Product Lifecycle Research is the posh name for investigating what happens to a product from the time it hits the trolley to the next time it’s bought.
This is tricky stuff, because FMCG products might move quickly off the shelves, but when they get home, their consumption is much slower. Think about that jar of Marmite slowly getting gunkier day by day.
Commercial qualitative research isn’t usually set up to happen slowly, but perhaps there is a case for slowing it down, so that we can see what really happens to products when they get home, and what you could do (as the product owner) to change in-home behaviour, or to speed up the product lifecycle.
- commit to three months or more in the field! It’s possible these days to set up consumer panels that will stay on board for three months or more. If you’re smart, and you know how, it’s possible to trigger your participants to report when they’ve used your product (let’s imagine it’s frozen potatoes), or when they’ve used the category your product lives in (e.g. frozen veg), or when they’ve gone into the place where your product lives (e.g. the freezer) and when they’ve shopped, for your product. All that rich behavioural data can then deliver clues that can be investigated further.
- use a mix of methods to get the data you need: encourage respondents to record their in-home behaviour through mobile apps/ bulletin boards, but also speak to them regularly both in their home (so you can understand better the context of what they are doing) and through email/ texts and phone calls. Pay your participants attention and they will enjoy the longer research process and commit better to the project
- take notice of environmental factors that affect behaviour. Notice the time of year, the weekly cycles that the participant and their family has, the weather, their state of health, what they are watching on the telly, who they are talking to… it’s all of these factors that impact on how they consume your product, and it’s stuff that you won’t get to know about in group discussions or depth interviews. Context is everything!
- experiment. Give respondents different tasks to complete to see how that changes their behaviour. Understand, for example, the impact that having two packs in the freezer has on their behaviour, or a smaller pack, or own label
- analyse behaviour methodically so that you can develop theories about how to change behaviour. It’s not enough to watch, product lifecycle research is about learning too: what can we do differently so that they consumer will change their behaviour… Or, put differently, how do we need to change our product so that it has a better lifecycle?
- share your analysis: across the business (so that your stakeholders can come up with product solutions) and also with the research participants, so that they can comment on your thinking. By the time they have got to the end of three months, they will be much more mindful of their behaviour (a possible downside too?) and it’s worth taking advantage of that.
Product lifecycle research can provide you with a huge amount of big picture thinking. It’s not easy, it takes ages. It doesn’t answer any immediate questions…but it could change the way you make and market your product.
I really hope it’s where qualitative research is going in the future – delivering clients longer-term and more profound insight.
Let’s hope that good things come to those who wait! Do contact me if you like the sound of this type of research and I can tell you more!