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Consumers are lying to you

Why behavior-driven research is key to developing products

By: Jordan Kerzee, Senior Product Designer at Bionic. With contributions from Juliette LaMontagne, Chief Learning Architect, and Stephanie Schott, Head of Product Development at Bionic

When I began my career in product development, I was incredibly frustrated by how often I designed and built products that were ultimately doomed. The tools of conventional research helped me understand how to design a product and potential ways it could be used, but it didn’t tell me whether or not consumers would actually use it. And while consumers told us our products were better than the competition during our research and development, those improvements failed to convert them into customers.

When I finally set out to understand why and how these failures happened, I realized that businesses need to adopt a more behavior-driven approach to discovering and creating new ideas. And that, in turn, led me to focus on coming up with a better way to understand consumers’ true behavior.

Do vs. Say

Whether they’re streamlining processes, running pilot programs, or launching partnerships, successful and efficient businesses are constantly adjusting how they operate, tossing out what doesn’t work, and pursuing what does. The faster and more frequently a company validates and prototypes new ideas, the faster it can expand its capabilities and grow.

Established enterprises tend to use experimentation to optimize what they’re already doing — to go from big to bigger. Because they already have the customer base, distribution, and supply chain that allow them to deliver products and services reliably with a high level of quality control, it’s hard for them to think beyond those existing structures. So, when they want to boost profits and grow market share, they spend a lot of time refining existing processes and systems.

While this is an effective way to improve on what a company already knows how to do, it also means that organizations are often wearing blinders when it’s time to grow. Typically, when these companies are ideating on something “new,” they are constrained by their own pain points: when they want to boost market share or grow margins, they look for a new market, a variation on existing products or services, or a home for something they’ve already developed. Traditional management lacks the experience (or confidence) to look beyond the known, so ideas that don’t fit into the core customer base or offerings get shot down. And that puts the organization at risk of being disrupted by an innovative startup.

Photo by Daniel Cheung on Unsplash

Startups are disruptive because they use continual experimentation to discover unmet and /or emerging consumer needs. Instead of starting with their own pain points, entrepreneurs start with the consumer’s problems and figure out how to address them. Whether that means developing a new product, a new service, or a way to integrate solutions the customer already has, startups give themselves permission to keep all of their options open until they’ve found a radically new way to meet the consumer’s needs. Instead of fighting with competitors over market share, they create new markets by looking for new problems to solve. We call this outside-in approach, moving from Total Addressable Market to Total Addressable Problem, and it’s critical to building permanent growth capability and culture in organizations of all sizes.

Look for what consumers do, not what they say

If established enterprises want to shift from optimization to discovery, they need to shift their mindset from that of building an offering to figuring out which possible offering to build. And that requires a deep, data-driven understanding of what consumers actually want, as opposed to what they say they want.

Voice of Customer (VOC) research, with its hundreds of time-consuming surveys of small groups, is good for refining existing products and services. However, it’s not made for New to Big experimentation. Consumers can say anything in response to a survey. Some deliberately say one thing and do another. Others say what they think they want in the moment, but they don’t really know what they want until the moment of making a purchase. And because nothing of consequence to them is riding on their answers, the results don’t show their true level of interest and commitment.

Photo by Celpax on Unsplash

To elicit the most useful data about what consumers will actually do at the critical moment of the buying decision, companies need to design customer research that seems as consequential as possible: a transaction, or at least something that looks like one to the consumer. This requires the company to use the standard tools of market research, such as landing pages, audience tests, and A/B campaigns, to present potential but nonexistent products to large groups of customers. Using these tools lets a company generate vast amounts of data about transactional behaviors in very little time and analyze it to rapidly identify consumer pain points, potential new audiences, and new products to develop and launch.

Floating trial balloons quickly with Blimp

We created a new technology platform, Blimp, that enables companies to rapidly test products and ideas to see what large numbers of customers actually do and value. It includes an advertising plug-in that allows researchers to place ads for these hypothetical products on high-traffic platforms like Facebook and Google, the ability to stand up a landing page for click-throughs, and easy-to-use tools for researchers to build and launch an attractive, authentic-looking e-commerce site.

Blimp tracks who clicks on the ads, how they interact with the landing page and site, and how far through the purchasing process they get. At the final stage, where an actual e-commerce platform would present them with the checkout and payment process, Blimp serves them a notice indicating that the product is not currently available and asks if they want to be notified.

This holistic, realistic experience allows researchers to quantify whether and how much consumers believe in a hypothetical product’s value proposition, whether they remain interested enough to learn more, and the intensity of their intent to purchase, across all variables. This reduces the cost of experimentation while accelerating iteration to arrive much faster at a more reliable sense of which product or service is most worth developing.

Case study

An established CPG company approached Bionic for help innovating on its core portfolio after realizing that its long-established brand was losing shelf space and market share to smaller, independent brands. Instead of trying to lure back customers who had defected to new brands, the company decided to leverage its trusted brand identity to build a new market.

Through qualitative research, Bionic helped the company identify a small but growing market of young, active “biohackers” who not only rely on their products to enhance their cognitive and physical performance, but would be open to enhancing it with other nutrients. Using 150 variables, including additives, form, messaging, and price, the team created dozens of hypothetical products in multiple forms and launched tests via Blimp to determine which to pursue.

Blimp tracked more than half a million ad views and 11,000+ social media engagements, including going viral on Twitter with an influencer. The resulting data allowed the company to winnow its options to two promising product options in just weeks, rather than the months a traditional VOC approach would have required.


Processes, tools, and strategies designed to optimize existing offerings can’t generate the data necessary to envision and launch experimental offerings. As a result, companies trying to generate and launch truly innovative products and services need another way to gather data that will let them extrapolate quickly from small surveys and marketing personae to large bodies of actual consumers.

A digital platform that emulates e-commerce to track consumer behavior across variables is the most accurate, realistic way to determine what consumers truly want as opposed to what they say they want — and in the process, to enable rapid prototyping and testing for faster development and time-to-market.

If you are interested in learning more about Bionic’s new platform Blimp, check out our recent webinar with Jordan Kerzee and Juliette LaMontagne as they discuss leveraging Blimp to execute multivariate tests and using behavior-driven research to validate ideas.

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