Why Relationships Are Essential to Research

Beth Werner, Head of Retail Research and Vision at Bose


“So, why are relationships essential for research? Let me begin by telling you a little about myself, and then tell you about why relationships are scary for BOSE.


At a young age, I felt odd about life, so then I started being curious about human behavior. Then, I went to SCAD and learned that men designed women’s products.


I began a Design by Gender study. Then helped design a Ryobi drill for women that didn’t alienate men.”


Then, Beth went to work at Herman Miller to understand the hospital room experience. “I spent days upon days with patients, nurses, doctors, and caregivers. We bought back our learning and created a foamcore hospital room—and we each played the various roles.”


“Then, we built a modular system as a prototype that became a best-selling line for Herman Miller. The sad fact was that we didn’t go back to consumers as part of the process.


“Then, I joined Bose, which just celebrated its 50-year anniversary. Dr. Bose left the company to MIT when he died in 2014. Dr. Bose wanted all of his employees to grow, collaborate, be self-sustaining, and innovative. By staying privately funding, they keep R&D ‘cool, weird, and amazing.’”


But, there’s baggage about being privately held. “We are not connecting the brand to consumers.”


“When I joined three years ago, there were fears. At that time, we had not done any customer research.”


Werner created a 400-person consumer panel who were into consumer electronics. They talk to this community almost daily. The panel does two-four activities a week. They do in-home visits, shop-alongs, and surveys.


Beth then highlighted three consumer journeys in some depth. A jogger. A participant who lost her job. The mobile speakers they were testing made Summer with the kids much more enriching. One community member creates ethnographic work for us in retail settings, with friends and family, and even building prototypes.


The tangible impact of deep relationships


“We found that the brand could play in many more areas than it was currently playing. Also, they helped us understand how to prioritize features in marketing and messaging. Lastly, they evaluated in online and in store experience. They even co-created a forthcoming product. Most important, the panel helped us to move into a test/learn methodology that is essential to thrive in the market.”


Consumer works enabled three key benefits: speed, confidence, alignment.


Expanding role of research


“We are engaging with people over a long period of time in meaningful ways to create value, deep learning, and even humanizing a formally engineering business,” said Beth.