illustration blog post wish list

Why digging into the data won’t cut?

As a UX Researcher, I am persuaded that data is the one and only, absolutely irrefutable truth. Like Myriam Jessier, a brilliant SEO Consultant and User Wizard Mentor says, “Don’t bring your opinion to a data fight.” Well, I was reminded lately that data alone won’t move the needle, not even one millimeter when handling our clients and stakeholders wishlist.

If not data, then what?

At this stage, you may be wondering what kind of UXR can reject data as the only way to prove her point. So did I, until I realized that this strategy was doing more harm than good to my career and starting to undermine my self-confidence.

I learned this bittersweet lesson from one of my most epic fails, at the beginning of my career as a UXR — and in hindsight, I must say I should have known better. As a former marketing manager (yes, I once joined the dark side of the force 😉 I perfectly knew the kind of pressure and success indicators my manager was subjected to. Yet when I approached him with my fresh-baked report, I crashed at full speed into a massive brick wall. 

I was relatively new to this company and was eager to prove to my manager that he had bet on the right horse with me. So I worked hard to deliver undebatable insights and gathered qualitative and quantitative data that proved that the new feature my team and I were supposed to work on would be a flogging dead horse. I loaded my report with usability issues and wisely inserted verbatims and vox-pops, convinced that my manager, who entrusted me with this project, would indulge in the comforting process of empathy building. After all, isn’t it how we are supposed to build user-centric products, by empathizing with our users, identifying their problems, and working together on solutions? 

What I missed in this crucial stage of establishing the basis for our collaboration with my manager, was to listen to his needs and pain points, understand his context, and define his problem. In sum, I missed the opportunity to empathize with my first user group, the consumer of my insights, the primary user of my precious knowledge, and accessorily, the one who requested my support.

illustration start with why

Start with why

Would I had started my research by asking my stakeholder the right questions, I would have learned that we needed to develop a quick and successful strategy to stay competitive in the market. I would have learned that we were losing users daily and had no clue why. That none of the strategies used so far, no discount, no marketing campaign, and no NPS had managed to change this course. I would have learned that our main problem was to figure out why our users were turning away from our product and that the wish list our business development team had come up with was only their best attempt to keep the ship afloat.

This would have allowed me not only to establish that the new feature my stakeholders were so keen to have us build would not even minimally change the course of things, but also that a new feature was probably not the best strategy to stop the hemorrhage. We had to look for the reason for this leak and fix it, not build more safety boats. This would have changed the narrative from “your idea sucks” to “how about we approach this strategically and figure out a more effective and inexpensive way to reverse the trend?”

Why do data fail to communicate the right insights?

If your main goal is to communicate your insights effectively, you should start by understanding the receiver of your message. Yes, I am talking about the basics of communication. I’m sorry to break it to you, but as a UX professional, 90% of your job will be to communicate your insights effectively. Data comes in the form of irrefutable evidence, supporting your insights, making them solid and reliable. But data alone cannot convince people. If that were true, the International Flat Earth Research Society would not exist, and diet drinks would not sell. 

illustration of the communication process

People are biased by nature and tend to reject data or information that challenge their worldview. So do our stakeholders, and on top of being biased, they’re also acting under huge pressure to deliver, which makes them very eager to switch to panic mode.

As I mentioned before, I should have known better. As a former marketer myself, I knew where the request of my manager came from. I used to deliver numbers and charts to an assembly of stakeholders and to define success by the very same numbers I was so eager to gather. Of course, the user was always part of the equation but in the mind of my stakeholders back then, it was mostly a proto-persona, who could be identified by the brands it loves, the car it drives, and the influencer it follows on its favorite social media. 

What really matters is how many of these users we get to acquire, convert, and turn into advocates. From a business perspective, the ultimate goal was to raise our resonance on social media, generate more leads, and grow our market share — in sum, succeed in a highly competitive market.

In this context, the insights I was meant to deliver did not serve the primary need to validate the success of a new feature, but way more to find a way to stay relevant to our market, hit our KPIs, and satisfy our shareholders. 

As a matter of fact, usability alone does not sell. Usability does not sound very ‘bankable’ either. It does not make shareholders loosen the purse strings.

Stop building an insights graveyard: start generating growth hacking factors.

We are driven by user-centricity, and rightly so! We should base any report, insight, or argument on duly researched facts and evidence. Data is our single source of truth, and we know how to link it to behavioral and cognitive patterns. But when it comes to using our craft to develop successful user-centric products, which, in its essence, is what our job is about, we need to start applying our leading principles to our stakeholders and clients.

  • Have this conversation, go beyond the project brief, and question the motivation for this feature, not from a place of skepticism but from a place of true empathy and genuine curiosity.
  • Use your data wisely, as so many pieces of evidence to support your insights, but focus on delivering value in the context of the receiver of your message: what will have the biggest impact on them? This is what you will have the biggest impact with!
  • Listen actively to this feedback and ask yourself where it truly comes from: is it distrust, fear, or misunderstanding? Pivot, rephrase, and pitch it again. Address your stakeholders’ main pain points first, then embark them on a discovery journey: your data will prove useful to make your point. 

Change the narrative if you want to change the outcome: become their primary ally and present your research insights as growth hacking factors as they truly are — trust my marketing background on this, with the right packaging, even sweeteners can sell as best sugar-free option 🙂

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy this article: Get the requirement right with a Stakeholder Interview

Do you want to improve your approach of stakeholders management and learn how to become more strategic about your work? Check out this MasterClass from the User Wizard Academy. 

Written by Marie-Aude Sourd-Ramos

User Experience Researcher with a background in Applied Foreign Languages, UX Strategist, and serial community builder. Founder of User Wizard UX Career Mentoring. Avid learner, hooked on great podcasts, keen on connecting with fellow UXers worldwide: happy to share a virtual or in-person coffee!


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