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As a marketer, you can’t be faulted for thinking you can’t write one line of conversion copy without first doing proper user research first.
However, we aren’t fans of it, and not just for the sake of being contrarian. Stick around, we’ll explain our point of view and change your mind.
What Is User Research?
User research is the process of gathering feedback from users using 1-on-1 interviews, surveys, and other methods to understand their behaviors, needs, and desires.
User research is great if you start from “We want to understand what our customers are thinking.”
I start with “What are common traits of all first-time buyers?” (we explain the importance of focusing on first-time buyers in this article).
Turns out, most first-time buyers are remarkably similar (as similar as humans and chimps at 🧬 level).
Here’s what I know about people new to my site:
– They aren’t committed to you, yet. Most are actively looking at competing options.
– They are multitasking and/or distracted.
– They wish your prices were slightly lower.
– They aren’t sure you understand their pain.
They don’t fully appreciate how knowledgeable you are about your niche. You have a page dedicated to this but less than 5% of site visitors even discover this content.
– They don’t understand your product anywhere near as well as you or your business does, and they don’t understand product details that are obvious to you.
– They aren’t even sure if what they’re looking for is the right solution to their problem.
– They don’t want to invest 15 minutes understanding your unique approach but they’ve also never bought anything within 15 minutes of discovering it online.
– They are skeptical of your marketing claims.
I have more to say about user research.
The Issues With User Research
In theory, user research is a great idea. It gets you closer to the end buyer and unlocks fantastic secrets. No argument there. But it has a dark side—marketing teams can sometimes get obsessed with capturing the soul of the buyer.
Here are the issues:
1: User research can take a looong time. By the time you fully understand the buyer your market may have changed, your product may have changed, your consumer behavior may have changed.
We’re living in a world where brands need to execute at lightning-fast speeds. It’s better to have a strong enough idea, put it out there, and let your A/B testing tool reveal if the idea was good or bad.
Hewlett Packard (HP) is full of brilliant engineers, and engineers can be obsessive about getting things just right. This really frustrated HP CEO Carly Fiorina so she coined the term ‘Perfect Enough’ as a way to get her team to just ship the damn product.
2: Bias always finds a way. While user research may feel objective, it’s still pretty subjective. Bias can massively skew user research conclusions. 10 examples of how survey questions can lead to biased results.
3: It is very expensive. Conducting a well-designed user interview program can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
4: If you’re working for or running an agency, it can be difficult to sell user research to new clients. When we first start work with a new client, we haven’t earned their trust—they don’t know if our ideas will massively improve conversion rates or flop. And frankly, neither do we.
It would seem silly to expect the client to pay for a few weeks of user research at this stage of the project. A better idea is to start testing as soon as possible. Sure, you might not have the deepest insights at this point but they should be good enough to give the client their first test winner. Once you have that test winner you would have earned the right to ask the client to invest in a parallel user research project. My personal experience is that clients start new projects cautiously. But the moment they see clear evidence that we know what we’re doing, they greenlight bigger projects.
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5 Alternatives to User Research
Here are 5 strategies we use to bypass user research at the start of our projects and still achieve great results:
1: Focus on the common aspects. Buyers share common traits. For example, price is always going to be a point of concern for a buyer. It doesn’t matter if your price point is high or low. Similarly, new buyers will always need to be sold on you before they are ready to buy your product. It doesn’t matter if you are selling life insurance or health supplements.
2: Follow your gut instinct. We’re living in a world where marketers are data crazy. But great marketing doesn’t need just data. Data can help but there is no replacement for gut instincts. Many marketers are simply too scared to rely on their gut instincts. Data feels safe. We need to hone our instincts. And the great thing about A/B testing is that it makes verifying things so cheap and easy. You can quickly craft a gut-based concept, set it up and launch it as a test, then let the statistics engine confirm or deny if your instinct was correct.
If the instinct was wrong, reformulate the concept and test it again.
I use data to reinforce my instincts, not the other way around.
Besides, there are certain things that user research will never reveal. For example, how long should the product description be? The research will not give you the answer, you will need to figure it out on your own … through testing.
When using your instincts there are two types of guesses you can make about the buyer: obvious guesses and creative guesses. These are explained in this article: CRO Without User Research: Making Guesses About Your Buyer.
3: Talk to the CEO/founder. These people know a crap ton about their product.
Where the end buyer’s experience is simply a snapshot of the one purchase that was made in that one moment, the inventor has context about the whole journey. I want to get my quantitative ‘feel’ from the founder.
The founder/inventor has so much institutional knowledge it’ll make your head spin. It’s just that they’ve been in the ‘middle’ so long they don’t know where to start. This is where the question-asking skills of the optimizer come into play. The optimizer helps the creator with the outside view:
4: Study competitor sites. I take the client’s product category, Google it, and see how other brands are marketing it. For example, if I’m working on the bestseller on crocs.com, I’d Google “comfortable shoes” (since that’s the vertical crocs operates in) and see how competitors like OOFOS are positioning their solutions. It’ll unlock tons of testable insights.
5: Customer reviews. The CLASSIC CLOG page on crocs.com has 26,867 reviews. That’s plenty for me. By just review mining 100 reviews I’ll be able to quickly build a picture of the buyer. This may not be the most detailed picture but it’ll be good enough to launch my first A/B test. If you want to understand how reviews mining works watch this clip in full-screen:
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Still Not Convinced by Our Case Against User Research?
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We Just Went Through A Lot of User Research Alternatives. Need Help Getting Started?
For many of us, seeing is believing. But maybe you don’t have time to try out the 5 alternatives listed above. Or maybe you do, but you don’t know where to start and need an outside perspective. If either of these sounds like you, then we encourage you to check out our Case Studies to see how these alternatives can lead to big conversion lifts. Then, feel free to reach out to us for a chat!
We hope our take on user research made sense. But this might leave you wondering, “If I’m skipping user research how do I start crafting my sales pitch?”
That exact question is explored poetically in this Chapter 4: Product Page Optimization.