Learning what people want is much more than whether someone says they like the product or not. It’s understanding how they respond to pricing, packaging, and flavors. It’s seeing if the core messaging is resonating and if the brand story is coming through. It’s using all of this as a series of data points to inform the decisions we make on iterating so we can best serve our core consumers.
Without learning, we have no way of knowing the consequences of changes to a product.
How to Learn from Consumers
We learn from consumers through anecdotal feedback and sales data. Sales data tells us if people are actually buying the product. We are able to compare movement of other similar items to understand if people want this product as it stands.
We then pair the sales data with anecdotal feedback to understand why the purchasing habits are the way they are. And we do this through demos, tastings, and other pitch opportunities that allow for direct engagement. Paired together, this creates a powerful picture of the level of market fit.
How to Elicit Real Feedback
The challenge is always breaking through the polite “mhmmm… I like it.” This type of feedback is not helpful. To collect real feedback, we need to structure questions in a way that drive real responses. The Learning Loop, a group specializing in product market fit through quick and cheap experimentation, explains:
Asking for opinions, you get opinions.
People have opinions on everything, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect what people are actually doing in the real world. Whenever you hear yourself asking questions that begin with “Would you…” or “Do you think…”, you’ll want to stop yourself.
It’s better to ask for facts. Questions like “When was the last time you googled…” shows whether potential customers thought about it before you triggered them. If you ask “Would you” or “Do you think,” those same people will be very likely to answer positively. “When was the last time…?” refers to a concrete instance. You want to go for the facts and the instances when you ask.
Don’t Force your Own Perspective
You do not want to focus on the solution because you will be framing the conversation around what you think is important. Instead, you want to go for uncovering the pains and gains of the potential customer.
Instead, you want to first go for validating the problem. Go for situations - concrete instances in the past life of the potential customer you’re asking. “Tell me the last time you thought about…” is a great starter. After that, you can ask follow up questions like “Why did it bother you?”
Ignite Bars Learning Journey
For Ignite Bar founder Nicole Zohdi, nutrition and fitness have always been important. It took on extra importance when she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder during her senior year of college at George Washington University. What did that mean? No more snack foods. No more late night pizza. Only a strict five food diet. “Mentally, I was going insane!” says Nik. “It gets exhausting to eat grass-fed beef, spinach, kale, raw almonds and wild fish every single day for 365 days!”
Deciding this simply wasn’t enough, Nicole created a snack food brand that would bring back the joys of eating to her healthy diet. Nicole launched her first health bar in 2018. While the response to the bar was mixed, she learned several valuable lessons. Firstly, people loved the superfood crunch. It reminded them of their favorite childhood snacks, similar to a Rice Krispy treats or cereal bar. Secondly, product positioning and packaging matters a lot. Her first bar highlighted the health aspects instead of the taste, a lesson she learned while demoing and talking directly with her consumers.
Nicole tested the hypothesis that people care most about nutrition in energy bars. She tested her hypothesis with questions she asked everyone she could:
When is the last time you ate a nutrition bar? What time of day was it?
Which brand did you buy?
What do you look for in a nutrition bar?
Nicole focused her questions on consumer action rather than opinion. Through these questions, she was able to conclude that her hypothesis was not correct and that people were most excited about the taste, crunch, and then the nutritional content. Building off of what she learned, Nicole spent countless hours in the kitchen, finding the right mix of micronutrient ingredients that fit her vision and packaging that better told the crunchy story.