I love doing product trials with online research communities. Communities are a very versatile tool, able to help test final packaging executions, new markets for a product, a new product, or even helping get ideas for an entirely new innovation.
Image by Flickr user ClizBiz
The reason I like online communities, though, is really that they give you the time to spread out the steps of a product trial and allow us to look at and examine each one in turn, rather than having to go through everything at once in a retrospective manner with more traditional methodologies.
Even that depth, though, is overshadowed by the simple ease of doing a product trial with an online community. It is typically very simple to do. Here are the basic steps we go through:
1. Make sure everyone has the product to try out. You can do this a few different ways. Perhaps you ask all the participants to pick it up in the stores – getting a little shopper feedback along with the product trial. You might just want to send the product to your participants, keeping things simple. Maybe the product is in test phases and you need everyone involved to try and keep it as low-key as possible? That’s doable, too.
2. Capture first impressions of the product or packaging – before use. The first impressions people have of the product can be very important. After all, if the item looks scary, they probably won’t buy it no matter how useful. So, ask people what they think of it and what they think using it will be like. We like to do this first before the other product trial questions so that their actual use of the product doesn’t affect their memories of their first impressions.
Videos can play a big role in bringing this step to life in the research. Have you ever seen the unboxing YouTube videos people post of themselves opening up new technology purchases? This style of video can be included in an online research community, capturing people’s initial reactions in real life.
3. The first trial. Finally we let everyone use their products, and ask them all those questions you usually find in a product trial. We typically split this step into two phases. The first phase is a private task where participants know no one will judge them and they can speak freely. They are also not influenced by what the others in the community are thinking.
Then for phase two, we open it up for debate. Participants compare experiences, commiserate and recognizing their own experiences in what others are saying. This helps the larger trends bubble up to the top. We might repeat this two phased approach periodically throughout the community, depending on the research questions.
4. Capture product trials on video. One of the most illuminating steps of an online research community product trial is watching people actually use the products. Are they using your products the way they were intended? Are they making assumptions about what the product can or can’t do? Researchers can also pick up on things that the participants might not even realize are interesting. For instance, they might not think to mention the cord of a hair drier getting tangled – but this could be useful for the product designers.
5. Keep the trial going. Why stop at one test? By making sure participants have enough time to use the product at least two times, we can get a real strong idea of the plusses and minuses people are experiencing. It also gives participants time to get used to the product, explore its capabilities, and really evaluate it on its merits.
Usually this takes the form of a long-term online diary. We ask participants to add an entry every day or every time they use the product. This helps us also gauge triggers for use as well as any barriers to use. To add a little more color, participants can also include images and videos at this stage, as well.
6. The product review. Now that we’ve captured all the real-life experiences as they happened, we can now look at the product retrospectively. This time we get participants to think about how your product compares to others on the market. If it’s something entirely new, we can get them thinking about where else it might fit in their lives, or how it could be tweaked and improved.
This part doesn’t have to be boring, either! Finding creative and fun ways for participants to express themselves increases the quality of the responses. Participants might answer a quick mini-survey about specific functional concerns and also write up an “Amazon review” style description of their experience just like they would on a reviews website. Other fun ideas we’ve done in the past are image grabs where participants search online for conceptual images that express their feelings about their product and video reviews where they talk to the camera about the product, while they hold it up.
The real strength of running a product trial through an online community is that it can reveal the entire process from first impressions, through multiple uses, to comparing the product to others that participants may have used. By separating the steps out, we can get a clear snapshot of each stage, without people trying to remember what it was like the first time they used the product a week later. An online community can shed light on how a product lives in a person’s home while they are using it, using photos and videos to bring it all to live.