“But who are we REALLY going after? Who’s NEEDS this game the most?”
I heard this question while sitting around a conference table in the quirky Silicon Valley offices of Crowdstar – a top mobile games studio – with a brilliant team of experienced game creators. Our challenge was to come up with a compelling cooperative mobile game for fashionistas – a game that would bring in a much broader female audience than any previous game the studio had published.
We had LOTS of ideas for gameplay – and a few short weeks to test and refine our ideas before the next studio milestone. If we didn’t show real progress, this expensive, risky project would get cancelled.
We NEEDED to get input from the right people. We knew that hardcore female gamers would want to play the game – and we had an existing gamer audience to pull in for testing.
But to balance that, we also needed insights from non-gamer fashionistas – because if our cooperative gameplay didn’t speak to them and pull them in, the whole plan wouldn’t work.
But how could we actually FIND these people – and even trickier, find the early adopter version of these people?
Find & delight your Super-fans
If you’re familiar with Innovation Diffusion Theory, you know why it’s so important to delight your Early Adopters before targeting your Early Majority. If you’ve ever made that mistake youself – <raises hand> – you’ve felt the pain of getting it wrong.
Finding the right super-fans is easier said than done. It’s actually one of the trickiest aspects of successful innovation. You don’t find them by running large-scale surveys that target your addressable market. You find them by narrowing down on customer need, and finding the few people who really get what you’re doing — and have a burning need for it — even if the majority doesn’t see it yet.
What I’ve learned by working on breakthrough hits like Rock Band, The Sims, eBay, Ultima Online, and Covet Fashion – the Crowdstar game – is that in early-stage innovation, you need to ignore a LOT of the input coming at you, and listen closely to your passionate, high-value early customers – your superfans. Once you understand what THEY think is fun., you can focus your MVP and super-charge your success.
Test your ideas uncomfortably early
Back at Crowdstar, we realized that we needed a way to branch out beyond our usual testing audience and find some fashionista super-fans. So we hunkered down, wrote up detailed hypotheses for our early customers, and came up with a few questions to help us identify the right people.
We posted a short screener on Craigslist and Facebook that brought in fashionistas who were hungry for a fun, interactive way to dress up in beautiful designer clothes. Through speed interviews, we filtered them down to a few articulate super-fans who were GREAT test subjects – and then ran our early ideas and mockups by them.
I’ll admit it – it was uncomfortable to show them our rough, unfinished work – but hugely instructive. We learned that many of our budding fashionistas liked to dress up for events with a special partner – like a sister, friend, or roomate. We showed them lots of ideas – and we showed them coop gameplay that would let them “raid each other’s closets” while dressing for a high-fashion event, they went nuts.
So we built a stripped-down Core Loop prototype around this idea (you’ll learn more about that in my next article), tested it with our selected superfans, and showed it to the studio exec at the next milestone – along with our research results.
BOOM! It worked. The the project was greenlit – and Covet Fashion became the biggest-selling game Crowdstar ever produced. 3 years after launching, Covet Fashion has 3M monthly active users – and is now it’s own division of the company.
5 Key Discovery Questions
To find YOUR super-fans, start by asking five key discovery questions during the screening process. These are guidelines – ready to be customized for your specific situation.
Question 1: Life situation
To identify your super-fans – to cast the right net – you need to know if their situation in life is relevant for your project. Ask yourself: what’s MOST relevant for filtering IN who you want to talk with – and filtering OUT who you don’t? What EXACTLY defines them as your target? Is it location? Level of education or income? Family or living situation? Maybe something about their commute habits? Or a medical condition?
Whatever it is, you want to ask a question that lets you bucket people into groups and start to test your early hypothesis. And at this stage, DON’T ask questions that aren’t useful for 1st-stage filtering. For instance — if you want to talk with both men and women, don’t waste a question asking about their gender — you want to attract both, and you can save that one for the next phase of filtering.
For Covet Fashion, we were looking for young women in large cities — both gamers, and people who didn’t identify as gamers. We specifically called out “young women” in our outreach message to get people interested in the Screener – so our actual Screener question sorted itensity and frequency of mobile gameplay.
Question 2: Existing behavior
One of the best ways to identify potential super-fans is by their existing behavior. What is it that they DO regularly that makes them well-suited for your situation? Perhaps they use a certain kind of software tool or app –or they go to the gym – or they teach, or work in sales, or manage teams, or have recently purchased home security equipment. Try to identify behaviors that are maximally revealing – behaviors you can filter on.
For Covet Fashion, we needed to find Fashionistas who like to shop – so we asked about their fashion-magazine-reading and shopping habits, and about their favorite brands.
Question 3: Unmet need
Now you want to get to heart of what separates early adopters or super-fans from the majority. How dissatisfied are they with the current state of affairs? How urgent is their pain point, desire or need? How strong is their motivation for trying something different?
On Covet Fashion, we struggled with this one – but eventually figured out that asking people how they get their “fashion fix” revealed what we needed to know. We stared to hear stories like this:
“Every weeknight I come home from work, kick off my heels, flop on the couch, and flip through Vogue – it’s relaxing, the clothes are beautiful – but I wish it was more interactive and fun.”
We followed those up with deeper interviews – and BOOM! We’d found them – our non-gamer fashionistas with an unmet need that our game could meet. Plus – we learned what THEY wanted, and then we could build that into the game from the ground up.
Question 4: Alternatives tried
One of the clearest signs of an unmet need is trying – clumsily – to solve it. Here, you want to find out if your customers are actively DOING anything to solve their need – to scratch their itch. How are they already trying to address their need – solve their problem – get what they’re missing? What tools, events, methods, or apps, websites – whatever – are they seeking out? Knowing this is great competitive research – and it’ll give you context for how urgent their problem is.
As a side note – this one is closely related to question #2 – and frankly, if it makes sense for your project, you can go ahead and combine the two into one question.
For Covet Fashion, we asked about what fashion apps, websites, blogs or games they’d tried already. From their answers, we learned that our passionate early customers liked to read quirky fashion blogs with personality FAR more than mainstream fashion sites. That become a good rough proxy for finding the kind of early adopters we were looking for.
Question 5: Better than before
This vealing question is all about assesing their appetite for improvement & change. True super-fans aren’t complacent – they want to see things get better, and they’re eager to be part of the solution. You can ask something like: What could be better about this situation? What’s missing from current solutions? If you could wave a magic wand, what would you change? Make sure what you’re asking about is relevant to YOUR project – and you’ll get to learn about what your most passionate early customers really want and need.
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