User Experience

Image depicting the idea of an extreme user

The importance of extreme users in research

By | User Experience

The importance of
extreme users in research

Image depicting the idea of an extreme user

One of the biggest illusions of Market Research is that you need to interview “average consumers”. That’s absurd. What you’re looking for in qualitative research is interesting insights to fall in love with the problem. If you want to spot interesting opportunities for innovation, you will find those opportunities much faster when you interview extreme users. Extreme users are perfectly capable of telling you what they figured out, how they overcome barriers, what problems they needed to solve and how you can help them. Moreover: Roger’s  Law of Diffusion of Innovation – you know: innovators, early adopters, etc… – tells us that every new product or service aways needs to attract a first group of early adopters in the fringes, before it can spread to the masses. Without traction, hype or social proof from the mavericks, most people won’t move.

Scratching your own itch.

The history of innovation is packed with stories of extreme users who  launched a killer innovation by scratching their own itch. Did you know that the sandwich is named after the Earl of Sandwich. The man happened to be such an addict gambler, that he instructed his staff to serve his lunch in a way that he didn’t had to leave the game table. The rest is history.

A similar story unfolded in Antwerp. Back in 1951, a guy named Theo Maertens entered his favourite snackbar one night in a drunk state, asking for a sandwich with minced beef and topped with everything they had available. That happened to be pili-pili powder, tabasco, cayenne-pepper, pickles, salt, ketchup worchester sauce and chopped onions. The new sandwich was an instant hit. People liked it so much, one of his friends shouted: I want a sandwich, just like the one Martino had. Martino was Theo Maertens’ nickname. The snackbar owner decided that the new sandwich was going to be named after its first customer: Martino. Today there is no snackbar in Belgium where you won’t find a Martino. It’s one of the best sold sandwiches in the country.

broodje Martino

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Extreme users know their pain better than average users

Another great story is the success of the HITT-training (High Intensity Interval Training). Allegedly HITT was designed by an ultra-runner, whose marriage was about to burst, because his wife couldn’t cope anymore with the endless hours he was away from home training. So the guy went on a search for new ways to spend less time training, but with similar effects. He discovered that High Intensity Intervals training was as good – if not better – as long duration runs, but they only took a fraction of the training time.

Another example in the same category is Curves. One of the fastest growing and highly profitable fitness concepts in the world. They figured out how to connect with a large group of women, who felt very unfordable training in the gym. Lot’s of women feel being looked at, and lot’s of women feel shame about their bodies. Curves solved that problem: It’s a women only concept, no fancy fitness gear and women train in a circle, so everyone gets to see everyone, which quickly helps them to overcome shame and stress.

You’re not looking for validity, you’re looking for interestingness

If you want to come up with new value propositions: always talk to extreme users. For the simple reason that their pain is a magnified version of the average consumer pain. “Scratching your own itch”, is an innovation mantra that lot’s of innovators can relate to.

In the end, every successful innovation is nothing more than a better way to take  away pain in people’s life, a better way to solve their problems, or a better way to help people to achieve their goals and fulfill their dreams.  The big problem with market research is that it’s so obsessed with averages and validity, that it forgets that its real goal is to spot interesting human insights and opportunities for interventions. Extreme users will provide you with those.

More blogs on innovation and research:

How to design an innovation habit

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Signaling: How to add psychological value

By | All, Customer Behaviour, User Experience

What is the cheapest way to feel insanely rich? To me, it is having a high-tea in a five-star hotel. For about 50 to 60 euros you can get a taste of the service level that generally only the rich and famous have access to. Another way is to book an Economy Plus seat on an aeroplane. For just a tiny bit extra, you not only have a bit more comfort. You also are freed from the hassle to get on and off the plane. Your food gets served first. And in case of Easyjet, you get to experience the ritual of getting to board early. While the other mortals have to feel inferior behind a rope. Priceless.

How to feel rich the cheap way

But I am also feeling filthy rich for the last few years if the owner of restaurant ‘Oggi’ in the Binnenbantammerstraat Amsterdam – who by the way is Turkish, but does a brilliant Italian impersonation – comes up to me all the way from the kitchen to welcome me back. It’s a little gesture, but it makes a lasting impression on my Belgian relatives. It signals that I am an appreciated customer and not just an anonymous character in the big city. The Uber driver who simply asked me if I would enjoy listening to some music, and gave me a few mints, transformed the value perception of expensive public transport into a private chauffeur experience that was a mighty good deal.

By the way, there’s a great power in mints when you look at it from a human psychology point of view. Check out this post to see how mints can make a big difference in the amount of tips given. It explains the Cialdini persuasion principle of reciprocity.


Signaling: the power of adding psychological value

In behavioural economics, these examples are called signaling. Our system 1 – aka our automatic brain – is continuously picking up signals that seem trivial, but have an enormous impact on how we experience the value of things. The cheery Coolblue delivery boy on his bike looks like a little detail at first sight, but it undoubtedly one of the most active signals that show how committed Coolblue is to do ‘Everything for a smile’.

The other way around: How often did you hear you say to yourself you would never return to a store as one member of staff – maybe even without knowing it him or herself – has treated you with too little respect? A store can try its hardest to make sure everything is in perfect order, but if the behaviour of the people instore signal the opposite. It’s the end of the story.

Signaling power at organisations

I even experience the same when visiting clients. Both at De Volksbank and at ASR Insurances you are welcomed by hosts that genuinely make you feel very welcome. It causes you to feel good about the entire organisation right away. The organisation signals that you, as their visitor, are of importance to them. The hostesses at the main offices of Eneco are also sublime at this. As opposed to Group4, where you come in, you are asked to come up to security agents positioned behind a stronghold. No, the hostesses at Eneco accompany you to an espresso bar and give you a reception that even the CEO would appreciate.

No expensive design or elaborate change management program can match the power of psychological design choices.


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