Research first or repent later

 Image credit:  rawpixel/123rf .

Image credit: rawpixel/123rf.

Today’s post will be brief and to the point. Market research is critical to the success of any new product. Those who say that market research won’t produce an iPhone or a Facebook, in other words, a new technology, are only revealing what they don’t understand about market research.

Let’s focus on Facebook. Did Mark Zuckerberg and the other founders who created “Facemash” (the original concept) wake up one day in 2003 and say to themselves, “let’s create a giant social networking site”? No, they created a prototype, with let’s face it, less than noble intentions of identifying the hottest people at Harvard. Indeed, this application was apparently a knock-off of another site launched in 2000, “Am I Hot or Not”, indicating that the founders had noticed (market research again) the success of this site and decided to replicate it (perhaps because their friends were talking about it? –yes, more market research).

And the feedback (market research) came rolling in. On the one hand, it attracted 450 site visitors in its first few hours of operation – cool! On the other hand (lack of market research), and although the charges were later dropped, Harvard shut it down for a variety of reasons, including alleged breach of security, as well as copyright and privacy violations - bad.

Zuckerberg retreated temporarily, and developed an art history study tool that permitted user comments (ahh, additional market research). In 2004, “TheFacebook.com” was launched, with usage restricted to Harvard students (market research prior to a wider launch). The site was later rolled out to more schools (phased rollout, no doubt incorporating more learnings from the launch), and the rest is history. Today, Facebook has made market research a key component of its business model.

In the beginning, Facebook was deploying market research in an ad hoc manner, likely because of lack of funding, but also because website code can be changed, split A/B tested, the results measured in real time, and code rolled back or implemented on the fly. This is a luxury not typically available to product manufacturers with much longer product development lead times. Furthermore, immediate feedback served as a counterbalance to implicit bias, because Zuckerberg was both a user and a developer and could not be objective, by definition.

By 2018, Facebook has become the recipient of a wealth of positive and negative feedback from a variety of sources. Some say that Facebook has stumbled in recent years by ignoring or discounting what the market is telling them.

But this doesn’t diminish the value of the research. Here are a few of the ways in which a more organized approach to market research can help a medical device product launch:

  • Identify and estimate the potential addressable market.

  • Prove or tweak the concept.

  • Evaluate customer perceptions of features and benefits.

  • Identify potential objections and barriers to sales.

  • Identify competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.

  • Calibrate potential product cannibalization.

  • Determine if product development should continue (stage-gate process).

  • Develop the product name and positioning.

  • Create a marketing plan.

  • Create a sales plan.

  • Develop and test sales and customer support materials.

  • Collect post-launch customer feedback and iterate.