We all have favorite types of projects—for me, the most challenging and rewarding areas of market research are identifying white space opportunities and developing new products with clients. Along those lines, I have observed companies struggling to find truly innovative products or new lines of business. Having done rounds of concept testing, product optimization models and market landscape studies, I think successful innovation first starts with thinking about the market differently.
As I watch the Summer Olympics, I am in awe of the athletes’ physical and mental strength. The difference between medaling and going home empty handed often comes down to hundredths of a second or tenths of a point. It struck me that these competitors are always being measured against a benchmark that is either an ideal score or challenging their own personal best.
Setting Goals for Improvement vs. the Competition
Olympic competition is an appropriate analogy for the metrics that our clients use to measure the customer experience. Oftentimes, we are asked to help clients set appropriate corporate goals for improvements in Net Promoter Score (NPS), satisfaction, loyalty, etc. Invariably, that conversation includes a discussion around what is the best in class (gold medal performance), the industry norm and what would be meaningful improvement for their company.
If no swimmer ever completed the 100M freestyle in less than 46 seconds, and the winning time in the Olympic finals is 47.1 seconds, then that could be considered the industry “best in class,” with the norm probably being closer to 48 seconds. Similarly, if no company in a particular industry ever scored higher than a 75 on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) standardized customer sat metric, then that sets a standard that will be difficult to exceed since industry competitors typically operate with similar business models. Expecting to exceed “best in class” is probably unrealistic unless there is a disruptive business model in the works.
For a swimmer or a company that is already operating near the “best in class” threshold, further improvements will be measured by hundredths of a second rather than whole seconds. But for a swimmer or company falling well short of “best in class” or even the industry norm, then setting more aggressive improvement goals is realistic because there is more upside potential for change.
French novelist Marcel Proust wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
I recently attended an energizing and thought provoking conference titled “Capturing Deep Insights to Promote a Consumer-Centric Innovation Process.” I wanted to share a few takeaways that build on thoughts about innovation.
Use New Research Tools to Uncover Trends
Market researchers who want a “seat at the table” in their organizations need to think about how to uncover growth opportunities and potentially disruptive market trends. Several speakers talked about how small-scale exploratory projects and fast iterative approaches allowed their team to use new research tools and make mistakes that led to learning—without the onus of an expensive research project. A shout out to Tom Van Aman at Allstate, Nina Mills at Fidelity Investments and Ann Semeraro at Ask.com for sharing case studies that demonstrated how being a risk taker is not diametrically opposed to being a researcher.
The following quotes illustrate how big data will increasingly impact the practice of market research as marketers look for tools to help them make changes to their price and product mix in real time:
“All models are wrong…but some are useful.” George Box, Professor of Statistics, University of Wisconsin, 1987.
“All models are wrong…and increasingly you can succeed without them.” Peter Norvig, Google, 2011.
I want to give a shout out to our friend Will Hakes at Link Analytics for sharing these quotes at a recent forum where I finally grasped the impact of Big Data.
At the risk of sounding like an “old fogey,” arguably many of the changes in the practice of market research that I have personally seen over the course of my 20-year career have largely been refinements or changes in how survey-based data is collected. Namely, we have moved from paper and pencil to CATI to online – getting more sophisticated in our ability to program and present stimulus – but largely maintaining how surveys are designed and presented to respondents. Likewise, analysis and models have been refined as statistical tools have advanced but the results are still largely derived from limited data sets.
One of my favorite shows was Star Trek: The Next Generation. I thought it was hilarious how Data aspired to act “human” and Dr. Crusher always managed to diagnose and solve strange medical conditions just in the nick of time. The medical lab on board the Enterprise was sleek and ultra-high tech.
So I find myself awestruck by the emerging applications in healthcare that are being delivered up on smartphones and other mobile devices. A few of the ones that I’ve read about lately strike me as being close to the hand-held scanners that the Star Trek crew used. My top two picks for apps that seem straight out of Star Trek are: