Using Research to Revolutionize Innovation

A few days ago, I was in a meeting where someone defended a decision to cut Voice of the Consumer research before new product ideation sessions, citing a 1985 Playboy interview with Steve Jobs. To paraphrase, Apple wasn’t going to do market research on the Mac because they were the best judges of what’s great and what’s not. Jobs later added, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

For many marketers, the failure rate for new product introductions hovers around two-thirds. The inclination to drop research because discovery is not yielding new information is understandable, but killing consumer research because it’s somewhat costly and time consuming, or worse because the team thinks it knows better than its customers, is a perilous strategy.

Although most consumers can’t tell you exactly what new product or service to create, they are acutely aware of what makes their lives easier or more difficult and which products are helping them. They vote every day with their online searches, shopping cart contents and at the cash register, creating a vast data hoard. And, as Dr. Eric von Hippel, American economist and MIT professor, asserts, there are a few lead users who face the needs that will be in the mass market in the future who can be culled from the herd for deeper discovery.

The Right People and Right Tools

Businesses in the process of reconceiving a brand or market’s boundaries need to dig beyond surface insights. The task for market researchers is finding the right people to participate and using the right quantitative research and qualitative research tools to effectively observe and validate the jobs they want done.

Using a range of data mining and predictive analytic tools to identify problem solving and usage patterns in client-gathered data, we can help businesses identify and study lead users from their consumer pack. We devise passive metering, questionnaire and query tools to identify consumers who are using more complex problem solving skills (deep dives into online resources beyond Google searches, for example) to handle difficult usage tasks as they evaluate their needs and what a new product’s contribution could be.  We learn the dimensions of their evaluations and follow the keywords, tasks and workarounds they devise to provide input for product development teams.

These data are matched to additional third-party databases to enhance our understanding of the demographic, media consumption and brand affinities. Combining this online and offline information yields a richer understanding of lead users, which provides insight into the direction and future needs of the overall market.

Data Collection via Smartphones and IoT

The rise of smartphones as the consumer’s constant companion and the interconnection of computing devices embedded in everyday objects (Internet of Things) has unleashed exciting data collection and monitoring potential as well. These tools have the inherent advantage of being present at the exact point of problem solving or “instant of intent,” as we call it. With no market researchers present to bias the data collection process, we can remotely observe, capture and query consumers about their activities, needs, attitudes and solutions as they occur in the real world rather than the sterile environment of a focus group facility or the intrusion of a film crew in their homes.

We now use smartphones to ping research respondents about their actions as they cross predetermined geolocation points or pass by iBeacons in the store. Rich audio and video capture, instigated at the instant of intent, along with the ability to discuss the action live, allows researchers to build comprehensive stories about users’ needs, aspirations and lifestyles to feed the PATH to corporate innovation.

In the home, we’re experimenting with Voice Activated Research tools on consumer devices such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home’s assistants.  Consumers can activate a simple or complex in-the-moment survey and have a conversation about their likes and dislikes, product reactions or needs to supplement ethnographic and in-home use tests.

These tools are just a smattering of the solutions brands can leverage to understand consumer behavior in early-stage product innovation. If you’re interested in learning how Market Strategies can help your innovation process, email me.

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Paul Donagher

About Paul Donagher

Paul Donagher is Managing Director of the Consumer & Retail division of Market Strategies International. His philosophy of the client service industry is driven by a simple desire to use data-driven knowledge to help clients answer their key business issues. Paul's industry experience includes hospitality, retail, CPG, travel, food & beverage and OTC, but he has also worked in telecommunications, technology and healthcare. Throughout his career, Paul has helped his clients use primary research to solve many strategic issues, particularly in the disciplines of new product development/innovation, segmentation, brand management and customer satisfaction. He has a master's degree (with distinction) in social research from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK, and a bachelor's degree in economics and politics from Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK. In his spare time, Paul follows Killie Football Club from afar, still hoping for the day he’ll be signed as their center-forward.

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