Qualitative data can be a slippery slope when it comes to thinking about it in relation to Growth and Growth Strategy. Things like user interviews tend to be understood in the silo of UX design rather than as a piece of a more holistic Growth Strategy. Further, there are a whole host of heat mapping tools and the like out there that are often used in separation of all of the data that exists about your customers. This works to blur or second the value of this kind of data, and it tends to bury these important indicators because they are of mischaracterized as being a whole data set when it should be understood as only a piece of a larger Growth Strategy that requires both quantitive and qualitative data to succeed.
So what is a Qualitative Growth Indicator? It is a piece of information that has been garnered from qualitative research that identifies a gap or an issue in a product, feature or user journey. Qualitative Growth Indicators are typically realized in user interviews, heatmaps, screen recordings and any other data points that identify directionally how users are thinking and behaving. That is to say, they tell you where you should be directing efforts, not the be all and end all of analysis. Qualitative Growth Indicators should be thought about of an indication of something bigger, for example user attention or disengagement gates, rather than a separate analysis done to try to understand the success or failure of a single campaign, for example. Let me back up a bit though, because before we get to Qualitative Growth Indicators, we need to understand intention as it relates to what an organization chooses to build.
For example, if you have built your marketing site to lead users toward a specific CTA, a heatmap can let you know whether or not users are typically using that button. Typically of course is subjective, but always over a certain agreed upon threshold. If the page is specifically built for one purpose, 80% of users might make sense as a threshold to understand success of that CTA but if there are multiple uses for a page, 40% might make sense. Before getting to Qualitative Growth Indicators, your team should agree on what a reasonable threshold should be so you can set expectations but also understand the data you see with far more context. This is especially useful in keeping teams aligned in making pages and products with intention. When building anything from a product, to a feature to a marketing email, everything should serve a purpose — if you don’t know why you are doing something, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.
Consider a product description page on a marketing site. Is the purpose of the page to simply inform users of the information about a product or is it meant to entice the user to purchase by giving more context? If the intention is to draw in skeptical potential buyers to go through to the checkout flow, then your page should be designed and aligned around that particular goal. Don’t bury your CTA to buy the product at the bottom of the page or make your user jump through hoops to do the thing you want them to do. We have control over what our user sees, so we should be making their experience as seamless as possible. If you are unclear as to whether or not users are getting tripped up in the flow, Qualitative Growth Indicators in visualizations such as heatmaps can be helpful in identifying this. As an example, I once ran a test on a page and noticed that a huge majority (about 75% for context) of users clicked on the hamburger menu after a page redesign. This was higher than before the redesign so I did some digging. As it turns out, the login button that was once prominent on the page was now buried in the hamburger menu. In order to login, users had to know to click on the hamburger menu which admittedly is not completely hidden, but it did introduce a new and frankly unnecessary step. After conferring with another PM, we realized that this did have a negative effect on the number of logins, and while not drastic it did reveal how Qualitative Growth Indicators can be useful in understanding how certain changes might that wide spread effects.
You might be wondering where Growth comes into play. Here, Growth is about both filling gaps as well as identifying key areas to focus on. Think of your users going through a marble maze. We want the ride to be enjoyable and fun, but you don’t want them to get caught up from reaching the end. Further, companies should remember that we are the ones building the paths, and we not only have to be accountable for what has already been built, we have the capacity to build on it. Your growth Strategy should work to not only remove barriers but also increase the frequency and breadth of use. Companies are often faced with the decision to add to the number of features or add complexity to the ones users already love. We know that users are not infinite and neither is their attention, so we need to keep up with their wants and needs. Figuring out what those are is difficult by solely asking users what they do so we need to try to understand by seeing what they do. Going back to our marketing site example, we might see the numbers on the other end by looking at page views but we might not be able to understand where the fold is and how we can top load important information to grab the user’s attention more frequently. It is easy to understand whether or not a CTA is effective, but building an iterative template for things that are effective can be difficult. Just because one CTA is successful, it doesn’t mean they all will be. We can however understand our average fold and intentionally prioritize valuable information to certain areas of a page where we know users are more likely to see it.
Thus, Growth is about creating the conditions of possibility for engagement and reengagement. The missing piece of the puzzle is often understanding things like what users do between getting a marketing email and signing up, or more importantly, not signing up. Since we typically don’t have a lot of information on these users, we should utilize Qualitative Growth Indicators to understand potential reason why they don’t convert. Ultimately, these indicators give use ideas for improvement and can help us understand to what degree they have helped what we have intended, for example, if they increased conversion. Qualitative Growth Indicators are above all a pool of ideas to try and a way to test their success or failure generally and should be understood as part of a larger Growth Strategy. If you are spending all of your time looking at qualitative data without tying it with quantitative or other kinds of behavioural data, it is time to book a coffee meeting with someone with that knowledge right now and start building your holistic Growth Strategy.