Every researcher I know has gotten this question or comment at some point:
“Steve Jobs said research isn’t helpful because people don’t know what they want.”
Actually, what Steve said in an interview in 1998 was:
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
And he’s right — we’re not very good at visualizing solutions that are very different than what’s out there today.
What Steve DIDN’T SAY is that research isn’t helpful in figuring out the PROBLEM.
I believe this is the main question research needs to answer.
What is the problem you’re struggling with, and why haven’t you been able to solve it already?
The first half helps you understand how THEY describe their problem. Rarely is it described as the lack of a solution: “I don’t have a CRM”. More often, it’s more like “I can’t keep track of the people I meet at conferences, and I lose the information for promising prospects.”
The second helps you understand why the many solutions out there haven’t addressed their issue. It might be “I don’t even know what to search for” or “I have no idea where to start” or “I can’t find something that seems like a good fit for a small business” or “Everything I see is too expensive”. These all suggest different approaches to resonating with prospects and helping them find a solution.
It’s our client’s job to develop a solution. It’s our job as marketers to connect that solution to people who would absolutely love it. And to do that, we need to understand the problem and why they haven’t solved it. Research is a great way to figure that out.