How to use research to develop great products that sell.

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How to use research to develop great products that sell.

We believe the secret to growing a successful business is finding the right ‘fit’.

Problem — solution fit. Target market fit. Tailoring a solution to a customer should span every aspect of a company’s efforts: from matching problem to product to the way that you talk to the market or develop customer experience.

No matter what stage you’re at, staying in-tune with the needs, wants and beliefs of your customers is incredibly important. At Think Plan Thrive, we put this at the centre of everything we do, to create and grow businesses and products that people really love..

I’m going to show you some of our favourite tools through an example. To take you through the journey — from spotting an exciting potential opportunity to really validating a value proposition.

1. THE HEADLINES: Google trends


Let’s say you’re a hardware tech team looking for your next challenge. You’ve seen that personal audio devices get funded on Kickstarter faster than anything else. So, considering this an opportunity, you tap ‘headphones’ (blue) and ‘earphones’ (red) into Google Trends to see what’s up.

Trends show you two things. First, ‘headphones’ are a much more popular search. Second, there’s a good peak around December every year.

There are other interesting things to get from Google too.


Regional trends shows a positive bias towards US and UK markets. Top related searches show that wireless headphones are one of the highest-searched items. And ‘rising’ shows recent trends that Samsung AKG and Senso headphones are experiencing a lot of interest through search.

It’s high-level stuff — and in reality, we’d spend more time looking at the drivers behind the trends (higher search terms doesn’t necessarily mean a more attractive market), but Google Trends rapidly gives you an idea of a market, levels of demand within it, and some of the big players and hot products.


Statista is a great tool with plenty of information, even with a free account. A little research unveils the all-critical information: market size and growth, and the key players within it.

When an investor looks at your business plan, the first thing they want to understand is size of the market and it’s growth rate. Here, we can see that the US market is worth $850m and will grow 300%, to $2.5bn by 2022. We know this is one of the key markets, thanks to Google Trends already, and Statista confirms that it’s a healthy market to go after.


But it’s not all good news.


Statista also uncovers an emerging trend. That the U.S. market is dominated by Apple, who have recently cannibalised market share from other players. By eliminating the headphone jack on the new iPhones and creating a familiar wireless option for iPhone users has enabled them to dominate the market.



This isn’t the end of the road. Though there might be big, dominant companies in the market, there may be untapped needs that could be addressed, and profit to be found (have a look at Blue Ocean Strategy for more inspiration on that). Next up, we’ll use the insight we’ve found to uncover needs by understanding the communities behind change.

Reddit is a great place to start. It’s a forum. It’s a community. It’s a news channel. It’s also a great place to start to find active, open and niche groups of people.

Search Reddit for ‘headphones’ and you’ll find a series of ‘subreddits’. I chose ‘r/headphones’ to dive into. Sort by ‘hot’ and you start to get an understanding of the key topics from a set of early adopters, and what really matters to them.


You’ll also begin to see trends in topics appear. One of the key topics here is ‘purchase help’.

In ‘r/headphones’, there’s a ‘purchase help’ thread right at the top. It’s pinned, because it’s simply the topic the forum Administrators will have seen posted the most by visitors. Helpfully for us, there’s a comprehensive guide that’s been put together through the community, recommending headphones of every type and for every budget.

Thought leader content


They’ve actually built a website. The community have built a guide — bringing together their expertise to answer the most-asked questions. This might be a little unusual, but it’s likely that whatever you research, you’ll find expert content through blogs and websites that gives you great insight into a market.

Very quickly, you can understand how an expert community defines what makes a product good, or what’s not: how they balance the pros and the cons of each feature and each brand. You can gain some great knowledge from experts on what makes a great set of wireless headphones. But it becomes clear quickly that that the ‘r/headphone’ crowd aren’t the primary audience. They are an audience who value sound quality, more than anything else. Their page states, “This is the section for all those who hate cables and are willing to make some sacrifices in the sound department for higher convenience.” Don’t discard what you might find from these communities all the same — there is valuable insight to be gained from niche audiences.

It’s a good start, but it’s not what we’re looking for. There could be other communities out there to tap into, so don’t give up until you’ve had a thorough look around. Finding these specialist communities is key to understanding a niche and the opportunities in a market. Simply search Google for forums mentioning ‘bluetooth headphones’ or ‘wireless headphones’ and you’ll find a whole host of links to explore and communities to dive into.

Unexpected conversations

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As you work through the niche forums, you might find some really stand-out areas of interest. My search for headphones uncovered plenty of mentions in ‘running’, ‘mountain biking’, ‘home theatre’ and ‘airline traveller’ forums.

But there’s one that really stands out.

The world’s biggest bodybuilding forum has over 100 threads on bluetooth headphones.

There’s an interest for sure.

But is there a product that addresses this niche group’s needs?

The only way to truly understand is to talk to them. Get yourself an account on that forum and join the conversation.

4. SURVEYS — Typeform


Starting a conversation — and listening to others having them — can provide some great insight. But to get the answers you need to really build a great product, you need to interview. Surveys are a great, lean and lightweight way to begin that process.

If you can engage a community in a conversation, tap into something they really want, see if you can get them to help you validate the assumptions you’ve made about your market. Typeform is a beautiful, easy to use survey tool. It helps you to design a great-looking form. Use it to ask simple, straightforward questions.

Our tips: Don’t lead your respondents to the answers you (think you) want. Give them ways to answer quickly, but space to give their views too. It’s difficult to get it right, but it’s incredibly valuable when you do. See here for further information on designing great surveys and reducing bias.

5. FACE-TO-FACE — Getting out there

You’ve narrowed down. Found a growth market that’s big enough to warrant interest. You’ve heard from Body Builders and Gym Fanatics online and via your survey that there isn’t a headphone out there that’s great for a workout. That stays put when lifting and stretching. That’s sleek and stylish. That’s rugged and sweat-resistant. You see a niche, and it’s not been filled by Apple Airpods.

It’s time to get out there.

Book yourself into a crossfit class. Get to the gym and pump some iron. We’ve found that getting in front of people is the only way to really understand them. All the better if you can get into the environment where they would use your product.

A few last thoughts.

We believe that customer research is crucial to build and grow great businesses. That it doesn’t have to be time-consuming, expensive or complex. Simply putting yourself out there is the first step. Make connections. Start conversations. Observe. Ask questions. Take the time to understand needs and wants and you’ll have the basis of greatness.

Are you building a business but you’re not sure how to make the most from your marketing?

Drop me a line for some free pointers on where to focus at

We’re Think Plan Thrive, a London based Strategy company. We help organisations to build from strong foundations, seize opportunities and get results, fast.

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Jared Ruddy