Build it and they will come?

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Feels like I am preaching to the converted but this week I am irked enough to write a defence of the industry I’ve been working in now for 23 years and 10 months (not like I’m counting).


Read time: 4 minutes


tl;dr: I tire of the old references to why innovators shouldn’t be doing market research. Feedback is a gift – it’s something we should instil into our business processes to improve what we do and give us the best chances of success.


First off, a quiz…

Name the author of this famous quote:

“We do no market research”

and this one…?

“If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’”

Most of you will very likely have identified at least one, if not both (answers: Steve Jobs and Henry Ford).


Despite one of these quotes being 15 years old and the other at least 76 years old, only this week I heard one of them being referenced (again).


I don’t have a problem with the quotes per se; and in the context of when and why they were said, they do make a lot of sense. I am concerned more with how they are leant upon (somewhat lazily you could argue) to dismiss the need for market research.



I’m not qualified to dig into the psychology of it but my hunch is that these references are an easy ‘get out’ of the hard work that goes into getting customer feedback.


Anecdotally I hear complaints from some that customer discovery interviews are ‘boring’ and that some founders would prefer to start building products and services without first understanding customer needs and pain points.




It worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams but is it likely to work for you and your business?


Is this a risk you’re prepared to take?


It’s probably comforting to follow the paths of two iconic business figures, but does it mean we should ignore the importance of validating our ideas, testing our products, and refining our messaging with customer feedback?


Doing customer research and collecting feedback might be unfamiliar (but hey, there’s a course for that!), but I would suggest it’s 100% necessary to ensure your business is developing in the best way possible.


Customer feedback is a gift

Feedback is a gift. But like any gift, it can be:


🎁 Something you hate (but something you really need)

🎁 Something you always wanted (validation!)

🎁 Something you never knew you needed (IGNORE it at your peril)


So, why should you embrace market research and feedback?


At its very essence what market research allows you to do is:


🧘‍♀️ Understand customers’ problems and how they deal with them

🔍 Investigate which competitor products they use and why

🎁 Receive feedback on how they interpret your messaging and positioning


(Plus, 1,001 other things! In essence, feedback is invaluable).


Back to those quotes


I’ll finish my time on the soapbox by unpicking the quotes and giving them some proper context..


“We do no market research”


No argument from me that Steve Jobs was a visionary and incredibly successful (albeit he had some monumental failures along the way). My understanding is that he didn’t believe in asking people ‘what they want’ because they didn’t know.


I can completely agree here in the context of working in very new technology or creating new markets.


But it’s very unlikely you’d want to base your research around asking people what they want. The resulting data isn’t going to be very useful compared to understanding their problems and needs and observing their behaviour.


“Faster horses”


I actually feel that the Henry Ford quote is a fundamental argument FOR market research.


Imagine Ford had asked people what they wanted. He may have heard any of the following:


  • A bigger horse
  • A horse that needs less feed
  • A horse that can pull more load
  • A faster horse

It’s the interpretation of these findings that are useful in designing the future.


Had people centred on the need for a faster horse, then this would have been a useful springboard to brief a team of designers to come up with a solution not dissimilar to the Model T.


I actually see ‘faster horses’ as the shortest, most effective design brief in history!


It’s crucial to recognise that innovation requires going beyond what people explicitly express. But you can interpret ‘what they want’ as a starting point for innovation.


In conclusion, don’t be swayed by these easy get-outs; instead, adopt a mindset that seeks understanding and feedback.


If you’re ready to get started on your journey toward market research success, give me a call.


Thanks for reading.

Would you like to learn ‘How to Run Research’?

Would you like to learn how to run your own research?



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