Study Switch Forces to Know if Customers Will Use Your Digital Product

If you’re considering building a digital product, knowing why you are building it is as important as what you are building. Having a clear understanding of the switch forces around your product answers the why question, ensuring that you build something people will want to use and buy.

Switch forces are the needs and desires that move someone to change to a different product. They’re dissatisfied with their current circumstances and are looking for a better solution. Getting to the core of what led them to that moment is highly valuable when developing a successful digital product. 

Identifying the switch forces at play allows you to answer the questions that need to be asked whenever you’re building a digital product: If we build this, how do we know what people will do with it? Will they use it? Will they buy it?

Let’s explore how switch forces give you greater assurance you’re creating the right digital product for the right user in the right way. 

Understanding the Importance and Types of Switch Forces

Many innovators think they only have to know the customer’s need in order to design, strategize and market a product that meets that need. However, truly understanding the context around when a customer decides to purchase a product is just as important.

Switch forces are useful not only for designing your product, but also for product marketing, business strategy, and business model formulation. 

There are four main types of forces, divided into two categories:

Progress-Making Forces

  • Push: The problem, need, or frustration “pushing” someone toward seeking out and purchasing your product. Example: “My pants are feeling really tight.”
  • Pull: The desirable promises or benefits of your product that “pull” the customer towards a purchase. Example: “This diet plan guarantees I'll lose 10 lbs fast.”

Progress-Hindering Forces

  • Anxiety: Fears or worries that create hesitation about adopting your product. Example: “Will this diet work for someone like me?”
  • Allegiance: Attachment to an existing solution that reduces motivation to switch. Example: “I'm used to my current diet and workout routine.”

As an innovator or entrepreneur, you want to amplify the progress-making forces to maximize motivation and interest in your digital product offering. Simultaneously, you need to address the progress-hindering forces — alleviate anxieties and reduce allegiance to existing options. 

Understanding and properly accounting for these switch forces is key to convincing customers to not just need, but to actively buy, your product. As it was described in The Innovator’s Solution: “Companies that target their products at the circumstances in which customers find themselves, rather than at the customers themselves, are those that can launch predictably successful products.”

Sort Out Switch Forces While Conducting Consumer Research

Getting a handle on the switch forces around your digital product idea early on will save you time, money, and energy down the road.

The sooner you can identify the switch forces, the quicker you can paint a compelling picture of how a future user would encounter your product, engage with it, and be moved to purchase it. 

Switch force research should be central to the consumer research you conduct at the outset of any digital product development undertaking. The information you collect at this early stage helps ensure that you are building something that will meet an unmet need among your target audience. 

Think of switch forces as guardrails along your product development journey. They keep you on the right path so you don’t waste time wandering off in the wrong direction by guessing what someone is looking for or what you think they should have. 

How Do You Spot a Switch Force? Just Ask.

Outlining your target audience is a good place to start. What is your hypothesis about the type of person that might be a customer for your product? What needs and behaviors might they share? Where do they hang out? What defining characteristics can you identify? Start by finding a panel of participants that share those characteristics and schedule some conversations with them.

Once you’ve identified your target audience of a half dozen or so people, you can begin to ask them deeper questions. Have them tell you what they have been using to address their current circumstance. When did they make that decision? What led to it? Can they work their way backwards from that instance to identify a particular moment that led to their decision?

If you can understand what led them to that point, you are gathering valuable information that can be incorporated into the decisions about what should (or shouldn’t) be featured in your digital product. 

Understand the Evolution of a Switch Force

Switch forces don’t just arrive out of the blue. They come about over the course of time and usually occur in a sequence across a spectrum of moments and decisions consumers make. 

The spark that precedes most switch forces is an initial thought (“I could use a work surface for my laptop when I am on the couch.”). That’s followed by some passive looking (“I wonder what kinds of laptop desks are out there.”). Then you move on to more active looking (“I don’t want to spend more than $XX for it, and I want a red one with a phone holder.”) 

Once your active research is completed, you decide to make a purchase (“I found the red one with a phone holder for a good price.” Aha, it’s the switch moment!). That’s followed by consuming, and you see if the product warrants a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Getting to that level of detail with your prospective digital product customer is priceless when it comes to knowing whether what you are developing will become something successful. 

Be Sure of Your Development Process With Switch Forces 

Studying switch forces can be as much art and psychology as science. It’s about getting into a consumer’s mind and knowing what’s going on in their life. When you get a firm grasp on a switch force, you are identifying an unmet need and then designing around it to meet that unmet need. 

If you would like to learn more about Highland’s approach to finding switch forces, we’d love to hear from you.

Download “The Essential Guide to Launching a Digital Product for Experts & Expert Firms”

Let's Talk
Tell us about the opportunity you're pursuing, and we'll follow up in one business day. If you prefer, you can email
Would you like to receive digital innovation insights in your inbox? We will send you a few emails each month about our newest content, upcoming events, and new services.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.