I’m leading the development of an SMS and web based mood tracking service called, Mood 24/7. You may be developing a health product of your own, and really need to get into the heads of your target audience. The traditional approach would be to spend tens of thousands of dollars and a couple months to come up with questions, round up the right people, throw some kind of all day catered event, and analyze the results.
That’s great, if you like spending lots of time and money on something you can do for free. Here are six tips to turn a local condition specific support group into a free focus group for your health product development efforts:
Find A Local Support Group
There are different ways you can go about finding a local support group. My two favorites are to: hit up a search engine with the condition, the word “support group” and your city name OR look on the websites of national non-profits supporting the condition you’re building a product for, and see if they have a chapter in your local area that meets up regularly.
Be 100% Transparent
If you don’t actually have the condition that the support group is supporting, it would be disingenuous to pretend that you do or to say nothing about yourself… so be up front from the start. Support groups, for the most part, seem to go around the room to allow people to introduce themselves. My introduction is that I’m Chris, I work for a company called HealthCentral and am building a free text message mood tracking service called Mood 24/7. And I’m just here to listen if that’s OK.
This is the moment of truth for you. It’s up to the group to determine if it’s OK for you to be there or not, and if it’s not OK with them then you’ll need to find another group to join.
The meetings I attend last an hour, so it’s an hour of me not talking at all. I do this for two reasons: 1. I’m a guest and I always need to remember that, and 2. I want to know what is important to people with the condition my product supports, and people inevitably talk about the things that are important to them.
After attending a single one hour meeting, I was able to glean an insight that is helping me redirect my product development pipeline around a feature that, I think, will lead to an exponential value increase of my product within the eyes of my target audience. I was able to confirm this by doing the next tip.
Stay After To Socialize
You’ve listened for an hour and have taken notes. Now is your chance to introduce yourself to people on an individual basis. This is your target user base after all, so it helps to get to know them better as human beings. Odds are, there are a few members of the group who will approach you. This is the perfect time to ask whatever questions you have come up with as a result of the group discussion. You’ll also want to go around to people that brought things up in the meeting that you may be interested in, to get to know them better and ask specific feature questions.
Staying after to socialize also adds to your credibility, which I think is important if you actually care about the product you’re developing, and the people who will use it.
Connect With the Support Group’s Leadership
This is a follow up to always remembering that you’re a guest, and being totally transparent. The group’s leadership is going to want to know more about you, your product, and what you’re doing in the meetings. Tell them. In my case, I’m offering a free product that I feel can help the members of the group get to know their mood triggers better. So we’re exploring the idea of the local group throwing a link up on their site, which I think would be an extra bonus for both me and the group. Either way though, I’m meeting and talking to people who are passionate about making a difference in the community… which is very inspirational to me as I go through the ups and downs of product development.
Similar to staying after to socialize, coming back to regularly scheduled meetings gives you the opportunity to build trust among the group members. My group meets three times a week, and I’ve started attending once per week. The reasoning for this is that I have other commitments at night, plus I really don’t want to overstep my bounds with the group by attending too frequently. I’m looking for the, “it’s nice to see you again” vibe, as opposed to the “not him again” vibe, and have erred on the side of caution.
I’m now a big fan of support groups as free focus groups for health product developers. If you follow these tips, you’ll not only build a better product; you’ll make some new friends and spread good will from your company through the community.
Life is all about the journey.
photo by: USDAgov