Designing Around the Vocal Minority


What is a vocal minority

A vocal minority comes out anytime you have a product in market and robust enough tracking, particularly qualitative. When this happens it is pretty much guaranteed that you will have groups of users that seem to be screaming complaints about a certain feature, or lack of a feature.

However, whenever you get this sort of negative feedback don’t immediately panic. Leverage your quantitative data to validate how much of your overall user base actually use the feature that these complaints are around. Once you connect and compare multiple data sets to see how many customers and the level of usage underlying these  complaints, you may find that only a small subset of customers use this feature at all.  This is a classic case of a vocal minority where a small group, maybe it’s power users, is calling out for a certain addition or change louder than other users.  This is dangerous for all sorts of reasons.

A vocal minority is a small non-representative number of opinionated users who are loudly requesting some product change

Why is a vocal minority dangerous

One of the main challenges the vocal minority presents to product managers is around prioritization. It’s possible that the loudest group gets the attention, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. This will work by diverting attention from other areas that may actually represent more critical product needs. Instead of focusing on the feature enhancement that your users truly needs or that will bring in more revenue for the business, you may spend your time putting out these weekly or monthly fires around what a few people might be complaining about. As a product manager it’s part of the job that not everyone will be satisfied. Not everyone will love the product, and that’s fine. You can’t spend your time chasing the 1% of dissatisfied customers trying to make everyone happy. This does a substantial disservice to your product.

How to prevent issues around vocal minority

  1. Be strong willed and always ask questions about the data, especially qualitative: make sure to understand how the data was collected, how many people spoke out, and what other sort of biases could be involved. Don’t discount negative feedback, but make sure that you get all the information to have it in the right context
  2. Have a strong complement of quantitative data to the qualitative data: one data set is not enough. Qualitative is hard to understand scale and quantitative can be hard to visualize. But putting them together? Sweet magic
  3. Always have data handy about customer behavior: know your customer and their major pain points. Then, when small segments cry out you will be able to frame it in the context of other larger issues
  4. Create clear and data driven product roadmap: the best way to counter a VP saying “we need to focus on this now” is to say “but this other thing has 3 times the impact to satisfaction and will drive 5 times the revenue”

If you take the above tips and build a detailed and data driven customer model, the problems of the vocal minority will start to dissipate. Good luck!



About Author

Co-founder of, ex-Audible (Amazon), AmEx and TribalScale Product Management leader, currently living in Portugal leading product management of vertical expansion for automotive within OLX. Mike has built products and coached teams all over the world.