, not just about your brand or your competitors, but generally what’s going on in the market. And so this is a story about Albats, who knows about the Albats brand, who’s heard about them a lot of OK, a lot of hands in the room. OK, we’ll get a little bit of participation here, OK? What do you think of the Albats brand? What comes to mind? Just shout.

[00:11:12] Shout out. Recycled or recyclable?

[00:11:16] I heard. Inexpensive.

[00:11:22] Comfortable, yes. All right, well, those are great, so Albert’s mission in the post this on their website, in their search snippets, if any of you for the talk a couple of weeks ago was the most comfortable shoes using environmentally sustainable materials. And even though Albats has only been around for five years, they were founded five years ago and they have already grown to be an internationally recognizable and beloved brand. And what they do is they regularly track key brand metrics that are critical to their success. So awareness, yes, but general perception and brand associations. So all those words you threw out are the things that you thought of when you saw this brand. Those are the things that they’re trying to keep a pulse on perception and consideration across all of the markets that they’re in, all of the geographies. And what this does for Albats, I mean, if you think about how they’ve been able to grow so fast and build this brand is they’re using these brand metrics as almost a validation or a calibration exercise so that all of the ads, the messages, the content that they’re putting out there is building in amassing all of this brand knowledge and awareness and perception in this in the exact trajectory that they want to go into. So comfort, low cost sustainability, recyclable materials, all of those things that you shout it out exactly what they wanted you to think of. And so this brand tracking is keeping them on the pulse of that. They’re head of analytics. Dinesh says it is important for us to keep a close eye on brand strength because that is how we’re going to grow. Brand superimportant and the research behind it just as important.

[00:13:12] OK, so now you get to maturity, brand tracking pretty much goes on once you’re big enough to have general brand awareness and a broader market, you start brand tracking. You keep that going as long as your business is alive. The next thing I want to talk about, though, is thought leadership research. And what I mean by thought leadership research is the research that you do not necessarily to internally inform your strategy, but the research that you’re doing to build your brand’s credibility, your authority, your expertize, the research that you’re publishing publicly. So if you hear of a state of blank research reports that businesses put out all the time on their major categories, that’s thought leadership research. If you’ve, you know, listen to any of the keynotes today and you’ve seen statistics quoted or cited in their in their presentations that’s thought leadership research. And so it’s not just about, you know, getting the stats that a reporter wants or building the report to drive your own business need. This is also what readers are seeking out. So we actually did our own research with people consuming content, and they said that content that contains data or content that contains research is more trustworthy, it’s more persuasive, it’s more fun to read than content without data.

[00:14:34] And here’s a really fun example from a project management company there are based in the Bay Area. They’re called Rike, and they regularly conduct market research on workplace topics to fuel their awareness and demand joint efforts. So they work with reporters to see what kind of stories that they’re going to be writing about. And they do research to help provide stats and quotes for for those pieces. They also fuel their demands and efforts by creating really beautiful PDF research reports and then getting those on their website to collect leads. And there’s a really fun example of one study that they did a couple of years ago that has just exploded from a press mention and awareness perspective for four. Right. So their strategy is they they find peripheral topics or topics that are tangentially related to what they do. There are project management software company, which if all you write about is product project management, you might get a little boring. But what they do is they find fun topics that have mass appeal but can be tied back to workplace and project management. They did a study on swearing in the workplace and it was a really fun study they published a few years ago. And this thing has exploded. It’s gotten over hundreds of back links to their site to this day. It continues to get cited. They found some really interesting things in their study. One, apparently, women admit to swearing more than men at work. To that, I say, hell yeah. And they also found that, especially among millennials, that they wouldn’t even consider applying for a job if swearing was strictly banned at the company. So some really fun facts here. And and you see even just some of the some of the wide publications over here on the right of where they were getting these mentions and back links, you know, even a segment on The Today show. So some really interesting stuff coming from here. And again, it was a fun research report, ties back to the workplace, but yet it still continues to get mentions to the stay.

[00:16:45] All right, so then you get to the decline stage and you pack up and you get a new job. No, just kidding. Now this is where everything starts all over again. Everything we talked about comes back full circle. You are evolving your product. You’re getting acquired. You’re finding new growth curves.

[00:17:06] And so this, you know, product life cycle starts to stack up on top of itself. And you can see how this can become very cyclical from a, you know, just an operational standpoint and conducting research and continuing to develop and enhance products that you offer. And so, you know, as you evolve and as you kind of continue to go through that cycle, then that that agile market researcher, that looping that iterative idea of doing small, punchy, relevant market research to aid your strategy really comes into play. And so with that, you then need the tools to do so, so Survey Monkey has a product called to remind the audience it’s a fully integrated research panel in over 100 countries. All you do is select your targeting criteria. How many people you want to survey, you check out online and you get responses in minutes. When people think about market research, they think of these long, arduous, time consuming, expensive, full service engagements. But it’s almost 20, 20 folks. We’ve got tech for that. This is a this is a tech startup conference. You’re thinking about your your tool stack. This should definitely be one of them. And all of those use cases and research topics that I talked about earlier. So every monkey has templates for all of those to get you started. And then we’ve also published an ultimate guide to doing market research. It’s fully packed with everything you would need to do a research project from start to finish. And then if that’s not enough, we also have a team of research experts that can help you get your DIY market research program off the ground. So with that, that’s my time. Thank you all so much for listening. I will hang out maybe in the in the lobby or reception area if you have any questions. Thank you.