DIY User Engagement

Me, Katrina Damianou and one of our patients: Ketan Majmudar at the Product Doctor Surgery, OTA 2011. Photo courtesy of the fabulous Paul Clarke - paulclarke.com

This year at Over the Air in Bletchley Park, Katrina and I set up a Product Doctor Drop in Surgery offering 25 minute complimentary sessions. On a scorching couple of days, we set up outside and were happy to have a continual stream of patients, including the wonderful @Documentally and @Bookmeister.

Listening carefully, as we always preach, we are considering next year calling it “Product Therapy” as the sessions seemed to have a cathartic effect!

Rather than blogging a long post, here are the contents and the full paper is available for download below.

  1. It is never too early (or too late) to engage end users
  2. What do you show users?
  3. How to find your end users
  4. Can you have the conversation with end users?
  5. How to begin the conversation
  6. Write a test script
  7. “I can’t explain what my product does”
  8. Showing a prototype
  9. Testing for usability
  10. Keep checking back with users as you develop and improve each new feature
  11. Build and test your product before developing your brand
  12. Be honest with yourself as to why you are developing the App
I hope you find this useful and as always, please do get in touch or leave comments below.

Co-Creation: Involve Youth in The Process

I was asked by Graham Brown of Mobile Youth to give an Expert Interview around the subject of youth sourcing. I hope you enjoy it!

“…We’re talking to Julia about how to engage youth within the product development process. Can big mobile brands increase the relevance and hit rates of their products by incorporating the target market into the idea generation and message shaping? Julia thinks so. We find out more about how co-creating innovation with youth is not only possible but vital to product relevance.

Watch the video to answer these questions:

* How can large organizations conduct better youth insights?
* How should you build youth panels for companies or conferences?
* What are the business benefits of involving youth in product development?…”

Digital Youth Insights & Learning Experiences Webinar

This is a webinar, that I did for the DCK TN and Mobile Monday London, 27th Jan 2011, and should be of interest to people that want a closer understanding of the youth market.  Through my experience in mobile and online community products since 1993, despite much time, effort and cost, I have seen many products fail to succeed or fail to reach their full potential. One of the key reasons is that end users are not engaged in their development. I set up the Digital Youth Project in 2005 to address this gap focussing on the youth market and to show how engaging young people in your projects can provide great real life learning experiences for them too. I illustrate the points using case studies from virtual world to mobile to community projects with a social media twist.

Thanks to those that logged in live, for my 4.5/5 rating and for the great feedback! It was a fun new experience talking to the aether!

Please click on this link to view and listen – you will need to register but it is free:  Webinar DCKTN / Mobile Monday London.

Here is the presentation, without me talking over it, and some of the key points listed below.

Key Youth Insights– see presentation for the case studies that support each point

1. Young people are practical & they want useful products too

  • Some adults incorrectly equate youth products only with fun; my case studies show that young people need and appreciate helpful products too, such as mobile mapping services.
  • In addition, young people can quickly tell you where your product is not practical – for example, they are worried about the security aspects of wandering around holding their phone and whether your service can be fully appreciated on a small screen.
  • They also want product naming to effectively describe the product – so say what it does on the tin.

2. Hygiene factors – what is now expected by young people as standard, basic features

  • Young people want choice, so for example if you are developing a music-based App, make sure that you have as many genres in there as you can.
  • They want to be able to use services on their mobile, pc and other devices such as i-Pod so multi-platform and channel access is important.
  • They are so familiar with certain user interfaces, for example, the Apple Store, so where you can, work with their understanding rather than feeling you need to create something different.
  • Time over I see that young people will dive straight in to using the product. They want to work it out for themselves – that is part of the fun, however, that is no excuse for creating something that is not intuitive.  If you are going to add help, first time tutorials can be effective, as long as they are interactive; making help information concise is essential and males have a tendency to look to YouTube for short videos.
  • Social functions are now expected. Facebook is the benchmark for being able to share, comment and converse.
  • Voice, text and camera are now the basic expectations of a phone.

3. Young people want to help with feature definition & market positioning

  • Before creating your visual presence, talk to young people and ask them how they would use the product; again, you will see case studies of where using the wrong visual will throw the user off track.
  • I have worked with many products where the functionality is fantastic, but the wrong user facing product has been developed – young people are very good at un-packing the functionality and putting it back together again in a more attractive proposition.
  • Competitor analysis, as we know, is crucial before you can work out your feature set and positioning; young people will tell you who they think your competitors are, which is far more valuable than who you think they are!

4. Young people need to be addressed with the right language for their age group

  • When considering the youth market, I suggest 2 year increments; 11-13, 13 – 15 and so on. I have found that your actual users will be those that are in the age increment below the one that you are targeting – young people are often trying to appear to be older than they are.
  • It is also important to realise that there is a lot of cross-generational traffic on sites that are populated by young people – particularly in the virtual world, social networking and gaming scenarios.  Aunties, uncles, godparents, grandparents, older siblings – particularly when they are remote – will engage with their younger contacts in their own environment.

5. Young people are savvy, so be honest, satisfy their curiosity and gain their trust

  • When presented with a new product, often a young person’s response is to think “where is the catch”, so if you have chargeable elements; sponsored content; integrated advertising and so on, just be upfront about it. This way you will show your respect for their intelligence and gain their trust.

6. While they are financially aware, this does not mean that they won’t spend money on digital experiences

  • There are already plenty of online and mobile experiences that young people enjoy for free – so there is no point presenting them with a similar experience that is chargeable.
  • However, young people are spending money on digital – as I found when looking at digital music products “who do you think got Tinchy Stryder to the top of the download charts?” Note also that digital goods revenue lines are still in growth.

7. Young people are social media natives, they can help you create content and awareness for your product, business and business event

  • You can offer great learning experiences for young people to help you understand how best to use social media to generate awareness and social media coverage of your business, project and events.
  • Media students are on the look-out for real life projects where they can provide media coverage for you whilst adding to their portfolio – think photographs, film, interviews and general journalistic comment.
  • If you are looking for creative content perhaps to add some spark to an event, think about offering an opportunity to young people’s arts and performance groups.

Adult Misperceptions

Throughout my work in this area I have come across some resistance from adults to engaging young people, so here are my challenges back:

  1. Young people are scary and they will automatically take a negative stance: Incorrect! Young people are encouraging about innovation and willing to take risks. You will find working with them energising.
  2. They just grunt – think Kevin the Teenager: Incorrect! Explain, listen, coach and ask open questions in the right environment – you will get very constructive feedback.
  3. You have just chosen the clever kids to work with: Incorrect! Great feedback does not just come from clever kids – often the most disruptive and under-achieving have the most creative and honest input.
  4. “What young people want is…”: Incorrect! Avoid generalising about the youth market – some just call and text; they don’t all have blackberries, they don’t all want an iPhone, and the list goes on.

In conclusion, by engaging users in the design of products and marketing, you will become more efficient. You will know when you have a dead horse to stop flogging; you can avoid endless internal assumption-based debates on features and user interface; you can generate new challenging ideas; you can get a good idea of how best to target the youth market and overall maximise your development and marketing spend.

Please do get in touch if you would like these insights presented at your business or event.

Advice for Developers – Product Doctor Diagnoses (OTA 2010)

This year at Over the Air 2010 (OTA) I set up a Drop In Product Surgery for mobile developers, which focused on how to make their products more commercially successful.  OTA is a two day grass-roots mobile developers event which is in its third year and offers an interesting schedule of keynote speakers (Sir Tim Berners-Lee headlined this year), sessions, panels, workshops and competitions for the all-night hack-a-thon.  This is a really unique event with a great atmosphere; it also presents an opportunity to try out new ideas and work on them alongside some amazingly clever people.

OTA Hacking in the Great Hall, London Imperial.

Here are some of the most common prescriptions that I wrote at the surgeries.

1. Talk to your end users, early and often

  • It is NEVER too early to talk to end users – you don’t need to wait for a prototype – start with the concept
  • You can check that your assumptions about their current behaviour are correct
  • You can try to discover pressure points that need solutions
  • If you have a great piece of functionality, get end users together to help you “productise” it – if the user session is properly facilitated you can get them to build the range of potential propositions for you
  • Even if you have already imagined or built a product, you still shouldn’t be afraid to do the above; let users to strip it back to its functionality and see what propositions they come up with
  • Users can also help you prioritise your feature list – this helps get the user angle in to your roadmap
  • There is nothing stopping you engaging with your end users now – just go and mingle – if you think people will use your product at the bus stop, then go and talk to people at bus stops!

In every user group that I have run over the years, I have always been surprised by the reactions and suggestions that come up.  It is crucial that users are involved in the process from concept through to launch and beyond, to ensure continuous improvement of the product.  Think of how many innovations fail – and the cost that gets sunk in to development.  Try to understand your end users as well as you can; get them to help you to define the key benefits and how are you going to communicate your message.  This theme re-occurs again and again throughout this post!

2. Size your market & know your competition

  • Size your market opportunity – this will help to inform your initial commercial viability and validate assumptions on your revenue forecasts
  • Think about the different end user segments for your product – who is going to use your product? (again, this is where end user input can be crucial)
  • Do your competitor analysis; write up your SWOT analysis and that of your competitors. It will help you to focus on what you are – and are not – and to find your competitive advantage.
  • Ask yourself what you have that is special. Unique can be perceived in many different ways – it may be that your user experience is unique although the functionality is not.  Perhaps you have a special route to market that will help you to reach your end users
  • If you can’t believe why your idea has not been done before, research it fully – you may learn why it has never been brought to market

3. Define your product

  • Avoid feature over-load.   Can you define your features and corresponding benefits in 3 bullet points? Find the real jewels in your offering and focus on them. You can save yourself time and money
  • Be aware of taking on the giants. For example, if your product is offering photo uploads as part of the offering, from a user perspective you may actually be competing with Flickr!
  • Getting people to change their behaviour is very difficult. Think through what you are asking people to do and whether there is already an established way of doing it
  • Think carefully about creating a new community – how can you plug in to online communities that already exist? Building and managing a community is a significant piece of work with ongoing overheads. If your product is dependant on that community remember that it can take years to build up
  • People now want to have conversations. There are growing numbers of people that want to engage with products, be that just by reading or making comments or sharing their opinions with their friends on social networks. Where this is appropriate for your product, do consider building in these features. This is a core part of the product design and it will delegate some of the marketing effort to your users

4. Recycle!

  • Think about what technology you already have built – before you shelve it, talk to users and think about the scenarios where it could be “productised”

5. Consider your routes to market

  • Are you going direct? Are you going to have the resources to build and execute a marketing plan yourselves – and set up the customer support function?
  • How will you drive people to find your App in the App store?  Research ways of  “DIY PR” (Lisa Devaney & Lauren McGregor) to get the best value!
  • Do you have some functionality that could be really useful to an existing brand? Again, this is another great example where end users can help you to identify how their existing brand experiences could be improved by what you have to offer
  • User insights can really help to strengthen a pitch. “We have run insights workshops with these different segments, and here are prototypes that have come out of that”
  • Which brands are in a highly competitive market and have some money to spend? Many brands want to be “in mobile” but they don’t quite know how to weave this channel in to their offering

Closing Comments

It was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to work with some really talented developers.  I hope that I helped them think through some of the more commercial and user-focused elements.

I was also proto-typing the “Product Doctor is in” event format.  The name “Product Doctor” and the offer of “Product Surgeries” worked well as a short-hand descriptor and there was a clear understanding of what the appointments were for.  At 25 minutes long, the appointments were convenient and accessible for event attendees.  Although the OTA event environment is informal, these sessions felt quite formal – as it is with any doctor.  This level of formality meant that the conversations were very focused and in 25 minutes, we could diagnose and identify some treatment.  The feedback from my patients was that I had them looking through a totally different lens.  I hope they will take their medicine!

Finally, thanks to Katrina Damianou for helping to develop the concept; Flora Gordon for spreading the word; my patients for being great guinea pigs and above all, the OTA Team – Helen Keegan and Daniel Appelquist in particular for letting me experiment!

This year I am the Product Doctor at OTA

Following the success of the Travelling Teen Panels at OTA 2009, I am delighted to be returning to OTA this year as the  Product Doctor.

Let’s talk product – how can you maximise your product to reach your objectives?

Do you have tight product goals? What user need / desire are you meeting? What is your market opportunity? Do you have a product roadmap? Do you have a revenue forecast? How will you encourage repeat use of your product? How are you going to target new users? How are you engaging users to input to your product plans and design? How are you measuring user satisfaction and getting constructive feedback? And more….

The Product Doctor will ask you these and other searching questions and help you bring structure, logic and reality to your product planning.  I am holding a Drop-In Surgery during the event and offering a number of 25-minute complimentary appointments.

To book a consultation, please email me : julia@product doctor.co.uk or catch me at the event.

Friday 12:15 – 1.15 and Saturday 10:30 to 12:10 in 344c, London Imperial.

Can’t wait to get my stethoscope out!