How to conduct a Usage and Attitudes study: a step-by-step guide

How to conduct a Usage and Attitudes study: a step-by-step guide

To find new opportunities, sometimes you just need to check in with buyers. What do they use, does it meet their needs – and if it doesn’t, what would they want instead? 

A usage and attitude study, or U&A study, is ad hoc research designed to understand the market better and inform your business strategy. To answer your questions as effectively as possible, each study should be very flexible and tailored.

Usage and attitude market research projects have several other similar names too – such as awareness, attitude, and usage (AAU) studies.

These projects fill in knowledge gaps about the target audience and/or product category. Benefits of usage and attitude research can include:

  • Learning new targeting information to inform marketing strategies
  • Exploring drivers of brand or product choice
  • Identifying how to better convert prospects and retain customers
  • Finding unserved white space in the market

For example, brands often run a usage and attitude survey to understand how they can better influence the buying process. In B2B, customers tend to make the majority of their purchase journey before taking any direct action with you.

Google research found that B2B buyers complete 57% of the path to purchase before they perform any action on your website. Your sales reps may only get 5% of customers’ time in the purchase journey, according to Gartner.

Therefore, to convert more prospects, you need to understand customer attitudes before they reach you and when they’re still early in their journey.

How and why are they using products? What are their unmet needs? When they need a new solution, who do they turn to – what are their attitudes to different brands?

Crucially, which brands are top-of-mind? Emotions affect B2B buying behavior. For example, recency bias and inertia may be having a big impact.

You can find out via usage and attitude research, then use the insights to target buyers – and influence them accordingly – before they reach a brand’s website.

The use cases are wide-ranging for a usage and attitude study. Aside from buying process research, they can be just as effective in getting insights to inform your market segmentation or product development process too.

Contents

A step-by-step guide to usage and attitude studies

Best practices for usage and attitude research in B2B

A step-by-step guide to usage and attitude studies

Among other themes, a usage and attitude study explores product usage or consumption patterns, and brand perceptions – both for your own brand and for competitors too.

Depending on how many major competitors you have, it can be tempting to design an extensive set of questions, trying to explore customers’ attitudes to them in great detail.

But the interviews or surveys can’t last too long, particularly in B2B research. Respondent fatigue leads to lower-quality insights, plus senior decision-makers won’t have much time.

On the other hand, the project won’t drive meaningful change in your business if internal stakeholders’ key questions go unasked. So, the focus needs to be very targeted, to achieve a lot in a limited time.

To get the most out of your usage and attitude research, we suggest the following steps:

  1. Set clear objectives and hypotheses to test
  2. Design usage and attitude research around your objectives
  3. Collect the data
  4. Analyze your results and draw conclusions
  5. Communicate your findings, then turn insight into action

Let’s go through these in detail:

#1 Set clear objectives and hypotheses to test

For some market research services, there is a typical overall objective. A perception tracking study should monitor brand health and track metrics consistently over time, for example.

However, in a usage and attitude study, the goals can be much more open-ended. At the outset, the risk is that they become too opaque or weakly defined.

Therefore, it’s vital to set specific, measurable business objectives that key stakeholders agree on.

It’s also important to avoid duplicating previous market research work, as that risks telling these stakeholders what they already know.

An in-person/virtual workshop or a round of internal interviews when the project begins is a good way to share existing knowledge, ensuring everyone is on the same page. 

This is also the time to brainstorm hypotheses, which the research results can validate or challenge.

#2 Design usage and attitude research around your objectives

Similarly, some market research projects require a specific methodology. To find the optimal pricing strategy, you need quantitative research, for example.

But in most cases, when it comes to quantitative vs qualitative research, it’s never a good idea to pick the methodology first and then crowbar in the research questions afterward.

Usage and attitude studies are a case in point. If your objectives are more exploratory, qualitative research will likely be the best option. 

If you need statistical validation, that lends itself to quantitative research – and in some cases, both methodologies are required to get the most valuable insights.

And within each methodology, there are different formats. One-on-one interviews, group discussions, and observation exercises are the main options in qualitative research.

Usage and attitude studies should be flexible. Always use the project objectives as the starting point, then choose the best method to achieve them – not the other way around.

Otherwise, you risk getting incomplete results, or not answering the research questions as effectively as possible.

#3 Collect the data

A typical usage and attitude questionnaire or topic guide structure will explore some of these areas with the target audience:

  • Unprompted awareness of brands/products
  • Prompted awareness
  • Consideration levels
  • Attitudes to different brands/products
  • Purchase habits
  • Usage patterns and levels
  • Repeat usage likelihood and loyalty

In other words, the flow often resembles something similar to a basic sales funnel – starting with awareness and ending with loyalty.

But again, tailor the questioning to your objectives. There’s no value in asking templated questions for the sake of it if the answers won’t add value.

To meet your specific research objectives, you will usually need to add other questions too.

#4 Analyze your results and draw conclusions

During analysis, focus on the original project objectives – prioritize the most relevant insights, not the most anecdotally interesting ones.

In qualitative research, identify initial themes, then brainstorm and storyboard the findings. Revise if necessary and if you have gaps or follow-up questions, run some extra interviews.

In quantitative research, check the results thoroughly and format the data into tables. Look for statistically significant stories. Set aside data that isn’t useful or interesting.

If clear patterns aren’t emerging, consider running some statistical or trade-off analysis techniques on the data. 

For example, a simple regression analysis can show you the hierarchical order of product or service features and criteria, in terms of derived importance. It can also reveal how much of a difference there is between them and their ability to drive a purchase decision.

This type of analysis looks past respondents’ claims, to aim for more behavioral data. There are other ways to do this in more depth, requiring a very specific research design at the beginning of the project – more on this later in our best practices section.

#5 Communicate your findings, then turn insight into action

The worst-case scenario for a research project is that it only interests stakeholders while it’s running, not afterward. 

Poorly-executed final deliverables will end up stuck in a drawer or hidden away on a server, unused. This is why you involve the key internal stakeholders at the start of the project.

It gets the vital questions that the full team wants to include and their hypotheses to validate. It also means they’re much more likely to support your final results and use them.

However, even with their buy-in, the project won’t achieve the desired effects if the findings are hard to act on, or too dry.

You need to convey insights with the right storytelling and visualization techniques, bringing them to life. These can include models, diagrams, vox pops, case studies, and more.

 

Best practices for usage and attitude research in B2B

#1 Leverage behavioral economics to see past claimed attitudes

There is a challenge to overcome with usage and attitude research. By default, you’re relying on respondents’ claimed version of events. There are two parts to this.

Firstly, respondents need to recall their product or service usage behavior i.e. how often they use it, when, where, and why.

Ethnographic research may be an alternate option in niche cases so that you can see their usage or consumption patterns first-hand. However, while it’s straightforward in consumer usage and attitude projects – e.g. in a study of online shoppers – often it isn’t viable in B2B research. 

It’s common to use ethnography for analyzing consumer attitudes, but usually, it isn’t appropriate to do observation exercises with senior decision-makers. Diary studies may be an option though.

But in most cases, it shouldn’t be difficult for respondents to accurately recall their product usage habits.

Secondly, when it comes to analyzing attitudes, there are more options. As mentioned, emotions play a key part in B2B decisions – buyers are human, after all.

By default, traditional research tends to explore System 2 decision-making, which is about logic and reason.

However, respondents can often over-rationalize the role played by System 2 thinking and overstate the importance of some rational criteria. System 1 decision-making works at a more emotional, subconscious level – using beliefs, intuition, and instinct.

The book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman explores this concept in detail.

To analyze System 1 thinking, and see past any over-rationalized System 2 thinking, there are some smart research techniques:

  • In qualitative research, you can use indirect and projective questioning. These include imagining future or ideal products, association exercises, and laddering questions
  • In quantitative research, you can analyze the statistical connections between answers to different questions. MaxDiff or conjoint are advanced ways to do this

In this way, you’re getting more objectivity to your results – you’re less reliant on subjective accounts provided by respondents. The questionnaire needs to be designed to work with these techniques in advance, before fieldwork, unlike some simpler regression analysis techniques.

#2 Focus on customers’ Jobs-to-be-Done

When designing the research, take care not to define the market too narrowly. There may be other customer segments or product use cases out there that insightful research can reveal.

By using the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework at the outset, you can think about the market more broadly. Amazon Web Services, ServiceNow, and Salesforce are some notable B2B examples of JTBD practitioners.

Focus on the ‘jobs’ that customers need to use a product or service for, rather than what existing ones are offering or capable of providing.

Prioritize exploring desired outcomes, rather than features, because this could shed light on new opportunities.

This mindset may also reveal a new competitor set – not firms that make similar products to you, but ones that help buyers to do the same ‘jobs’ as you.

#3 Build a comprehensive list of competitors

There won’t always be enough time to explore in-depth perceptions of multiple competitors.

But the key thing is to include all the relevant ones, without leaving out any notable brand names. If you miss any, it’ll be too late to do anything about it once the fieldwork is complete.

If you’re running the research internationally, make sure all the key local competitors are included and, if needed, accurately translated. This is particularly important in languages not using the Latin alphabet, e.g. Mandarin.

It’s also a good idea to regularly look for nascent, growing competitors. These could be disruptive players who will soon change the status quo and eat into others’ market share.

Sometimes, they are tricky to spot, because they may currently operate in other sectors. Take Uber – it started as a ride-hailing service, before moving into food delivery, package delivery, and freight transport.

Desk research is a good way to build comprehensive lists of competitors. Other options include social media research.

#4 Add other data sources to draw more specific conclusions 

There’s another way desk research has a role in usage and attitude research.

Getting respondents’ feedback is critical to any B2B research project, but typically it only gives you part of the story. Usually, there is more information out there that, combined with your primary research, will give you a more complete understanding. 

Publicly available secondary research information includes macroeconomic data, expert analysts’ predictions, customer reviews, and context on competitor activity.

Often, there’s also scope to include proprietary client information – sales trend data and customer behavior data, for example.

When analyzed alongside your new insights into usage and attitudes, you get more tailored final results, with more specific implications and recommendations for your business.

Summary

What is U&A research?

Among other themes, a usage and attitude study explores product usage or consumption patterns, and brand perceptions – both for your own brand and for competitors too.

Benefits can include: learning new targeting information to inform marketing strategies; exploring drivers of brand or product choice; identifying how to better convert prospects and retain customers; finding unserved white space in the market.

A step-by-step guide to usage and attitude studies

To get the most out of a usage and attitude study, we suggest the following steps: set clear objectives and hypotheses to test; design usage and attitude research around your objectives; collect the data; analyze your results and draw conclusions; communicate your findings, then turn insight into action.

Best practices for usage and attitude research in B2B

We recommend that you: leverage behavioral economics to see past claimed attitudes; focus on customers’ Jobs-to-be-Done; build a comprehensive list of competitors; add other data sources to draw more specific conclusions.

Chris Wells
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