Brand Strategy Research is Product Management

Ross Mitchell, co-founder and managing partner of WHOA, discusses how to put customers at the center of brand, product, and service research and design.

Nearly a year ago, Ross co-founded WHOA, a research and strategy agency that helps companies find growth and innovation opportunities. Brands often consult with WHOA on early stage research projects, like identifying brand vision and purpose or future business opportunities and markets.

Ross, who got his PhD in anthropology and is well-versed in the study of human behavior, and the team at WHOA primarily use a combination of ethnographic research and interactive focus groups.

This type of research leads to in-depth customer discovery, but after uncovering all that insight, often there’s no easy way to prioritize a strategic direction.

“You really need to make some strategic decisions on what to prioritize because you’re typically you’re going to come back with lots of video and hundreds of hours of transcripts that you’re going to create some hypotheses for,” Ross says. “There’s always a little bit of nervousness. We might go out there and find nothing. You never really know that you're going to find some great a-ha moment. You have to be willing to take that risk."

To set a sound strategic direction for a brand, product, or service, Ross says it comes down to the same questions: Do customers see the value in the direction you’re going and are they getting the experience they expect?

“What we’re trying to build with a lot of our research is: No matter what the organization is, there are different priorities,” he says. “But if you can convince a company that a customer is truly going to value something, that overrides most things. But it takes time to really convince people of that.”

In this episode, you’ll learn a lot about customer discovery, research methodologies, influencing stakeholders, and brand strategy.

Here are the highlights: 

  • The most challenging aspects of conducting early stage research (3:58)
  • How to prioritize a strategic direction (7:50)
  • What research methodologies to use to make informed decisions about brand (11:18)
  • Best practices for ethnographic research (15:22)
  • WHOA’s brand positioning research and development process (22:43)
  • How the research approach differs when launching internal products (26:35)

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