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How Pluie Conducted Rapid Research and Validated Their Product During COVID

When the pandemic hit, Pluie they knew it was an opportunity to help their users more than ever. That's why they turned to dscout. 

Words by Tony Ho Tran, Visuals by Thumy Phan

Any parent can tell you the struggle of changing a diaper in public.

First, you have to find a semi-private place to do it. Often, that means a public bathroom. Then you have to find a clean surface for your child—and often, that means the big, ugly gray diaper-changing area that might as well have a biohazard sticker on it.

Even before the global pandemic raised our standards for what “clean” looks like, this simply wasn’t a good enough option. Now, most parents would rather just change their child’s diaper in the backseat of their car or a park blanket rather than risk the spread of germs on their child.

This is the problem Pluie wants to solve. Founded by two moms frustrated at the lack of safe changing table options, the Chicago-based company offers the world’s first and only self-cleaning and self-sanitizing, diaper-changing tables.

“The only option for parents is not very good,” says Addie Gundry, founder and CEO of Pluie. “Ask your friends [with kids]. ‘What do you think of a changing table?’ Everyone across the board ends up saying they're dirty, they're uncomfortable, and nothing about it is convenient. That's really the truth.”

They were—in their words—designing against a simple (and uncomfortable) piece of plastic. On paper, that seems easy enough. But still, they wanted to run iterative, quick product validation that could shape what they pitched to prospective clients and inform the mission and strategy of the company.

All of this was happening before the global pandemic that currently restricts most traditional in-field research. Not to mention it further heightened folks' sense of hygiene, health, and safety.

Once it hit, Addie and Brittany wanted to get inside of parents’ heads—but safely for both them and their parent participants. “It was important to us to just get timely responses because some of our conversations with potential customers included discussions around whether people are using public restrooms right now during the pandemic,” explains Brittany Hizer, co-founder and COO of Pluie. “Has the traffic in public restrooms slowed down as restaurants focus on outdoor dining? Retailers are still open, but are they seeing the traffic in the restroom?”

They were looking for a gut-check to their product design and need hunches, informed by their own and similar parents' experiences. To do all that, they turned to dscout.

Addie and Brittany are...

...fellow parents who noticed the lack of innovation in public-changing tables. After talking to fellow parents, they realized the need for a confidence-boosting alternative: a self-cleaning table that’s safe and comfortable to use.

User research at Pluie is...

...scrappy yet cautious. Though they knew their product had immense value for their target user, they still insisted on validating and capturing qual data to better understand what parent’s are looking for out of changing tables.

The problem:

According to Addie, the typical diaper-changing stations lack the three C’s: clean, comfortable, and convenient. So she knew that there was an opportunity to seize on this gap in the market and provide a necessary solution for parents all over the world.

But she lacked hard evidence.

What she had was a lot of anecdotal experiences. Like many innovative products, Pluie was born out of conversations and frustrations shared with a close circle of friends and family. “I've talked to quite a few moms, friends of mine, my husband, and everyone had the same pain points,” Addie recalls, adding, “It was like a cheap way of getting research.”

It was from these conversations that the initial idea for Pluie came to be. She began to partner with product engineers and designers to spec out initial designs. Eventually she left her previous career to pursue it full-time with Brittany. That’s when the pair decided to validate their hunch using more rigorous research methods.

“I hadn’t talked to potential customers yet and started to think, ‘Am I right? Do we need more validation? Do people really care? Do people really use a changing table or do they just avoid it? Do they not even go into the store?’” Addie wondered. “It all reminded me that the only people I talked to were my friends. That's not an accurate sort of portrayal of who's using these tables.”

And so Pluie partnered with dscout in order to get insights from people outside of Addie’s close network. Addie and Brittany recognized a number of different benefits from using the platform: validating the original product with a broad sample of users, while also collecting different forms of media to leverage for future customers. “I will never forget the first mission,” Addie says. “I loved seeing the validation of the original concept. I thought, “Wow, we really did do a great job. And we address a lot of people's concerns.’”

But then 2020 hit—and with it, the global pandemic. Not only did it change the way that people interacted with everyday objects from door knobs, to public restrooms, to tables, it also changed the way parents interacted with (or don’t interact with) diaper-changing stations.

It was a setback—as well as an opportunity for Pluie. The game has changed. All of a sudden a parent’s concerns about the cleanliness of diaper-changing stations were exacerbated ten-fold. Their product could help alleviate some of those concerns.

“[Pluie] was needed before COVID,” Addie says. “But now, more than ever, it’s going to be very valuable.”

As with before, though, all they had was a hunch that things had changed. What they needed were data and insights to prove their hypothesis. Luckily, dscout was able to provide Pluie with a deep pool of diverse scouts from all over the country to help.

The solution:

They launched a survey as well as a dscout Diary mission to capture in-the-wild, changing moments for parents. This included parents' plans for changing, and what parents would like to see change about the current changing table landscape.

“We were so pleased that we were able to pull together the survey questions so quickly with [dscout’s] help,” says Brittany. “Then we launched the express mission right before the Labor Day holiday weekend. We were able to see 150 responses within what felt like a couple hours after the mission was launched."

The mission itself focused on the question of whether or not parents were still using public rest areas during the pandemic. If they were, in what ways did their attitudes toward them change? It was crucial then that the mission show that parents were still going out into public and relying on the changing tables.

And the results confirmed much of what Addie and Brittany had hypothesized, but now they had support in the words of would-be customers.

“A big insight from the express mission was that consumers strongly feel that it's the responsibility of the business to provide a very safe and clean environment,” Brittany explains. “And just how the cleanliness of the changing table leads to brand perception and really speaks to the brand values of providing a safe and clean environment for their customers and guests.”

The insights also came in quickly, which is a boon in a world where so many processes have been hamstrung or slowed down because of the pandemic.

"We launched a mission and had answers within 24 hours,” explains Addie. “They were good answers with good media and good visuals. And that's amazing right now as the world changes so quickly. That alone has been really helpful for us—just how fast we were able to get data flooding in.

Case Study: Back-to-back missions

Brittany: Having a second express mission was really helpful. In the first mission, we really validated that people think that changing tables are dirty, gross, outdated, and ugly. There were so many negative comments about the changing experience, to the point where people were leaving the business to go home to change their child. It was really eye opening.

The first mission also showed how much people were changing their kids in the car, because the 40-year-old changing table design does not meet their expectations in this day and age. It also validated a need: people expect a better changing table.

And then [the second] express mission validated that people are indeed still going out in public, they have a different level of health and safety expectations.

Addie: Customers point blank say, “Our restroom usage is down,” or “I'm not sure if parents are bringing children to our stores/restraurants.” It's not as impactful [to clients] if Brittany and I say, “Well, we've talked to some friends and we go out.”

It's been very helpful for us to actually say we were able to talk to 150 people and are finding that, across the country, your assumption that they're not using the restroom or they're not going out is just not accurate. We actually have data behind that assumption—and we keep using that word, even though we no longer have to call it an assumption.

The impact:

Addie and Brittany were able to create a wealth of material to let parents—customers of major retailers—do some advocating on behalf of Pluie. This was achieved using highlight reels, word clouds, and exported mission data in creating pitch decks. The research insights didn't stop at analysis, but were folded into the materials critical to making a resonant first-impression.

It also allowed them to inform critical strategic decisions for the future of Pluie.

“I think what was a big aha moment is just how much the research would impact our go-to-market strategy and marketing language,” Brittany describes. “And we've used so much of the keywords from the word cloud in our language, whether that's the website, or our pitch decks.”

Pluie is still in the early stages of their company’s lifetime. With dscout’s help, they were able to jump over the hurdles of the current research climate. Coupled with the speediness of the research, they were even able to build the strategy as they were taking meetings from potential clients.

"When I think of research, I think it's expensive and it would take a long time,” Addie says. “And I found with dscout that it's the opposite. It's doable and it's fast."

"Pluie wants to be bigger than the changing table,” Addie continues. “We want to be a baby company that stands for health, safety and comfort. This research helped us identify and sketch out a broader product portfolio strategy going beyond the diaper changing table.

Tony Ho Tran is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. His articles have appeared in Huff Post, Business Insider, Growthlab, and wherever else fine writing is published.

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