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A Designer Lens on Product Market Fit

Shayaan October 21, 2020

Saba Zaidi, Staff Interaction Designer and UX Manager at Google, spoke at 021Disrupt 2019, where she shared her experience and learnings on working on Google Assistant, how designers see the product-market fit, and how businesses should treat the market with a human centered approach.

The Importance of a Human Centric Approach

She began with an anecdote about a survey that speaks volumes about the need for a human centered approach to making products.

When asked why their products were unsuccessful, 100 startups shared that the main reason why they failed was because their product failed to solve for a market need. In essence, they created products that, while cool and fun and exciting, weren’t created with the needs of their customers in mind. So without realizing it, they had failed before they began.

It is only when we think of markets in terms of individuals with human needs that we can move forward with creating successful products.

Working on Google Assistant, Saba shares how she uses human centric approach in her line of work in a concentrated effort to create ease of use for her customers.

Upon its release, the basic assumption for customers of Google Assistant was that mainly suburban families, who would use its shortcuts for higher productivity so that they could spend more time with family or at work, would use it. But to their surprise, their biggest audience was found in rural India, where people were using the Assistant in a way that was breaking all socio-economic and literacy barriers. They could search for the newest Bollywood films, old music, and the latest fashion trends and teach themselves new skills with the use of Google Assistant.

The easier they made the product, the more likely the customers are to use it for each of its purposes, or find their own purposes in it.

Finding the Right Research Method

To create the perfect product, the research has to be mindful.

Depending on the product, there are a few different ways to go about doing your market research. For larger samples, there’s the usual surveys or observations, but to get to the unknowns that wouldn’t really be obvious in the larger samples, the specifics that will make your product stand out amongst the rest, it’s better to go into the detailed research options, such as case studies, diary studies or shadowing your consumer to see how they use their apps, and for what.

On a project by Google called ‘App Actions’, Saba’s team found that mobile assistance traffic increased drastically out of nowhere, and they wanted to find out why. They went towards the detailed research route, asking a sample of their customers to keep diaries where they would routinely log in details about their mobile app use, things that they found useful versus pain points, and actions they wished their mobile or Google Assistant did for them.

Saba and her team took the insights from their research and looked at them as opportunities. You look at the problem the user is facing, and you put it in a sentence: ‘I want to quickly and easily pay back my friend, so I don’t forget.’ You take this sentence, and frame it as a problem to be solved. How can we create a feature within our product that allows users, with just a voice command, to send a specific amount of money to someone else?

As a company, you’re not just selling a product, but also an experience.

Saba Zaidi

Hiring a Product, Firing a Product

Clayton Christensen, from Harvard Business School, came up with a concept that is now widely known as ‘JBTD-Jobs to Be Done’. In this concept, Christensen says that, ‘…the secret to winning the innovation game lies in understanding what causes customers to make choices that help them achieve progress on something they are struggling with in their lives. To get to the right answers, executives should be asking: What job would consumers want to hire a product to do?’

Essentially, a customer is hiring a product to do a specific job for them. If the product does the job well, then chances are that they’ll hire it again, and if not, then they’ll go in search of a different product.

So what if we took product market fit and flipped it on its head? You started with the market, thought about it as a set of goals, and then drove solutions from that.

Saba Zaidi

Take the example of McDonald’s milkshakes. Wanting to increase their sales, McDonald’s looked at the data of who was hiring their milkshakes, and asked them what job they were being hired to do. For most customers, the milkshakes were a replacement for an on-the-go, nutritious breakfast. So McDonald’s decided that, to increase sales, they would make their milkshakes thicker so they’d last longer, made them more nutritious and added fruits in them so that they’d be a healthier replacement of a breakfast than just a milkshake.

It might have seemed, at the beginning, that the right competition for a milkshake that’s replacing a healthy meal would be a breakfast burrito, or bagel, or just a breakfast menu that’s easier to eat on-the-go, but talking to your customers, finding out what it is that they’re looking to hire, helped them find a solution that quickly showed results.

Similarly, Instagram, previously known as Burbn, used to be an app that allowed you to check-in to your locations, much like FourSquare. But when going through their analytics, the developers found that people weren’t really hiring their product for its check-in feature, but for its ability to share images easily and quickly. Seeing this, they decided to move away from the original concept of their app and focus entirely on what the customer’s wanted.

When it comes to product-market fit, many entrepreneurs and enterprises might find it easier and more fruitful to their business to look at their product as achieving a set of goals for their customers, rather than creating a product that would have to carve out its own place in the market in order to be successful. Do the research and find out what it is that the customer is looking to hire, and watch as the customers needs set the goals for your product to be successful.

To even begin to tackle the biggest problems of our time, we need to care deeply about what matters to each other.

Saba Zaidi

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