Do you know what your customers want before they do?

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Hi there.

As product owners, a large part of our jobs is to uncover what our customers actually want. I am sure we all use audience data, but what other data sources should we be looking at? In this newsletter, we look at some proactive steps we can take to figure this out before they do. 

And on the flip side, once we’ve done the research, followed the process, and yet they still don’t come? I offer a couple of insights as to why this can happen, following examples shared in an INMA Product Advisory Council meeting.  

Do you have examples where this has happened? Or have you managed to connect the digital dots to predict behaviour? Let me know at

Best, Jodie

P.S. Have you noticed that we revamped the Product Initiative page to give you everything you need in one place? Take a look here.

How can we create opportunity for insight on what consumers don’t even know they want?

Or as Steve Jobs put it: “Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that's not my approach. Our job is to figure out what theyre going to want before they do.” 

We can’t all be visionary leaders, but I am sure you recognise this problem. 

Sometimes we really need to work to find problems that users didn’t even know they had. This means proactively relooking at products, listening to the user problems, and looking through that to the root of what they want to achieve rather than how they want to achieve it. Consumers act based on what they have been given, not necessarily what they want. 

A closer look at the News Corp Australia's product increased pageviews and time spent with the product.
A closer look at the News Corp Australia's product increased pageviews and time spent with the product.

It’s important to take a step back and look at how a product may be improved rather than wait for a “need” or a “problem” to arise.

An excellent illustration of this was brought up to me recently by Monika Jansch, general manager/core product, and Elizabeth Pek, head of UX, at News Corp Australia. Monika was a user of their own product: It’s the market leader for recipes in Australia and an all around success. 

There was no need per se to relook at this product, but they wanted to look to see if they could improve engagement. The data all looked great, but as Elizabeth pointed out: “Once you overlay the qualitative research — and once we started doing some research and just understanding what happens when you’re cooking, what happens when you’re preparing meals in your family time — [the] two parts to that problem became really apparent to us: Ingredients needed to be super clear, particularly when you’re doing meal planning. And then cooking needs to be super clear, as well, particularly the methodology part.” 

Through the qualitative studies, they realised they could change the standard template to have these two different steps as separate tabs. This change led to a sustained 14% reduction of bounce rates and time, an 11% increase in the mobile recipe page views, and time spent increase from 35 seconds per recipe to one minute. 

Julian Delany, chief technology officer/data and digital at News Corp Australia, reinforced the drive behind this: “If we hadnt have made an effort to really understand what is driving consumer behaviour on this site, we wouldnt see these increases in metrics.”

This further demonstrates the point I made in my last newsletter about ensuring that we look at the why, not just the outcome

Everything I’ve seen as I’ve delved into this has shown me that qualitative user research is absolutely fundamental in our discovery and understanding of users. Yet one quirk is that it rarely sits within the product team. Traditionally, it has been within marketing. And several organisations are wrangling this right now, as many of the insights gleaned are useful for product and could be led by product need. Best practices show regular proactive meetings with the lead of that team can be helpful in getting insights that product can work on. 

How do you handle within your organisation?

You did the research. You built it. You love it. But they haven’t come. 

We recently released a report entitled “7 Steps to a Successful Media Product Process.” The day before release, a topic came up that I hadn’t covered in the report but is exceptionally relevant: What if you go through all the steps, you research it, you prototype it, you test it, build it ... yet when you finally launch, the numbers aren’t there? People aren’t using it. Or at least not as much as you’d predicted. Why? 

If your audience isn't using your product as you'd expected, start with asking why.
If your audience isn't using your product as you'd expected, start with asking why.

The first question you should ask yourself is: Why? 

Yes, product people should always ask why. Even when we question ourselves. 

One answer could be that people don’t know about it. Sometimes we think the change or additional feature will be obvious to our users. Product managers live and breathe their products all day, every day. As much as we’d love to think otherwise, our users don’t (unless we screw something up and then they all see it!).

An essential step to launching a new product is telling people about it. We can underestimate how important that is. Onboarding and product marketing are a valuable parts of our toolkit. So when there is something new, particularly when you are testing it, think about discovery and work closely with UX and product marketing colleagues to make sure you are preparing users to get the most out of a new feature. 

As this arose in a recent Product Initiative Advisory Council meeting, another potential answer came up. The conversation stemmed from one organisation finding that during research and feedback sessions, they often had user requests to allow them to save their articles. It seems this is a common request, and users place a high value on this feature. But they rarely actually use it.  

So how do we see through what they say they want vs. what they actually want? If the usage is low — and we’ve seen it across multiple sites and examples for this specific instance — then it’s not worth building. Most people on the call nodded vigorously. However, one voice disagreed. He believes the perceived user value can be worth it. He went as far as to say that the modern user has certain expectations for “basic hygiene” features. And if that perceived value is high enough, we should build it. 

Both of these answers are valid. If we simply looked at the data and didn’t ask why, we could kill something that is valuable. So this is your friendly reminder to always look beyond the data at hand. It may not be the right data. Or you could be asking the wrong question. Any time a perceived problem arises, try not to ask what, but why.  

Date for the diary: April 5

My next master class, How to build customer-informed products, starts on April 5. We often talk about putting customers at the center of our products, but what does that actually mean? How do we know what customers actually want? And which customers want what?

Confirmed speakers at the INMA Product Initiative master class in April.
Confirmed speakers at the INMA Product Initiative master class in April.

In this master class, well aim to answer the above questions, looking at how to gather and interrogate both quantitative and qualitative data to find both the what and the why.   

Confirmed speakers include: 

  • Hillary Frey, creator in residence CUNY, former executive editor at HuffPo, USA.
  • Emily Goligosky, executive director/audience research at The Atlantic, USA.
  • Julie Lungren, chief product and strategy officer at NHST Media Group, Norway.
  • Matthew Cassella, UX and design director, and Anthony Bottan, senior product manager/newsletters, Newsday, USA. 

Find out more and register here.

Tweet of the week

This is in response to this tweet: Tell me you are a product manager without telling me you are a product manager. I hope this made you smile in recognition, too.  

Recommended reading 

  • Peak News: Spending less time on news is bad for publishers but good for society: Given that we often optimise for time spent, I found this article both scary and insightful. We’ll delve into some of these points this year as we start looking into non-news products.  
  • The CEO of No: This isn’t a product article per se, but I love it and can see how product leaders can use it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and put some of these tips into use. (I keep meaning to tame my e-mail consumption to certain times of the day but have yet to succeed!) 

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Jodie Hopperton, based in Los Angeles and lead for the INMA Product Initiative. Jodie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media product.

This newsletter is a public face of the Product Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Jodie at with thoughts, suggestions, and questions. Sign up to our Slack channel.

About Jodie Hopperton

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