Re: Product/audience analysis

Subject: Re: Product/audience analysis
From: Elna Tymes <etymes -at- LTS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 1998 11:22:50 -0800


There aren't a whole lot of audience definition treatises out there,
mostly because there are so many different ways to measure what an
audience wants.

One method that has been used a lot, though informally, has been a focus
group. Where you can identify a population of users, AND you can get
them to attend periodic meetings (easier in a single large organization
than in multiple organizations with a handful of users in each), you can
get some good feedback about what works and what doesn't, what they want
to see and what isn't used. If you can convene this particular group on
a regular basis, you'll get some good feedback that can be used for
product and document redesign. However, be aware that this isn't
statistically significant, since there are so many possibilities for
bias in the way the group is selected.

Another method that has been used with some success is to simply observe
users at work. Some studies using this approach plop users down in a lab
setting in front of a new application, and tell them, in a sense, to
ignore the little man behind the curtain. <g> The problem is that this
is an artificial environment, and doesn't include all the normal things
that impact how users work with a tool or a document, such as phone
calls, beeps announcing the arrival of new email, unscheduled meetings,
etc. Even observing users in a natural environment has statistical
flaws - you're getting anecdotal evidence which might suggest trends,
but isn't inherently reliable.

Another way to get a feel for how people use a tool is to talk to your
sales force. This too is a somewhat flawed approach, since sales people
tend to focus on the needs of the person making the buy decision, not
necessarily the people who will USE the tool.

Another way to get suggestions for audience definition and product
improvement is to sit down with the people who man the phones in your
company's customer service area, and have them tell you about the kinds
of calls they're getting. Customer service people get the brunt of both
really dumb calls and calls about software that doesn't work. It's been
often hypothesized (but never proven, to my knowledge) that a better
product interface (which includes documentation and Help files) should
result in fewer Customer Service calls.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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