These 3 kinds of users know perfectly what they want – just ask them

Lean Startup theory wants you to formulate a hypothesis, and Build, Measure, Learn from it. But does the process of listening to customers “start” soon enough? Following this post, we collected 3 domains where users should be involved in the design process even before formulating a hypothesis.

Involve the users before formulating hypothesis when:

1. The users are knowledgeable

They have a high level of expertise related to the domain at hand.

These customers display a distinct level of expertise related to the innovation project you are looking to engage in. These individuals aren’t necessarily your direct customers. Their common characteristic is that they possess deep domain expertise in a certain domain.

Canadian gold mining group Goldcorp, for example, tapped into the domain expertise of thousands of data scientists to explore novel ways to detect new locations mine gold. They posted their geological survey data online to download with a challenge: $575,000 prize to anyone who could analyze the data and suggest places where gold could be found. The contest produced 110 targets, over 80% of which proved productive. Their innovative approach to detect candidate locations yielded 8 million ounces of gold, worth more than $3 billion.

2. The users have intrinsic motivation

They are eager to help you, as they believe helping you will serve a larger societal goal or their own interest in a specific way. 

These stakeholders are intrinsically motivated to help you due to a personal connection with the problem your innovation is solving. For instance, Discovery Communications, the media company behind Discovery Channel, tapped into its community of viewers via their social media channels and, as a result, they launched a brand new channel called “Destination America”.

Miele, a German premium manufacturer of appliances, tapped into a community of parents of children with allergies to design a vacuum cleaner which could grant superior cleanliness. Focus groups with these users revealed that they needed to know when the surfaces were clean on a bacteriological scale. These insights brought Miele to design a vacuum cleaner with an indicator light, which turns green once the surface is clean.

It’s not only the private sector that can tap into the knowledge of intrinsically motivated stakeholders: governments can do it too. Citizenlab, for example, allows governments to crowdsource ideas from their citizens to improve their respective communities via an online platform.

3. They are “super users”

They are that 10% of customers who account for 50% of your profits. 

In any product category, roughly 10% of the consumers account for more than 50% of the profits. These “super users” know what they want, they’ll buy a lot of it, and they’ll pay a premium for it. These users’ insights prove to be particularly relevant for incremental innovation.

For instance, a stapler company – HBR reports – was stuck in a price war with competitors. A market research with a group of “super users” – “users who stapled ten times as much as the average person” – found that anti-jamming was the feature valued the most. Following this results, the company reformulated its offering and marketing strategy to emphasize reliability/anti-jamming staplers, rather than less relevant features like color. The company registered a boost of 20% in sales, with positive effects across multiple segments.


I’m Lucas Tamboryn, Freelance Coach & Trainer. Spreading innovation culture is Board of Innovation’s DNA – if you liked the read, contribute to their mission by sharing this article.

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