What I learned about product research at a pub, in Fitzroy at 3am

Seeking small-scale clarity can often be more useful than generalising guessing from afar.

Where were you at 3AM on 19th of June? Most people were probably wisely tucked into bed, sound asleep.Not I, I was at the Birmingham Hotel in Fitzroy watching the Australian Socceroos play Netherlands in the World Cup. We all know the result, Australia lost 3-2, but watching the game I made a valuable discovery:

Joined by roughly one hundred other late-night soccer fans we crowded into the pub, hoping to see the Socceroos win, or at the very least put up a good fight against the Dutch.

In the function room the publican had set up the largest television they could find, giving everyone a glimpse of the game. The crowd filtered in, settled in for the game. We hadn’t realised it yet, but we were about to, this older, rear-projection TV was going to present two problems:

1. Poor picture quality — Sure, we could see the game, follow the ball and cheer/despair at the appropriate time; but for slow motion replays and appreciating the skilful ball movement — this TV was not able to cut it.

2. Narrow screen format — Our big screen was not properly tuned in before the start of the game, and as a result TV was chopping off a small portion of the picture at the top and the bottom. Yep, you guessed it, the missing picture is also exactly where the scoreboard and game clock appear.

Once the game was under way, we noticed that up the other end of the room was a smaller, newer, flat-screen TV. Perched up high this TV was also showing the game in crystal clear clarity. The size of this screen was not big enough to accommodate the entire room, however from a distance you could easily make out the players, the skilled footwork and easily read the scoreboard and clock.

When the game started, the majority of fans were gathered around the big screen, enjoying a beer and letting the game tick away. While everything was going smoothly the big screen with its ‘just good enough’ clarity was sufficient. However, when a goal was scored, a penalty was given or a poor decision was replayed, the big screen wasn’t appropriate and fans would turn toward the smaller screen.

As the game played out, the scores became closer.
As the scores became closer, viewers wanted more details:
“How long is left?”
“What’s the score?”
“Who was just substituted on/off?”

People started to switch from watching the big screen to the small, preferring the clarity and answers to their unasked questions.

Nearing half time, it was evident that this wasn’t going to deliver a predictable outcome.

Even if the Dutch won, Australia had been playing far better than expected. Viewers were keen to see and understand what was happening, how the Aussies had been so good. They no longer wanted to see the game on a large screen.

They wanted to know “What happened, and Why”? Something only the clarity of the small screen could deliver.

By the final whistle signalling the Australia’s defeat, the majority of the late night punters had their back to the big screen, watching the smaller screen preferring to be better informed for the game analysis later that morning around the water cooler.

So, what did I learn?

As most of you will know, I am an advocate for nimble, small-scale product research.

This night at the pub provided my “AHA” experience.

To gain the best insight, take the ‘small screen’ approach. The big screen is raises more questions than it answers. Small screen thinking uncovers clarity, understanding and insight.

As the punters and I found out, the devil (and opportunity) is discovered in the detail!