How To Apply Market Research Better


Mike Mace provides us with some great insight about market research – helping us to avoid ‘the gap’ and ‘the blender’. The gap is a reflection of the inability of most customers to innovate. The blender is the loss of useful market information into a homogenized input that pushes only the lowest common denominator – again stifling innovation. We have to avoid the blender and the gap to get useful data from our research.

We know we need to base our product decisions on data, not opinion. How do we avoid the common pitfalls of misinterpreting the data.

gap in bridge

The Gap

The gap, simply put, is the possibility gap between a customer’s perspective on what is and a product vision of what could be. Mike argues that customers are so focused on what is wrong with their product that they will respond with only incremental improvement suggestions. We won’t find innovative new ideas by asking customers what they don’t like about their current products. As a curmudgeon giving directions would say, “You can’t get there from here.


The Blender

When surveying a large group of people, such as all customers in the market for our product, the feedback that we will see is that the items that get the greatest response are the items that get a response from the most people. The counter-intuitive notion is that these may be the least valuable features or capabilities. These only represent those things that are at least mildly beneficial to the most people – a lowest common denominator.

Mike points to the fact that the most successful products aren’t the ones that have bland, somewhat useful, wide spread appeal. They are the products that are loved by a minority. He uses the Blackberry and Treo as great examples – the vast majority of cell phone users have no interest in the features they provide. The minority that cares about email love both products – and both products succeed remarkably.

Avoiding The Blender

To avoid the blender-phenomenon, we need to get a more precise classification of the audiences in our target markets. Market segmentation is what we need to do. Mike points out that this is generally applied, and easy to do, when discussing existing markets. The SUV buyers, for example, were not a segment until after someone bought an SUV. The luxury SUV buyers weren’t a segment until someone bought a luxury SUV. So how do we define segments before segments exist?

By focusing on the creation of personas, we identify the personal goals that would provide useful segementation for a new market. When reading Mike’s list of three groups of cell-phone users, we can see how persona identification would have led us to a similar conclusion (emphasis mine).

When you do that with advanced phone buyers, three groups emerge. One group gives high ratings to all communication-related features — e-mail, instant messaging, built-in fax, etc. Basically, they’re communication junkies, and they’ll pay extra for a communication-enhanced phone. These are the people buying RIM Blackberries and Palm Treos today.

The second group gives high ratings to information-related features — large memory, document display, databases, etc. These are people in information-intense jobs who need a mobile memory supplement. Think of a doctor looking up drug dosage information on the go, or a lawyer trying to find a case reference in court.

The third group responds best to entertainment-related features: music, video, games, and other ways to have fun. These entertainment-focused users tend to be younger than the others, and don’t want to give up their electronic lifestyle even as they enter the job market.

Thanks Mike, for a great article!


There is an interesting point in this analysis – that for a product to succeed, it does not need to be perfect for everyone, it only needs to address the needs of a subset of people in the market. Several people have written that for a product to really succeed, it must be both hated and loved. We can interpret this to mean that a product targets one segment of the market (who loves it) to the exclusion of another segment (who hates it). Most people hate minivans, but the people who love them really love them. A persona-based approach to segmenting the market will help us identify these collections of like-minded individuals.

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