Uncovering value

Over the past few days, we’ve been talking about value propositions. (If you’re just joining us, you can catch up over here, where I’m assembling all these shorter emails into one long blog post.)

Today, let’s take a first look at how user research comes into play.

Call for backup

If your organization is the habit of rotating news and events on your home page, the idea of carving out space for evergreen content that communicates value and a point of view may be tough to deliver. It’ll require buy-in from within your organization.

You need evidence that a value prop can provide — well, value — to your organization.

Enter user research.

Determining value

Let’s return to the children’s museum example.

In this scenario, you have people within the museum that believe the museum provides unique learning experiences. They aren’t luddites, but they know that kids already eat and breathe handheld devices, and you may be able to get consensus around the idea that the museum could differentiate itself as a place where experiential learning reigns supreme.

You’ve read here and there that some parents share your colleagues’ skepticism.

User research will help you understand if there is a segment of youraudience with whom that message would resonate.

Now, there will be lots of visitors who may not care about this. That’s ok — that’s an objection we’ll deal with later. What you want to know is whether it’s something that resonates with the people who are most invested in your organization and if it’s an idea that will help you cultivate some people to become more invested.

Find out what they value — not what they value about you.

If you were to run a survey, and you learned that only 8% say that this topic is important to them, you might drop the idea. (Never mind that you’d be asking the wrong question.) But that’s because your survey starts with the assumption that everyone’s values are equally important to your organization.

The fact is, some people are more important — or more valuable — to your organization than others.

So, unless you’re being smart about who you’re targeting and very careful about the questions you’re asking, you should be skeptical of that survey data.

Better to interview some of your most valuable members — the ones who donate and read all your newsletters and come to all your events.

Don’t ask them how they feel about their child’s use of technology directly because they’ll just give you the answer they think you’re searching for.

Instead, ask them about their last family vacation. 

Ask them to recall how they went about planning their trip. Ask what it was like on that road trip or flight. Find out who forgot to pack their toothbrush.

You’ll sound more like you’re doing research for a travel agency, but the goal is to help them remember as much detail as possible and, as they get lost in that detail, to uncover their attitudes toward their children’s use of technology without revealing what it is you’re looking for.

By asking contextual questions you’ll get glimpses of how much time the kids spent arguing about who gets to use the iPad, and how the parents feel about that. Do they pack children’s books for the trip? Was the best meal they had at a restaurant where they could talk while the children played on phones? These are all clues that can bring you closer to revealing their true attitudes toward their children’s learning and recreation.

(Quick aside: One executive director told me recently, “Why would we interview our members? Our director of development talks to them all the time.” But an interview isn’t the same as a conversation. Imagine an employee asking a patron to recount their last vacation in detail during the course of some otherwise casual conversation — it would be bizarre. Of course, they would never do that, which is one reason why it’s so hard for them to test new angles and ideas. But let’s talk more about how interviews differ from conversations another day.)

A vacation is just an example. You could, of course, also inquire after their children’s relationship to school or even conduct a diary study — ask them to document exactly how everyone spends their time over the course of a few weeks. Those are other ways to obliquely uncover their attitudes about technology in their children’s lives.

It’s not a numbers game

This isn’t a survey. You don’t need to talk to a billion people to reach statistical significance. Remember, we’re trying to identify what just a segment of your audience cares about. If you talk to 10 of your most valuable supporters and a few of them reveal that they value making space for experiential/tech-free learning in their child’s lives, then you may be on to something.

Notice I didn’t say you were trying to see if they value experiential/tech-free learning in your museum. We’re trying to understand what the interview subjects value, and then bring the museum into their world — not find out what they value about the museum, which will limit our opportunities.

If you find evidence that some of your most ardent supporters share this belief, then you have evidence you can present to your team.

And at least some people on your team will object to your proposal.

But this email is getting a bit long. Let’s save addressing those objections for next week, when we’ll also talk about how user research can help you measure the effectiveness of a value proposition.

Have a great weekend,