From Glamor Moms to a successful product launch with ethnography.
One of my early product experiences began with user observations. I spent a week with customers, observing them in their environment, learning what they needed to accomplish and the obstacles they encountered. By the end of the week, I was walking in their shoes. It was the start of what became a very successful product.
The use of qualitative research, such as observing customers, is a powerful resource for product managers.
It was used successfully by Hyundai to design the second-generation Santa Fe, a crossover SUV. The person who was responsible for consumer insights and product strategy for the Santa Fe at the time was Heather Kluter. She is an innovator and decision engineer working with large companies to help them think bigger.
In the discussion, you will learn:
- The benefits of ethnographic research
- Why very small market segments are useful (only 10 people for the Santa Fe research)
- Working with internal and external culture differences
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers:
[2:10] What lead Hyundai to take this approach for its Santa Fe SUV?
The only people who were buying Hyundais were captive resentfuls — people who couldn’t afford to buy anything else but hated that they drove Hyundais. The chairman of the company issued a mandate that quality needed to be of the utmost importance. We also knew that whatever was designed would need to appeal to an American consumer, even though it was designed in Korea. The research being done was very standard and very quantitative, and we knew that wasn’t a winning strategy. The company was very siloed between research, product development, and marketing. Touch the Market came about to break down those silos.
[5:52] What was your role in Touch the Market?
My role was to tell everyone what prospective customers looked like how we could appeal to them. We identified a target called Glamor Mom that designers and product engineers could think about on a daily basis. We used an algorithm to find people who fit this role and brought them in for interviews to get to know them a little better. It took us more than 100 interviews to find 10 Glamor Moms that were really right. Glamor Mom needed the space and functionality of an SUV without compromising her sense of style with a boxy SUV or a mini van. The car should feel smooth and fun to drive, not like a truck.
[8:50] How did taking such a small focus help you relate to the larger market?
We already had the larger market defined and refined it along the way. We moved from designed target to media target to consumption target and each of them loosely defined. If you start too broad with designers and engineers, you end up with a product that tries to be everything to everyone and have everything in it. We started smaller to help them focus on a specific customer in mind and create something much more special.
[11:22] How did the 10 Glamor Moms contribute to the project?
One of our biggest challenges was convincing Korea to trust qualitative research, and the Glamor Moms helped us do that. Those ten women were with us for four years, and we got to know their lifestyles. We had a cross-functional team who went shopping with them, observed their morning routines, and following them on weekends. We shopped for everything from clothing to groceries and looked at how the moms used the space in the car to organize their purchases. We learned a lot about colors they prefer and how they organized things in their purse. We thought the center console of the car could look a lot like a purse with different compartments to organize things. The team split up to travel with the moms and then come back and compare notes.
[18:53] Did you consider other segments before deciding on Glamor Mom?
We felt that Glamor Mom had the most unmet needs in this market in terms of what she needed for her family and her sense of style. The consumption overlapped into other segments that also had unmet needs. We did grab some of those people as owners, but in the end Glamor Mom was our best bet for understanding the audience for the new Santa Fe.
[20:15] How did you get this project off the ground given the distrust in qualitative research?
We had a well-respected U.S. champion who convinced Korean leadership to try it based on his relationships with them. There was also a changing of the guard regarding management. The younger group had worked and gone to school outside Korea and were more open to it and helped champion it to older leaders. The proof also came in the sales once we got the Santa Fe out the door. Koreans would come to these events and become nervous that they didn’t have numbers to take home along with their insights. We tried to provide numbers to bridge the gap and back up the qualitative insight. We took field trips on lunch breaks and did underground things before we became official. I did a ton of trend watching on my own and put it out into the organization. We decided we were going to do it and we figured out a way to make it happen, and it led to a successful product in the end. We eventually convinced management that we should have a separate innovation office where design, research, and marketing could come together. The office didn’t last, but the Touch the Market project was enough to convince Hyundai about the power of ethnographic research.
- Connect with Heather via LinkedIn
- Decision Analyst, where Heather is VP, Client Partner
- Summary of Hyundai’s “Touch the Market” research program.
“Exploration is the engine that drives innovation. Innovation drives economic growth. So let’s all go exploring.” -Edith Widder
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it.