How to gain user responses with a puppy

Jun 20 2014

pugs

All of us innovators have been told over and over again: you can make the best product in the world, but if no one wants it, there’s no point. The only way to find out if that product is going to have a successful launch and continue to sustain itself is to get out of the building and start talking to your market.

The audience is the key to a product’s longevity. A product is only as good as your market says that it is, so our main task for this week was to finally design a prototype and start showing it to the outside world – which was a very scary prospect.

Another unusual thing about this week was a new addition to the office: Gracie, Madison’s 9-week-old pug puppy. Since Gracie was too small to be left at home alone, she accompanied Madison to the office in a dog carrier each morning. Although cuteness can occasionally be distracting in the workplace, as we found, it can also be highly profitable.

Wednesday morning, we pitched our product to the other Reese teams, and the key question that kept occurring for us was: Does anyone actually want this? Assumptions were made about an audience and about what they wanted, but it was time to break the uncomfortable barrier and start asking that audience directly.

Our product is currently projected as a resource for people who are facing legal violations, anything from a speeding ticket to a DUI. Taking this into consideration, we decided the best place to find our target demographic would be in court. We drove out to the courthouse to wait outside of traffic court with a clipboard. Unsurprisingly, the last thing that people coming out of traffic court wanted to do was talk with college students. An hour passed with zero people who wanted to speak with us and several angry looks. We decided that our approach needed some rethinking.

So after returning, disheartened from the courthouse, we were struck by a creative way to convince potential users to talk to us: Why not bring Gracie? Her cuteness had already halted everyone in the office when she arrived, so of course she would turn some heads if we got her out of the building.

We gathered up our clipboards, prototypes, and Gracie’s leash and bowl, and headed out to The Pit (the center of UNC’s campus). It only took a few minutes of flaunting Gracie’s cuteness for passersby to start paying attention. And then we sprung: “Hey, want to pet our dog? And look at a project we’re working on?”

It was gold.

Students, parents, employees and others strolled over to give the puppy a hello – and taking advantage of their happiness, we began our questions. This may seem like a sneaky approach, but individuals are much more open and willing to answer questions with a 9-week-old pug in between their hands. We gathered dozens of responses over a few hour-long periods, and gained a lot of new insight on what people did and didn’t like about our prototype. Surprisingly for us – they liked almost everything.

The question to now consider: does puppy love skew user responses? Well, maybe, but only in the sense that they would have probably ignored us sans puppy.

The only thing that shifted was the mood of everyone who touched Gracie. We were able to attract a least double the amount of potential users, and receive highly informative answers to our questions.

Lessons learned go as follows: To combat the skepticism of the everyday user, integrate a puppy. To generate interest in a new project, integrate a puppy. To sell any idea to any user, integrate a puppy. And maybe donuts. On a more serious note, talking to people can seem like a daunting task. Knowing that all of the work you have put in can be torn down in a matter of seconds is not the most comforting feeling. Yet, in order to achieve success, you have to be prepared to take the risks that will advance you farther. The only way to advance is to cater to your users, and this week was a week of successes and new discoveries for our product.


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