Case study for DIY Research & reminder: Don’t forget data mining!

I have found myself being a little nostalgic over the past month, both as a result of going to a “25 years since launch” reunion of Mercury one2one (the first mass consumer mobile offering in the UK – which morphed to T-Mobile and then to EE) and through collaboration with Tristan Kromer of Kromatic. 

I found “lean thinking” in earnest when I designed a 12 week CPD innovation course for UCL – in 2012 – when mobile apps were in early stages of high growth. It doesn’t sound that long ago does it –  but see how the hockey stick curve does exist! The lean approaches really resonated with my approaches and also provided some additional very neat tools that helped me to explain it to others.

When I deliver coaching sessions I like to explain the approaches with real case studies – just as I then like to coach participants to apply the approaches to their own projects. I had not really thought of this example – it was from 2004/5 – but let’s see if it is useful. First please remember the context: this is pre i-Phone / before App Stores democratised the market – the mobile operator had full control over everything you did on your mobile.

Here is what I did to gather insight and what action I took that got T-Mobile UK customers to send more total picture messages than any other mobile operator’s customer base in the UK, despite being overall 4th in the market.  

Product Challenge

Usage of picture messaging was way behind forecast – capability had been launched 1 year+ and “good” camera-phones had crossed the chasm into the early majority – market penetration was reasonable enough to achieve the forecasts.

Research Methods

All of these methods were executed by my team and I – ourselves. We consulted with our in-house research teams – got their input to our research scripts and approaches – we wanted to keep them on side and benefit from their expertise.

  1. Observation – As we were out and about we all observed strangers and our own social groups. We kept diaries and shared our observations when back in the office
  2. Street Interviews – My team and I hit the streets with a short questionnaire – we were really near Hatfield University – a key early adopter segment
  3. Focus Groups – Held with a few quite distinctly different segments
  4. Analysis of System Data – We studied the data we had for those customers who were sending picture messages – closely analysing the segments and their usage patterns for clues.

We chose to do observation first off – it was the easiest and quickest and achievable through our natural lives – as we ourselves were out and about. We saw lots of photo taking but not much sending – we also saw that there was a correlation between age and behaviour. Next we chose  street interviews to query down further why they were not sending and we got an idea about the barriers to usage for this segment. As they were naturally not pre-screened, we spoke with users and non users. For the focus groups, we recruited people who were sending a few messages per month and chose segments outside of university students to compare and contrast the responses. We also recruited non users, who were high text messaging users to compare and contrast here too. The request for the data was submitted to the tech team as we started our qualitative primary research so there was a time lag in receiving the data.

Key Findings

  • Price: Voice and Text usage was already bundled; picture messaging was a charge per message – so cost was for some a barrier to usage. This came out of focus group and street interviews as a reason not to send messages.
  • Usability: You had to send a message before you could receive one (a hard to solve technical issue that had been inadvertently build into the design – this was tech-lead and not involved any user experience back in the early 1990s ). As the product people, we knew about this awful glitch in the user experience and we gathered evidence in our street interviews corroborating that this was a problem – people had not received messages that their friends had said were sent; so did not want to spend the money sending a message if their friends also would not receive it.
  • Occasional Usage: People frequently took pictures and showed them when they were with friends, but did not frequently send them when remote – remember that this was pre Web2.0 / pre Facebook – before mass self-publishing and broadcast took a hold. We observed this behaviour – showing mates in the pub pictures but not sending them when they were remote and it was described to us in focus groups.
  • Content: Through analysis of system data we discovered something that blew our minds – more picture messages contained GIFs than JPEGs (photos taken on the phone were all presented as JPEGs). This was totally missed in the face to face customer-based research as we were so busy looking at photo-taking and sending! This also sparked some further DIY face to face research into what content people were sending as we could not see that in our system data.

Resulting actions that got us to #1 for number of messages being sent

Using the classic 4Ps of product management as a checklist (Price, Place, Promotion & Place) we put together an integrated set of actions to address our insights:

  • We ran consistent call-to-action communications above and below the line encouraging customers to “Prove it with a picture message for only 20p”. We had the call to action / user case message that was supported by the price reassurance (not the only way around!). We wanted to challenge people into instantaneous sharing. We were also lucky enough to be able to solve a problem for the advertising department who had spare inventory at airports and so we also ran the “Prove it with a Picture Message from abroad as well for only 20p” in these prime holiday-maker spots. (We had also made good use of a technical industry-wide issue where it was not at that time possible to charge differently for international picture messages!)
  • We gave all customers 5 free messages to get them over the technical issue of “send before you can receive” and included an in-box leaflet promoting this to customers of new camera-phones which were improving in quality all the time. This in itself more than tripled usage straight out of the box.
  • Could we find some other things that people could do with their photos other than send them person to person? We collaborated with Kodak to see if we could encourage people to start building online photo albums … now there’s a thought!
  • We flooded the base with free animated content encouraging them to send it on – of course they could send on 5 free to start with. Our further research in to the GIFs had told us that people were sending (1) at key events e.g Xmas was massive and (2) to express emotions (ahem…see current popularity of emojis – the insight remains good!).

Appendix: Some funnies… 

  • We found an Australian content provider who had created a character called “Emo”. He was a chameleon who presented himself differently depending on a full range of emotions – that included changed his colour, outfits and movements. The creator gifted me this drawing telling me that it would be worth a lot of money one day… anyone interested in this early iteration of an Emoji?!
  • From the research, we knew that GIFs people sent were often a bit “edgy” – so we sourced some particular Xmas content that fitted the bill. There I was, suited booted and straight laced (as always) in front of the board getting their sign off to “Bondage Santa” whose cartoon walked on to the screen and opened his cloak to reveal. My presentations to the board never felt the same again!
  • Just before I left, we were asked to “innovate!” – oh the popular corporate cry that so many of you will resonate with! Based on these insights, I took the “sex sells” insight a step further and suggested (along with my technical counterpart) that we invented the self-destructing picture message. Unfortunately the appetite was not there – but SnapChat was not far behind – along with the whole App Ecosystem which of course changed the mobile operator life forever.
  • Finally, dare I tell you about the promotion that was being run when I first inherited picture messaging in to my portfolio? Customers were sent a speech mark in the post upon which they were to write captions and take pictures of the caption in context to picture message back to us. From decorated plates of faeces to downright lewdness- unbelievable – and we had these peoples addresses!
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