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Product research: the key to building a product people will love

You want to build a long-term vision for your product, and work on something that your users will buy and love—but can you really do that if you don’t understand your customers?

Probably not.

Enter product research, the key to leading your business to success through data-backed insights and smart, customer-centric product decisions.

But how can you make sure your product research is effective, and that it will benefit your customers and business? Keep reading to find out!

Last updated

16 Jun 2023

Reading time

11 min


Product research

Need to understand your users?

Hotjar gives you the tools you need to lead user-driven product research and development processes.

Product research: what it is and why it matters

Product research is a vital first step before introducing new features, a new product, or entering a different stage of the product lifecycle. It enhances your understanding of what the customer wants so you can make user-led product decisions and address customer needs.

What is product research? 

Product research is the process of gathering information about your product's purpose, development direction, and which solutions you should offer to create customer delight. Product research is conducted through surveying and studying users to identify their needs and understand what they demand from your product, and usually happens at these stages in the product lifecycle:

  • Before launch: to understand which initiatives you should include and prioritize based on customer needs, and to develop a product-market fit.

  • Testing and feedback: to understand how the customer perceives new iterations, learn what they like or don’t like, and how you can improve the product to delight them.

  • Soft launch: to analyze how effective and useful your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is among a segment of customers, and identify changes to make before releasing the full product to market.

  • Post-launch: to study customers' reactions and behavior after launch for continuous discovery, analyze customer satisfaction, and identify potential bugs or improvement areas.

Why product research matters for product teams

If you don't know what your customers want from your product, even your most brilliant idea risks failure. Here's how product research helps you align your product ideas with customer needs:

  • Understand user needs and pain points: your product needs to solve the customer's most pressing issues, but how can it do that if you don't know what issues they’re having? Product research helps you gather data and behavioral insights to understand your users’ problems and build the solutions they need.

  • Align user needs with business goals: understanding customers' needs and how they align with your product and business goals helps you plan a product roadmap that'll serve both the users and your company.

  • Higher scope for innovation and accuracy: when you have clarity about what your customers need, you can find innovative ways to solve their problems and build a product they'll love.

  • Gain a competitive edge: researching your competitors will help you understand how to differentiate your product and uncover gaps in the market, which can help you decide what features to build.

Why and how product research can vary across product teams 

Product research validates your ideas and gives you a better understanding of your user throughout the product development process. But the responsibility to conduct product research doesn’t fall solely on the product manager—people across departments should also be conducting product research.  

Since product research isn't a single, standard process, the purpose and level of contribution can vary at different stages of the product lifecycle and across roles and departments:

1. Product managers

A product manager's primary goals are to understand user needs, learn business goals, and determine market requirements to create a product vision and roadmap. 

They also use product analytics to validate ideas around iterations and product features—all of which require extensive product research. 

A product manager’s main research aims are to ensure that product development decisions are data-informed and customer-centric, and address users' needs to build a great product. 

Common research methods include interviews, surveys, competitor studies, and analyzing user behavior and product experience insights.

2. Product designers

Product designers need to empathize with users to create an intuitive product experience that users will enjoy. 

During product research, designers might observe customers in real-time to note their reactions, responses, and behaviors around different elements of the product's design. For example, they might observe how users interact with the UI to identify product elements or features that seem to slow down or confuse individual users. 

Product designers use these insights to improve the user experience (UX) and create a seamless product experience (PX) for easy navigation and usage. 

Their research methods include customer feedback forms and behavior tools (like heatmaps and session recordings) to understand where users are facing issues and how design changes can fix them.

3. Researchers

Researchers study user behavior, needs, and motivations to translate insights into new and better product opportunities and better-informed product decisions. 

Researchers constantly conduct product research to monitor trends over time and see how user behavior patterns are changing in response to product iterations—and how to improve them.

But, here’s the catch: this data is not readily available. So, researchers use a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods like surveys, feedback forms, and customer interviews to get recurring data.

4. Product research by lifecycle stage

Product research processes, methods, and findings will change as your product reaches new stages of development:

If you're developing new features for an existing product, you want to understand the customer's current needs, how they've changed over time, and their reaction to recent iterations. This helps you understand which initiatives and ideas you should prioritize and introduce next.

When you're developing a completely new product, product research will be different. Here you don't have historical information about user response and behavior patterns from your previous developments, so you need to perform in-depth product research to understand your target customer's needs and pain points.

4 elements of successful product research

Product research is necessary to avoid misguided product development decisions, identify potential issues with your product, and get an in-depth insight into your customer's mind. This research helps you create a well-thought-out strategy for building a product customers love.

But you need to take some proactive steps to make your research successful:

1. Use accurate and unbiased data collection methods

The primary goal of your research is to collect accurate data that tells you about how your customers experience your product—what they like or don't like, what they want or need, and what issues they encounter.

But your research won't be useful or actionable if you use unreliable data collection methods.

The best way to ensure the data you collect is accurate and unbiased is to use reliable methods like surveys, customer interviews, and tools that provide consistent real-time product experience insights (like Hotjar!). 

Only with accurate data can you be confident in making truly customer-centric decisions to build the best product.

Pro tip: use Hotjar Heatmaps and Session Recordings to study customers' behavior patterns on your site. These tools give you an unbiased look at how your customers scroll, click, move, and navigate your website, which can help you identify potential issues and improvement areas.

For example, if you use heatmaps and notice that users aren’t scrolling down your home screen to where you’ve included testimonials and product use-cases, you can use this information in your research to place them further up the page.

2. Conduct thorough competitive and comparative analysis

Product research isn't just relevant for studying customers and their needs—it's also key to understanding your competitors and where you stand in the market. 

Conduct a thorough analysis of your competitors' products, audience, and processes. This will help you analyze what's working for your audience, what gaps you can fill, and how to create a better, more efficient product for your customers.

You can complement your research efforts by carrying comparative analysis of what you're missing out on. Study your competitors and identify which features they’re providing that you’re not and what makes them unique. This will tell you where you’re lacking and help you create an optimization plan for better results and customer satisfaction.

For example, if you understand how your competitors are launching features—and how their customers are responding to them—you can use those insights to develop and introduce your next feature, and build a better product that delights your customers and stands apart from the crowd.

3. Leverage existing research material

Marketplace and trade reports—analysis reports by institutions and organizations in your industry—give you valuable insight into product processes used by companies over the years and indicate how consumer trends have changed.

This goes beyond your first-hand information and adds a historical touch to your research, so you can discover new product opportunities by taking inspiration from what’s worked before (or learn from what hasn't).

For example, you may come across an innovative way to collect customer feedback or an efficient way to test product features that might not have crossed your mind. You can explore this idea with the help of historical data.

4. Segment results based on business goals

Your product research is irrelevant if you can’t use it to make more effective decisions and product improvements. 

Enter segmentation, which is when you categorize your research findings based on business goals, so information doesn't get mixed up or lost in translation. You can also document your findings so product team members can refer to them from time to time for guided decisions.

Segmentation can also help you align your short-term and long-term goals to make the research more valuable for use in the future.

For example, you may want to study your customers' major pain points around a specific feature, at first—but later, when you're introducing a suite of new products, you might want to look at the issues your previous product didn’t solve, potential initiatives that can complement your new products, or gaps in your past marketing strategy. This will help you better address these areas for your new product.

How to measure the success of your product research

Measuring the success of your product research isn't exactly straightforward: tangible product results come much later when you receive feedback for the product, so it’s challenging to gauge the effectiveness of your research process in the beginning.

You can get some clarity around how research is translating into benefits for your users and business by attaching Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to your product during the initial stages.

It's important to know what success means to you before starting product research. Be clear on the question you are trying to answer first.

Much like a scientific experiment, you should identify the aims and objectives and develop a hypothesis to test. Design your research methodology around the hypothesis.

You might choose a survey, a literature review, or something else. The results, once analyzed, should illustrate a statistical significance in your findings to prove or disprove your hypothesis—a true measure of research success.

Natalie Furness
Founder and CEO of Niam Marketing

Here's a list of questions you should answer to determine the success of your product research:

  • Do you understand the major triggers and pain points of your customer?

  • Have you analyzed your products in comparison to competitors and identified gaps?

  • Have you converted your research into data points and findings?

  • Have you used the research report to introduce modifications in your product roadmap or created a new one from scratch?

  • Did this research give you a good idea of what the customer wants from your product?

  • Do you understand which initiatives you need to prioritize?

How you answer these questions will tell you whether you have sufficient information or need to change your product research strategy and collect additional data.

Ultimately though, the best measure of product research success is the knowledge you gain about your customers—and how you use that knowledge to build a product they'll love.

3 ways Hotjar can assist your product research for better results and efficiency

1. Use recordings and heatmaps after releasing features to get user behavior insights

One of the most direct ways to get feedback and insights about your customers' needs, pain points, and responses to product features is to understand their behavior in context as they experience your product.

Heatmaps give you insight into the elements of your page that drive the most clicks and conversions while highlighting things you can optimize for better results. These findings can be used in your research to identify potential areas for improvement.

Session Recordings give you a play-by-play of individual user activity in your product to show you their navigation path, mouse scrolls, and clicks. Real-time behavior patterns tell you what the customer is struggling with presently, so you can improve product design, navigation, and experience.

2. Leverage surveys to get validation and feedback

<#An example of a Hotjar On-site Survey
An example of a Hotjar On-site Survey

If you want to know exactly what your customers are thinking and let voice of the customer (VoC) data guide your product strategy, use qualitative tools like Hotjar's Incoming Feedback widget and Surveys.

Try placing surveys and feedback widgets on high-traffic visitor points of your product to get direct, unbiased, and genuine feedback from the customer at the best time: when they’re experiencing your site. This helps you understand user needs more intuitively so you can validate ideas and features.

3. Use Hotjar integrations to prioritize features and get buy-in for ideas

Product research is a comprehensive process, and it’s challenging to do it regularly. However, the process becomes more efficient when stakeholders and team members have access to customer feedback as soon as it’s available.

Hotjar integrates with tools like Slack and Zapier to help you seamlessly communicate with stakeholders and get buy-in for your ideas then and there, so you can move forward with your product improvements.

Final thoughts

Product research lies at the very core of product management. If research isn't conducted throughout the entire development process, you risk misalignment and a resulting product that doesn't meet users' needs.

You need to understand what users need right now to build a truly user-centric product—and product research can help you achieve just that.

Use Hotjar's qualitative and quantitative product insights tools to organize your product research efforts and really understand how your customers experience your product.

Need to understand your users?

Hotjar gives you the tools you need to lead user-driven product research and development processes.

FAQs about product research