Taking the risk out of research: How to work out what people really want

Having an idea is easy. Turning it into a reality is hard. Research can help improve a company’s chances of success.

It can be used to both inspire and validate – helping a business decide whether to commit to, abandon or refine their concept. Companies that ignore research – and by implication, their consumers – risk sliding into irrelevance.

But research isn’t foolproof. It’s always subject to interpretation. It can suffer from the ‘Hawthorne Effect’ – whereby people behave differently in a test environment than when compared to real life.

This means critical decisions can end up being based on false assumptions and unreliable evidence. In instances like these, rather than lessening risk, research actually increases it.

The ideal approach: breadth and depth

Using research well requires a combination of methodologies, which can be split into two camps: qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative fieldwork can take you deep – to better understand consumers’ motivations, and provide richness and insight; Quantitative analysis gives you breadth – to better understand consumers’ preferences, and provide clarity and direction.

Whilst qual tends to be more useful for creation and inspiration and quant tends to more useful for iteration and validation, both types are needed to successfully develop a new product or service. As part of this process, when developing and testing new propositions, three of the most important questions to answer are:

1. Is this idea really appealing?

Answering this helps ensure there’s demand in the market.

2. What’s so appealing about it?

Answering this helps prioritise key features and benefits.

3. Who exactly is it most appealing to?

Answering this helps identify the precise target audience and profile.

The challenge for any innovator is to get objective answers to these questions that aren’t subject to the ‘research effect’.

Using Facebook as a research tool

To help us do this at Great State, as well as more standard approaches, we also use paid-for Facebook campaigns as an additional source of data and understanding. Why Facebook?

Because with a base of over 2 billion potential respondents it’s the world’s largest survey platform. With the right approach to well-structured campaign testing, Facebook can be a powerful new addition to the innovator’s toolkit.

Having arrived at an idea, we create and test a series of paid-for Facebook ad campaigns amongst a range of different target audiences over a series of weeks. Each of these campaigns focuses on a different use case, feature or benefit. This allows us to test multiple propositions and messages amongst lots of different groups – simultaneously and, most importantly, ‘in the real world’.

Comparing the performance of the campaigns allows us to quickly get an understanding of:

  • People’s interest
  • The strongest proposition
  • The target audience with the most potential

What’s more, by creating campaigns which offer consumers opportunities to ‘learn more’ and share their email addresses, we can seamlessly create a consumer panel to return to and research further amongst – drilling down into exactly why a particular concept or proposition appealed to them.

The Facebook effect

Bringing Facebook into the research repertoire and innovation process offers several more advantages:

1. No more feature-creep

This methodology helps quickly prioritise key features and benefits. It provides clear, single-minded focus for further development – giving everyone on a team ‘one thing’ to get behind without confusion.

2. No more idealised target audiences

This methodology helps remove the subjectivity of ‘pen-portraits’, misconstrued ‘jobs-to-be-done’, and ‘personas’ that don’t accurately reflect users. It helps objectively establish the profile (whether demographically, behaviorally or attitudinally) of those people who are most interested in a concept.

3. No more product-market fit fails

This methodology helped one of our clients understand that the biggest opportunity for one of their potential new offerings was a 55+ age group that they’d previously dismissed as peripheral. If they’d just recruited and researched amongst the people they believed their target audience was likely to be, they would have abandoned their concept. Rather than walking away from their idea, working with Great State allowed them to find the right audience for it.

4. No more well-intentioned misdirection

This methodology helps mitigate against some of the shortcomings of more conventional research: developing misleading rational narratives for emotionally driven behaviour; people telling you what they believe you want to hear; and posturing in front of other respondents.

For example, when we researched a new baby food subscription service, focus groups had encouraged the client to believe that consumers were excited by its social purpose. However, when this was tested online, its low-salt and low-sugar content proved much more compelling.


In the above test (for an organic baby food delivery service) we saw a 13% higher conversion rate on the messaging highlighting “low-salt, low-sugar” compared with a wider brand mission.

Make better bets

Whilst no research methodology is perfect – and no single approach should be used in isolation – Facebook is a useful platform to help develop new propositions because it’s:

  • Cheap: Avoiding hefty recruitment and survey fees.
  • Fast: Delivering a range of learnings in a short window of time – all from a ‘real’ scenario.
  • Smart: De-risking the process in and getting hard performance data to guide further development.

Contact Us

For more information on how to stop your brand sliding into irrelevance, contact Matt Boffey here.