In Episode 8 of UX Research Geeks, we chat with Michaela Mora, a senior UX researcher and founder of Relevant Insights, about market research, its methodologies, and its impact on product decisions.
00:01:30 – The evolution of UX and market research
00:05:01 – Market research: Identifying, collecting, and using data
00:11:36 – The importance of research history in innovation
00:19:23 – Promoting a holistic approach to UX research beyond usability testing
00:28:12 – Conducting a problem audit to define real problems before deciding on research methods
00:42:22 – Reinventing Research Methods
00:56:32 – Defining Research Problems and Connecting to Business Outcomes
01:04:10 – Where to follow Michaela Mora
About our guest Michaela Mora
Michaela Mora is an experienced mixed-method researcher skilled in market and user experience research. She excels in analytical insights, qualitative and quantitative methodologies, usability testing, and is proficient in English, Spanish, and Swedish. Michaela’s expertise includes CX/UX, product and price research, brand and advertising research, market segmentation, and multicultural research. She holds certifications from the Insights Association and Nielsen Norman Group, making her a versatile asset in diverse research settings. You can connect with Michaela Mora on LinkedIn or on her website to explore her expertise further.
[00:00:00] Tina Ličková:
This is the eighth episode of UX Research Geeks with the one and only Michaela Mora, the Founder of Relevant Insight. Michela is an insight professional with a diverse background and more than 20 years of experience working at the intersection of market research and UX research. She’s also a founding member of the Multicultural Insight Collective, which conducts research about topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Michela has working experience from the internal research team at Match.com and Blockbuster Online and from research agencies in the USA, Sweden and Cuba. I am a pretty big fan of Michela, following her for quite a while on LinkedIn, where she is debunking myths around research methodologies and explaining market research methods to its core.
In this talk, we spoke about the importance of formal education, as well as the problem auditing that she’s doing with her clients and why we should dig big into the market research methodology, why personas with a demographic information are still a very worthy tool. Tune in into a solid version of wisdom from Michaela.
Hello, Michaela. Hello.
[00:01:30] Michaela Mora: Hello.
[00:01:31] Tina Ličková: We always start and I think it’s a good opportunity for you also to tell the listeners a little bit more context about you. So my first question would be, what is now in your life? What is important to say about you and your work?
[00:01:49] Michaela Mora: Okay, what is important to say about me and my work?
I have been working at the intersection of market research and UX research for more than 20 years. And I have seen the evolution of the field for a long time. I do both qualitative and quantitative research. I’ve been doing UX research before it was called UX, it was just research. And we know our fields are going in a little bit different direction and against a lot of collaborations, which would be the other way around.
And that’s the piece that I’m very much involved with and trying to communicate and we need to collaborate and because there’s so many synergies in when you don’t, when those two groups don’t collaborate in companies, a fragmented view of the customer comes up that really diminishes the value of research.
And so we need that to be able to help our businesses to make good decisions. The business, what do you call it? Stakeholders in UX, in market research. They’re called decision makers, business decision makers. The management team could be the product team, could be the marketing team, whoever really makes a decision.
Usually researchers are in the support role and guidance and give them insights and try to help them implement, but they’re not ultimately, many times the ones making the actual decision. And so that’s the connection to the business outcome is sometimes what it’s also missing in some of the UX research when it’s done.
And so that has been, right now I’m seeing the evolution of the field over time. And this that’s where I’m at. So I do a lot of working across many different industries, both traditional market research and UX research. I don’t see that division as others see it because I have working practice in the integrated model.
And I try to guide clients in that, from that perspective, it doesn’t, it doesn’t care that it doesn’t matter where they come from, which group they’re working with, the approach to research is similar. Even if they think it’s not, there are some specificities, but the way you approach it in terms of defining objectives, finding the mythology, doing the analysis regardless of the method that’s the principles of research.
[00:04:22] Tina Ličková: And this is also the reason because I told you that I am in love with your LinkedIn posts and comments on when people are bashing some methods or some kind of methodologies.
I find out that you step in and very nicely are vocal about it, why it shouldn’t be bashed or why it makes sense and why people should look into market research. But when we talked about this integration, why is it? For UX researchers, it is so important ,in your opinion, to look into market research and what are we missing out if we don’t do it?
[00:05:01] Michaela Mora: I always come back to the textbook definition of market research. Let’s do it. I am trained. I’m a trained researcher, formerly trained, I have a master’s in market research. So it’s not like I went to a boot camp and then figured it out. I have been doing this for a long time and I always come back to it because sometimes people don’t know where that comes from.
And the textbook definition of it is the identification, collection, analysis, and use of information to make business decisions. I’m not talking, remember, I noticed I’m not talking about any methods in particular, I’m talking about what the goal is because research is always about information needs, so you have to separate research, business problem and research problem.
Business problem has to do with, is focused on action, what the business needs to do, what the decision makers, what the stakeholders need to do just to move forward, whatever the decision could be in product development, could be sales, marketing, and the researchers is about how you translate that problem, business problem into information needs.
So what do I need to know to be able to, you, help you as stakeholders to make a decision? And so that context of the business is something that really is important in any research, market research, UX research, because If we don’t connect it to it, the business is not going to invest in research.
That’s the basic idea, right? We are interested, of course, we are a voice for customers, for users, we want to improve their experience. If those insights about the user experience, about improvement of the products or whatever, doesn’t help the business to move forward, or at least sustain business.
Even non profit organizations need to make money to support their operations. If they don’t stay in business, they won’t have money to pay your salary, and to invest in the resources that you need as a researcher. And so the context of the business outcomes, where research leads, how it’s connected to the business goals, is important.
And that’s sometimes that it’s… That’s at the core of market research, right? That’s the business problem. That’s the context, right? And remember marketing, sometimes people get stuck in the turns because they have not studied the field. Market research is a multidisciplinary field and marketing product is one of the pillars of marketing.
One of the P’s, the four P’s, in addition to the product, it’s this product, it’s price, it’s place, which is distribution, and it is promotion. And people always think of marketing as just promotion of the product, but really, if there is not a product, there’s nothing to market, right? And we shouldn’t be marketing products if there is not a need for the product.
In the market. So they are all connected, and you cannot go out and talk about user experience and products without considering what channels you’re doing that, where you’re selling, where the product leads. In this case, in UX, most of the products lead in the digital channel, so that’s the place in marketing.
Sometimes you have combined stores and channels. Many companies now have both. More than one channel where they promote and sell the products and services. And so that’s a piece that needs to be integrated. And of course, pricing, the best product in the world, doesn’t have the right price that people can afford.
It doesn’t matter how much, how good it is, the experience. So all of that is connected and that’s sometimes what is missed in, Depending on how narrow the focus is of the research, people just don’t see the connection. And so I always say, just look at the context, business context, the business goals.
That’s a piece that UX research needs to look at market research and say, Oh that’s because actually UX research is just, I see it as one of the disciplines. in market research. Market research is a multidisciplinary field, and has a lot, tons of specialties. People think of, when I always ask about market research, the first thing that comes to mind is surveys.
Surveys are just one of the many methods. Market research is not the same thing as a method. It’s a system of methodologies. There’s a lot of categories around it. You have to consider if this is primary, secondary, is it depending on what the objectives are, is it the problem at hand or is it somebody else developed this research for another objective?
Is it quantitative? So as you start using categorization of methods and see how they connect to the business goals, the problems that we need to solve. You’ll see that it’s much more than surveys. Survey is just one of them, right? Surveys are together with observation. Many times they fall on the quantitative side of the equation, but it could be primary, it could be secondary.
Observation includes not just impersonal observation, which is actually on the qual side, but it includes when you do transactional, passive data collection, and web analytics, all that is part of. quantitative data that we collect. So it’s a big field, just many people don’t know.
[00:11:01] Tina Ličková: And this is something that, why I’m enjoying reading your thoughts.
Because you are sometimes doing UX research, and this is really nice, whether you put it as one, one of the specialties, I never looked at it that way, but that sometimes UX research is a little bit reinventing the wheel. And I will be really interested – why do you think so? I am probably on the same side as you, but let’s not spoil it.
Let’s see what you think about it, and why you think about it?
[00:11:36] Michaela Mora: I’m always talking about that because I see new names for old stuff.
All the time. And one of, for example, one of the simple ones is I ask, sometimes I find uXers in events and I ask him, do you do any research? Yeah, we do. What is it now? We talk to users. That’s research. And it’s like, what exactly do you mean by that? No, we just interview them. We do stakeholder interviews.
We do jobs to be done. We do user interviews. And if you really go deeper into, What those methods mean is really, they come from in depth interviews. And in depth interviews are actually a way of asking questions, oral questions. And that, all you know, all of that is connected to survey methodology.
Survey methodology is not about written questions. When you go and do a, there are master degrees in survey methodology. It’s a big field too. You really learn about written surveys and oral surveys. And part of that comes from many of the developments in depth interviews, which is more individual interviews.
You have group interviews, which are also called focus groups, or that come from psychotherapy, psychology. It’s really a context inquiry, which is the combination of observation and in depth interviews on site. All of that comes from ethnography, psychology, sociology. And if you want to learn about that and you change the names, you’re going to lose the connection.
You’re not going to be able to go back and really learn the techniques. They have already been invented a long time ago. It keeps, and it keeps… It keeps evolving and developing, and you don’t have to, you don’t have to start from scratch. If you study that, there is a whole field in what they call here polling.
If you go to the American Association for Polling Research, AAPOR, that’s where a lot of academic institutions, universities, which have research centers, the federal agencies, the census- it’s the United States Census. You will learn tons about methodology regarding surveys, and that includes, there is not a distinction between, of course, you have to ask questions differently when you do it in person or on the phone or in a survey.
But the core, how you structure questions, the things that you’re trying to do, there are some principles that are shared, that are common, and then you start doing adaptations to it. And when you ride those types of… questions. You have to consider different types of errors that you can introduce, that this, that you serve, that responding can introduce, that think about the analysis you’re going to do later on with statistics.
So there’s a lot of that already, study and it keeps, it’s being developed, but if you’re going to reinvent something, if you’re going to do, start from, create something new, you better understand what’s the history, where’s it come from, and then improve that instead of trying to start from scratch, because you’re going to make a lot of errors and you really don’t know, you don’t have necessarily the methodological background to really do it right, many times I have seen it, and it just, it’s a little bit lazy in a way, because It means that you have to go and study, do the homework before you start trying to create new stuff.
Usually innovation doesn’t come out of the blue, of nothing. Innovation usually tends to come from different ideas and evolution of things instead of new ideas totally out of the blue with nothing, no background, no history, nothing. That’s a myth when it comes to innovation, and that applies not only to products, but also to development of methods. Usually they are if you think, for example now the hardest thing in UX is jobs to be done, which just really comes from UX but actually comes from business. It’s not a new thing. It’s just an adaptation of in depth interviews, focus on needs, make it a little more operational trying to connect it to actions and outcomes.
But at the core, we’re asking questions about the needs of the users, right? What is it you’re trying to do, regardless of the method that you are, or the tool, or the process? It’s just, what is it actually you’re trying to accomplish? We have been doing that type of research for a long time, in product research, in market research and in the physical world.
If you really want to learn about doing good product research, look at the product research done by consumer packaged goods. Procter Gamble, Unilever, the big companies that put out their physical products. You’ll see the principles are really the same, even if the channel is different, right? You have the digital channel, but we do a lot of product testing.
With physical products, we send the product home to people and they use it and we talk to them, we do surveys, we observe and now with digital is even easier now because before you have to have maybe someone there in the house watching and right now people can just record themselves while you’re doing this and it’s the same principle, right?
And we can see the interactions. We can see how they use it. We see the bigger context in which the product leaves. So when you do, for example, usability testing, you are very focused on that interaction and the navigation and what people are doing the website, but you’re not thinking about what other things people do around that, what are the alternatives in when that particular interaction comes in the context of all the things that people do to solve that particular problem.
And so if you are right now.. I’m planning a trip. And of course, I’m interacting with many different websites where I’m trying, booking my trip, my hotels, trying to see where to go, but at the same time asking friends and finding other sources of information around how to do this. And the way I interact, my mental models, my expectations, my needs are going to bleed into how I’m looking and using those websites or the apps or whatever it is that I’m using digitally.
So it’s, we want to separate users and how they do things for research purposes, but reality is that people don’t separate that. And when you do, even if you focus and you narrow something in the research, you still need to consider the context in which you are doing this, and what people are doing.
So that’s part of the more holistic way of conducting research.
[00:19:23] Tina: We definitely got into the holistic approach and this is what I am trying to preach as well. I’m thinking because I wouldn’t like UX researchers just to be stacked on usability and every senior you speak to UX researcher tells you like the usability testing is the most boring thing and I don’t want to do it.
Or first click tests or preferences or stuff like that. But there’s more coming from business where people want to find out is it a good idea? But what I found interesting is also how you were pointing out different examples. That we sometimes miss the, really the beginning of, okay, is it a good idea?
Not already when the idea is done, just to validate that some product manager or even we, or designers had a great idea for a feature because people don’t think in features, but and my, what I’m, where I’m going with the question, trying to find a question, like what actually we have to do before as UX researchers, where’s the opportunity for us to really serve the business.
[00:20:27] Michaela Mora: That’s why I keep coming back to the connection to market research and marketing, right? So the impact of the user experience, the one that you are focusing on now as a user researcher is really mediated by competing alternatives, by pricing, by brand positioning, by the access to distribution channels.
All the P’s, prize, promotion, and all that is part of the business context that needs to be considered when we design a UX research. And even if you focus on a particular thing, you have to think about that user experience in that context. They always, even the results, need to be always interpreted in that context.
This is what you learn when you do market research, ideally. The definition, as I said, it’s just to, the goal is to help business, to make business decisions.
And that’s the piece sometimes that I’m missing when I talk to UX researchers, because they think somehow it, It has evolved into: making money is dirty somehow.
You still need to make money to help the business make money to be able to survive. And so the UX researchers need to really understand the context, the business perspective. And I know there is a lot of discussion now about business outcomes. And that goes back to the initial point.
So if say you have, you, somebody comes to you, like I have clients that comes to me and ask for, we want to do a testing of this particular app and this particular product, and as we discuss on what is it they want to discover on that app, I always ask, are you sure that users need this app at all?
And many times they don’t know. And I know there’s more discussion now about discovery research, and even when you do discovery research in UX, it tends to be narrow to a particular digital channel and a particular customer journey. Journey is the view of the journey depending on how close you’re looking at the interactions.
And I look at it in a more holistic way with all the potential touch points across different channels. But you need to start at the beginning, understanding the needs of the users. And the needs are at different levels too. So you can have this market level need, which usually falls in the market research type of research, more traditional research.
And then there is the actual need at the interaction level or the micro interaction with the product, with the service. And traditionally market research, when someone says, a company says We need to acquire new customers or retain customers, that’s the main outcome that many companies have. Business outcomes, they need to grow.
And make revenue or save money, and that’s done by acquiring a customer or retaining a customer. In that context, the first question always is, which one? Which should we go? Should we really develop a new product? Should we redesign existing products? Or is this a product development issue at all?
Because it might be just an issue of awareness. Or brand position that you might have a great product. There is a need in the market, but nobody knows about you. Nobody understands your value proposition. So you have to first understand what the problem is. And if it is a product development thing, like people are not liking your products anymore because the competitor came and it’s getting into your category, then you need to go understand what are the needs of the product at the highest level at the key benefits.
People don’t care about features. People care about the benefits that they get out of those features. Initially you start with many times, but like a general concept testing, if there is a need for this app, does the app need to be digital at all? There are a lot of questions that will have an impact on business decisions at a very high level.
Once you have established that need, then you can go into trying to figure out: the protocol configuration, the features, the specific needs that are part of the hierarchy of needs on that user experience, we have to start first at the beginning and I have had clients coming to me saying, we want to do this.
And then when they say we really don’t know, they have to go back two steps and say first let’s establish that this is needed. And then we can go and get deep, deep into that. Many times UX researchers are too close to the product. That’s the responsibility. That’s where the task is, and many organizations don’t know how they should be integrated in the bigger goals of marketing and the business.
And so many times now falls on the researchers to be themselves going and figure that out for themselves and trying to open and collaborate and see, what is the connection of the work to the rest of the business goals so they can really show the value of the research they do, even if they just do this little bit, that little bit is connected to something bigger.
And that’s the piece that sometimes needs to be happening. And the key question many times is, that you keep asking, even if I do my usability testing and I’m trying to figure this out, it’s under the condition that, there’s always a caveat, this is going to be working, it’s going to be working great, assuming somebody needs this product.
Has that question been answered? If not, Then we need to try to find the answer for that one. And that may include many different types of research. It doesn’t have to be necessarily qual or quant. Ideally it should be both before you get to the usability piece, but you have to understand- if you start with the business outcomes, the business goals, that question will become obvious.
Many times, but what happens in UX research in many organizations is that they are not connected to business outcomes. They don’t share those business goals with the marketing team. There are many companies that don’t have any market research or marketing team in house. They just focus on UX only and that’s the piece that It’s hard to find the strategic value of the research where you don’t have this bigger context of marketing.
[00:28:12] Tina Ličková: And this is maybe, we didn’t talk about it in our kickoff. So if I surprised you too much, sorry for that, but I think many UX researchers really want to point out if this product or this feature or whatever new coming up is needed, but what would you say, and you said one example was like doing the usability study, but still pointing out, okay, what are the needs, what is the context, but what it will be, or what you do in order to turn the direction of the client and of the stakeholders towards: is it really needed?
[00:28:48] Michaela Mora: I usually start when somebody comes to me and says, we want to do usability testing. This is the project, I always go back and try to do what I call a problem audit.
I recently wrote a blog post about that because that’s, I think that’s critical, a lot of companies and teams don’t spend a lot of time on the problem definition. That’s the main problem, right? The main problem is we don’t know what the problem is. Many times.
So I flip that question around before we start talking about methods. Like they say in English, you put the car in front of the horses. Let’s talk about what real problem, what are the decisions you’re going to be making? Let’s figure out if that’s the real problem that you have.
And you would be amazed how many, even business stakeholders don’t really have a clear idea of what the problem is. They think it is one thing. And as you start asking questions, that’s where the business acumen is important. You need to, as a UX researcher, you need to understand the business, not just your little piece of the product.
What is the business? Where’s the business going? What is the problem you’re trying to solve? Where are you? As a stakeholder, if I come back to you, I always say, if I come back to you with this little piece of data, what are you going to do with it? And that’s where kind of the ball kind of lights up and says, I don’t know if I can do anything with it.
That’s probably not then the question that we need to be asking and so you have to do what is called actually that comes from also psychology, a lathering technique, which is I have seen now using the jobs to be done type of technique again, going back to the roots, you keep asking the why.
Several times. So why would you need to do that? And what is it you’re going to be doing? And where are you going with that? And what are the consequences? What are the constraints? Because sometimes there are financial constraints, there are cultural constraints. Sometimes there are a lot of politics, internal politics that play into how you are going to be doing research and using the research and the type of style of decision making house.
So you have to become a little bit of a diplomat internally. And negotiate where you’re going to place the research in decision making. I have had clients that they really like research, but at the end they, the balance between the gut feeling and the data, you have to understand that balance too.
And what is the style of decision making? Is it one individual making the decision or is the committee making the decision? All of that impacts on how the research is going to be used and placed in that context. And once you start doing the problem audit and be very clear about what the decisions are, that’s how you flip it around.
I recently had a meeting with a client. They, again, came with the app. We need an app. We need to, we’re going to be testing this. They had 60 screenshots. It’s you’re going to kill the user here. And what is it you’re trying to really do? We just need to know if people are going to be using the app.
Do you know, app, do you know what the benefit of the app is? But we have all these interactions, but that’s not the benefit. The benefit is what is that? Did they get out of it? What is the problem you’re trying to solve? So I keep moving them back and back and back. And what was initially thought of as a usability test kind of.
And that being a more high level concept testing time to figure out what are the main benefits? What is the positioning really? And maybe from there, there’s maybe a couple of features that will support that claim. So if you I always recommend you experts to go in and watch advertising for hair products from a Procter and Gamble.
And if you go and look at any commercial from that category. You have the, that big brand that they have Pantene, Pro Pantene, Pro V Pantene. You’ll see. And it’s only one main message. I had an example from this is a British single, Ellie Goldwyn, I think it’s her name. And she’s talking about strong hair.
That’s the right benefit. I want strong hair. That’s it. And how you get strong hair. Oh, by the way, we have these three features. Antioxidants and this compound and this thing. These three things. That’s the claim. The justification and the why. You can say, yeah, I’m going to get strong hair. It’s the same thing.
If you’re going to tell me that this app is going to solve my problem, make my life easier because, in this area, in this particular area, it is because you have these three things that’s going to make it easier for me. That’s what people care about. Then, of course, the next level is: okay, how easy it is to use, how much of a hassle is this?
If the interaction is not good, if you’re going to have troubles and errors and I just recently And I was trying to make a purchase on a website. It’s a pharmacy chain here in the U.S.. I just want to make one thing good by one thing- I kept getting so many errors in the app on the website. It was just a totally terrible experience – I tried to call customer service.
They dropped my call and then they sent me a little survey -Will you use it again? I said no. The proposition -the value proposition is great. You’re going to make my life easier. I can make it purchase easy, faster, not easy, but faster is available. It’s convenient in a way. I don’t have to go to the store or anything.
Then the experience was terrible, right? Is it, you have to understand at what level you are doing the research. Once the need is established, the bigger need, bigger ask from the user, the bigger benefit, then you go into the deeper interactions, the barriers, the friction points that people have in that experience.
A bad experience is going to kill you if you don’t do it right. But you have to start with the initial need. Another example I had was a while ago, a company came and said, we, it’s an insurance company, that we want to do this app, car insurance, we’re going to put all these 30 features in the app and let people to, they’re going to compile all the information about the car and the insurance, and it’s going to be great for them.
And. We kept asking, what, do people really need this? Yeah, they shouldn’t. Nobody has done any research to really figure out that people need this. So I said let’s just, let’s do that first initial step of exploring the bigger need. And you can look at how people were solving this. Nobody was willing to pay for that.
They already had their own habits on capturing that information, their system. And at the end, they could do it, of course, a lot of barriers that you needed to breakdown. And then the business have to consider how much does it cost me? How long does it take? How much effort just to do something that very few are going to use, right?
And so that’s the piece where you have to go back to the constraints, the business goals, the information that you need at different levels to decide on, should we go with this or not? So many times my research is coming back and giving the bad news, yeah, I don’t think you should be doing this. And sometimes they just look at the data and say, yeah, it’s pretty clear.
Not at this time, maybe in the future when needs change, when other things happen in the market, that may make people ready for this solution. But right now might not be the right time to do it. And I always get this push back about. The fast horse metaphor with Ford, when we ask people if they need a car, they will, what is it they need? They need fast horses. And that’s a narrow and lacy definition of users’ needs. Of course, people sometimes cannot see in front of themselves how they could, what is it they need. That’s okay. People react to things. They cannot necessarily generate things. Because they are not really involved. That’s not their job.
They are not in that category. Depending on the level of involvement, they might give you more or less ideas. But that’s not, the job of the user is not to come up with new ideas for you. The researcher needs to find ways of understanding the needs and then derive. What are some potential solutions to meet that need, but don’t say that we don’t need research because if people, we asked them, they would not ever know.
It’s never about asking directly, what do you think? Tell me you have to pay them if they’re going to be doing all the thinking for you to come up with new ideas. It is your role as a researcher to really extract as much information as possible with different methods, not always direct, questioning and just come up with solutions and then put it in front of them and see how people react to it.
But that’s a simplistic way of looking at research when it comes to new ideas. There’s a lot of thinking and work that has to go into that process to be able to extract things from the research. That’s insights, essentially. It’s not data, it’s the insights that you can derive from the data.
And that’s one of the problems, too, with the trend now with a lot of do it yourself research, faster, cheaper. There’s really not a lot of thinking time. People don’t have budgets. Oh, and enough resources to allocate for thinking time and derive the insights. There’s a lot of focus on data collection and that seems to be easier, faster, cheaper, but this is the back end.
That’s where the value is for the research. And so even in the market research industry, the big focus now is on what we call a REST tech. Of course, now everything has a tech in the name. We’re going from X to the tech or at the same time. And trying to let the machines do everything with artificial intelligence and all that in automation.
But we are forgetting the insights really comes from humans still, and we need time, thinking time to be able to analyze that and come up with ways of extracting those insights. And that’s the piece that is sometimes missed. And UX is very much into: do yourself, which I have another point on, that is – It can be isolated and narrow and doesn’t allow really researchers to grow.
Too much focus on things that are not necessarily add a lot of value. So there are a lot of tech tools now that allow you to collect data. All that can be cheaper, faster. That’s fine. Don’t spend too much time on it. But then I use all that time to really do the actual analysis and synthesis and reporting for, learning, future learnings too.
Somebody was saying the other day on LinkedIn that they didn’t do reports because who cares? Who’s going to have time for that? And nobody’s going to read in the future. It’s like you’re losing a lot of knowledge in that process. You do a lot of research, you don’t report it, you don’t document it.
Nothing gets into it, there’s no memory of what you did. So every time you have to do it all over again, reinvention is starting this from scratch and it’s just because that takes time, that takes resources, and you have to put, define where you find the value. And there’s always an opportunity cost to do your self research.
It could be cheaper and faster on the face, but there’s an opportunity cost long term where you don’t really… Do more strategic types of research that can advance the business advance you as a researcher many times.
[00:42:22] Tina Ličková: I’m just wondering because you Briefly scratch it and this is where we don’t want to talk about the methods but I will still like to have a your perspective on it because One of the very important thing is reinventing the methods all over again. And there are big names in the business where it’s, which tell you like, don’t put demographics or don’t use the personas or don’t put demographics into personas or jobs to be done. It’s the only method because it’s not looking at the people. And I know you’ve been vocal about this and. I would like to look into this one because I think there is a strong message too from your side.
[00:43:08] Michaela Mora: So once you define the problem, I would say that sometimes to define the problem, you have to always start with secondary research. I always recommend that. And secondary research is probably the cheapest, fastest way to explore a problem. If you don’t have enough information or if you have already found a problem to find at least initial nuggets to answer some of the questions you have.
So secondary research is done for purposes other than your own. So that’s where you go to industry reports or category, product category reports or data collected by something else, even internal Collected data, transactional data, sales data, web analytics. Those are secondary research data because it was not really collected for the primary purpose of your research.
It’s just there for other purposes. But it might have some nuggets of information that might be useful for you. The problem with secondary research is that It’s usually not specific enough for your needs. You still need to follow up with something else. You need to keep doing more research, and that’s where primary research comes in, right?
And primary research can be qualitative, quantitative, it’s about the goal. This is research designed for your particular objective to solve the problem at hand. And you can start with qualitative methods. You can do, if you want to explore needs, again, depending on what level we’re going, high level market needs or interaction product level needs, you still might start with qualitative research, focus groups, in depth interviews, ethnographic observation with like digital diaries.
You need to have a sense for many different approaches. There are tons of that in Market research, by the way. Market research, do qualitative research a lot. We tend to specialize in one or the other based on preferences and personalities. I do both, but that’s rare, many times. Because it requires different types of skills that you’re going to be going deep in quant and also deep in qual. It’s a switch in the brain and I cannot do it, doing both at the same day is almost impossible. It’s too exhausting, but it can be done. And so you might start with that with the qual and then you still should be doing some validation. with quantitative research. And quantitative research could be surveys, could be passive data collection, could be some experimental design, and I know many times qualitative researchers don’t like to hear about validation, because it feels oh, you’re saying that what I’m still doing is not valid.
No. What I’m talking about is validation. Qualitative research generates a lot of great ideas. I love it. It’s rich in data and rich in nuances. We just still need to understand the magnitude of your findings. So when I’m talking about validation, it’s how big is this problem or need that is worth investing in.
So you can find tons of stuff in qual, but it might be just things for, small segments of that population universe, because remember the business have to make an investment and they have to get a sense for how many people are going to be reaching with this product or service and the qual, just because the way the sample is designed, they tend to be very narrow. They, it’s not representative enough. You’re not really necessarily capturing all potential segments in your user population. So you might happen to have five people, all from a particular segment and then you will be able to reflect the results from that segment.
Or you might have people from many different segments, but then you still don’t know how big they are to be able to say, okay, should we focus on this or that if you have a lot of variability in the data. So qualitative research is. The main goal is exploratory, right? We want to surface some hypotheses of what the needs are, what the problems might be, then we still need to go and validate.
Many times we do Depending on time and budget, we go the other way around. We start with quant, we might do what is called, there is exploratory quantitative research too. When you do a market segmentation, there is what is called empiric, empirical segmentation.
You really don’t know what you’re going to find. You just try to ask as many questions as possible in different dimensions, psychographics, demographics, behavior, all type of variables, just to see, if you see a pattern, if there are some groupings. So you have to do statistics to be able to find those groups.
And then sometimes you can follow up with qua and you go deeper in trying to, because any qu quantitative research is probabilistic. There’s a trend. Nobody is a hundred percent one thing or the other. We just have tendencies to do and behave and need certain things. Of course, there are situational factors and sometimes they’re used as invalidating criteria.
But people that don’t really have an understanding of statistics, they say that person is not 100%- it doesn’t meet all the criteria in this segment. So that segmentation is wrong. It’s not. It’s just. you have to know what are the other variables, increasing the probability that someone is going to be behaving in a particular way or selecting, having certain types of preferences.
And so what you want is to go into the qual and get richer, a richer profiling sometimes. And when it comes to personas in particular, because it’s connected to segmentation, personas is just another name for segment profiling. And if you profile a particular group and say, call it a persona, that’s a persona.
You better have data to back up that persona exists in real life in a bigger , in not necessarily one individual, but it’s a slice of the population of your market that it’s stable enough so you can really talk about them in general terms. And so you make it look like one person because you maybe pick some attributes to make it alive and relatable to stakeholders.
And that’s a trend to start actually marketing many years ago. That’s not an UX thing, but it started marketing because when we do market segmentations, there are those, they tend to be huge studies, like big samples. thousand, two thousand people, because you need to have enough samples to be able to slice and dice and find trains and patterns in the data.
And If you just present percentages, it gets a little dry, hard to communicate, and too much data. People get really overwhelmed by that. We have to, when we communicate imitation studies, probably it’s like you have to do a workshop half day, a whole day just to be able to digest all that because it’s tons of data.
And so when storytelling came into vogue in marketing, it’s like we need to communicate data. through storytelling. Then these personas came, scenarios came, oh let’s bring that segment to life. And this is Tina, she lives here, she has an average age of this, and she does that, and that.
And to give you the Something to connect some heuristics to talk about that segment. And they call it sometimes even names like this is Tina´s segment. This is Michelle´s segment. And that over time gets confused with the fact that we can now come up with personas, but no data, it seems to be the jump.
So you have internal teams, many times salespeople, because yeah, I’m interacting with customers. They see some patterns in their interactions and they think they know what this, the users are, the buyers are, and they say, we have these personas, but what you can see in many companies is over time those personas don’t live long.
They die pretty, very quickly because there’s no data behind them. They are not stable enough to survive changes in more in depth analysis and even market segmentations when they are depending on the category, the shelf life as we call it. If there’s a category that changes a lot, it’s a new competition, new technologies, the market is changing quickly.
They might have, they might last for two years and then you have to renew, refresh, find new segments because things are changing. So it’s not like you do one segmentation that’s for life. In the product categories, The segmentations are focused on product categories many times, unless you’re doing some type, live stage type of segmentation, more on the sociology side of things.
When it comes to commercial segmentations, that has to be usually connected to what people are doing and needing and behaving and preferences in a particular category, and that changes. I did a segmentation for a client 10 years ago. We found segments for a retailer in the automotive category that was before Amazon was selling a lot of auto parts.
And so we have people who are behaving in different ways. Before YouTube came, you could do anything and learn anything by watching YouTube, right? And so before that, people were behaving and in certain ways, buying certain things, doing, having certain preferences. When that market shift came, And other things became available, people started behaving in different ways, having other needs. So now 10 years later, they wanted to reproduce the same thing. You said I don’t think it’s going to be valid. We ran again because they insisted. So I’m going to prove it to you. And everybody was in one segment, before we had four. Now those differences disappear, because people are now behaving in a different way.
And so we have to go back and trying to, we run a qualitative study, trying to figure out the customer journey and what people did and need and prefer in each of the stages up till they came because they were just a retailer. They were actually the last stop in the journey. We have to understand the full journey from when the problem for the user started until they got to the retailer where they’re going to buy the product to solve that problem. But in the middle of where a lot of stops in decisions that people have to make and where the client could go in and help that so they get guided to their own store. We have to understand the full journey and things change in the market. And so when you come and talk about personas and there is no data, there’s no actual segmentation behind it. I guarantee you, those personas are going to die pretty soon. They’re not going to have a lot of evidence to justify them, you’re going to be questioning the C-suite because now you’re telling the decision makers, Oh, use these groups to make a strategy for the company. The company is going to need data. So that’s why you need to have a kind of arsenal of different tools, understanding both quant and quant, and decide what it is we need.
To do that, of course, timing and budget are always factors in there, so you have to design research considering all those factors. And I come back to the issue of defining the problem first before you start deciding methods.
[00:56:32] Tina Ličková: Michela, maybe the last question to summarize. What you are trying to tell the listeners, or not you, but what we were trying to give away as a message what should be, in your opinion, an integral part of every researcher’s work?
[00:56:52] Michaela Mora: Ah, I would say in terms of the process, first: conduct a prior audit, identify what the problem is, what the decision is at play, what course of action should be taken, translate that into the research problem. I would direct you to just look at the longer blog on problem audits. I think that’s so important and it’s so underrated and totally ignored many times because people are in a rush to do things, but many bad decisions are made when the problem is undefined.
And so start with the clear definition of the problem and the level of decision that is made. The second is always, of course, connecting that to business outcomes. Consider where the business is going. If you don’t know, ask, talk, find the people who know. There’s always people who know and try to understand how your tactical or project is connected to strategic goals.
It will really elevate the function of research and your value as a researcher. Never forget you are the voice of the customer, the user, that’s fine. But you still need to help the business to stay in business at least. If you think that making money is dirty. And get a good foundation of principle of methodology.
Both qual and quant, not just, I know some people prefer numbers, some people don’t like numbers. You don’t have to do it yourself, that means: collaborate. Consider the cost of doing it yourself, the hidden cost, the opportunity cost, the things that you could be doing instead of that, that would add more value.
And remember, no method is perfect. Know what method is going to give you everything you need. No user interviews, no usability testing, no focus group, no surveys. They’re going to give you all the answers. Ideally, you should use mixed methods. To give you a different perspective of what you, but sometimes there is no time or money to do that, but just know the limitations.
Don’t present it as is, this is it. There’s all the answers. There’s not, never know. It’s just one perspective and be big on caveats, right? But you have to know the methodologies to be able to defend them and propose the right one. Otherwise you’re going to be a prisoner of the law of the hammer. When you have a hammer, everything’s going to look like a nail.
You don’t want that as a researcher. But it’s easy because some companies, they stay in that lane. You create expectations, always the same type of research. And so you don’t grow, the company doesn’t grow. You really don’t solve the problems that need to be solved. And that’s why I always call, I recommend collaboration.
Not only internally with other groups, but also bring outside resources, bring research vendors, suppliers. They’re gonna have the expertise that you won’t have, or your team have. If you’re gonna have all the expertises, all the specialties needed in research, you’re gonna have to have a big research team.
And then you are in the business of research, which is not your business, right? Internally. You’re gonna have a hard time justifying that. And so the market research industry has gone through that phase already because it goes back and forth. Sometimes it’s all do it yourself, sometimes it’s all vendors, sometimes it’s ideally my experience as a researcher on both sides because I have work on the internal teams too.
It’s just a collaboration. It’s always a hybrid model. Where you can have a small team and bring expertise as needed for different types of projects, not for all of them, but some pieces of the projects or different types of projects, strategic and tactical, depending on your own skills and resources. So collaboration, open your mind to that and bring resources and you can justify having a budget for that.
And finally, be aware of your own biases, your cultural biases. That’s why diversity is important because you are, many times, blind to your own biases, you’re not able to catch them yourself, you’re vigilant. Knowing what you don’t know is very hard. And so you need a diverse team, you need a perspective, people who can point out, that can complement yourself.
You need a diversity of methodologies, of people, of skills of people with experience in different adjacent areas. Research fields that will really complement and enrich your perspective and in the value of the research. But again, you have to, don’t stop at the research piece, you have to go, the next step, which is the harder one, is the implementation of the insight.
Is that we need to include the stakeholders. The stakeholders don’t have to do the research. That’s another thing, this large democratization of research. They expect everybody’s going to do it. No stakeholders are interested or time. They’re not getting they’re not getting paid for two foot to do that work, So don’t expect them to do the research, but you have to find a way to involve them in the problem definition, And ideally, observation of the of the process, if they can, at the end, in the insights implementation, you have to be able to communicate the results, the insights, and help them make the decisions.
That’s where the implementation comes. If you do all the research and it goes to a shelf and collects dust, the value is lost. You have to be able to make it actionable. That’s the piece that sometimes requires more work and thinking time. So you have to advocate for that. If you are a research manager please find time to, to give your team time to think about the insights implementation.
That’s where the value is. That’s where you can really bring research alive. The actual doing of the research, which is no, I know now is a big thing with research operations that really has for the business has less value. than what you do with the research. Again, nobody cares about the features, how you do it, but they care what they get out of it.
And the same thing applies to research. You have to make sure you do it right, that you have a team, a team who can do it, who can do it right. But the business itself, the stakeholders, they don’t care. In that way, they care, it’s you did it right, I’m assuming that you do it right, you’re an expert, you know what you’re doing, now tell me, I can trust you, that you could, you, this is a good research, now help us to figure out what to do with it, help us to figure out how, what decisions we should be going for, and that’s the main, at the end, the highest level that’s our role.
[01:04:10] Tina Ličková: Last but not least, where to follow you and where would you like to be followed?
[01:04:18] Michaela Mora: You can always find me on LinkedIn at Michaela Mora and also a website, our website relevantinsights.com. I am on Twitter too – sometimes when I have time. But those are the three main things. LinkedIn is where I’m, where you can find me faster, or on my website, relevantinsights.com.
[01:04:41] Tina Ličková: Great. Thank you very much for your time. Thank you very much for your wisdom.
[01:04:45] Michaela Mora: Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you so much for inviting me. It’s been lovely talking to you. Thank you very much.
[01:04:53] Tina Ličková: Thank you for listening to UX Research Geeks. If you liked this episode, don’t forget to share it with your friends, leave a review on your favorite podcast platform, and subscribe to stay updated when a new episode comes out.