Marketing Research (MR) has been under fire for several years now. It has been blamed, accused, even lynched for a variety of ills, not all of its own making. Part of the problem lies with our expectations and part with how we use the tools available to us.
An illustration. One of the most common criticisms levied against MR by Innovation and New Product Development (NPD) professionals is that consumers/customers are unable to articulate their future needs and preferences. The critics quote Ford (“I would never have built an automobile, just given them a faster horse”), and cite Apple (Apple never did any MR).
For the moment, let’s leave geniuses aside and focus on the criticism, which has some truth to it but also has one very strong built-in assumption. It assumes a question-and-answer model of generating customer insight; the researcher asks the question, the customer answers. No wonder the critics feel vindicated. Because if all of us were so adept at seeing and predicting the future, the world would be a very different place — either anti-depressants would become extinct, or their sales would skyrocket!
Jokes aside, what if there was a different way of generating these insights, an alternative way of fueling innovation; a way that did not devalue customer input and overvalue firm/executive intuition? (For a more detailed discussion on the value of beginning with the customer in driving innovation, please read my previous post.)
What if there was a way that would lead us to a destination other than a faster horse? It was this motivation that has led me to dig deeper, to ask tougher questions, rather than accept the status quo:
- What if, given a company’s strategic intent and direction, we could build an array of relevant and sensible futures with the greatest potential for growth? Guess what, it can be done. Contrary to popular belief, we live in a world of inevitable surprises, not one that is totally uncertain. Meaning, we can foretell with a great deal of confidence the happening of outcomes and events in the future, because that’s where we have been headed for so many years; granted that the actual velocity and timing of events may be uncertain.
- What if there was a way we could then simulate these futures and place customers in these hypothetical environments? Again, it can be and has been done. Think tanks, scenario-planning professionals have been doing this for a long time. In marketing, thought leaders like Profs. John Hauser and Glen Urban of MIT have pioneered techniques labeled Information Acceleration (IA) to situate customers in alternate future contexts.
- What if there was a way to listen to and engage with a group of finite individuals over time, have real-time conversations with them, iterate ideas, develop value propositions, and then assess the appeal of these potential offerings? Again, it can be done. Communities of category users, customers, and potential customers offer an excellent platform for having dynamic real-time conversations with the market place to generate insights and drive co-creation and collaborative innovation.
- What if there was a way to model customers preferences in alternative futures, to show how they morph and evolve, and why they do so? Again, it can be done. Predictive analytics exist that combine rational and emotional drivers of choice, which in turn can help companies develop better value propositions.
Clearly, there is an alternative. We can keep customers front and center to shape insights, NPD, and innovation programs without risking asking simple questions and getting simple (and not useful) answers.
Since collaboration and co-creation is my gig, I joined hands with Passenger, the best-in-class full-service company for online customer communities, and The Modellers, the best-in-class information acceleration and predictive analytics company, to co-create Three Steps Forward, a powerful new suite of consulting and research services that leverage customer communities to help companies jumpstart and shape their innovation and NPD programs.
The DNA of Three Steps Forward is presented in the figure below.
If your company is wrestling with how to generate actionable customer-centric intelligence to shape and fuel your company’s NPD and innovation programs, then Three Steps Forward is for you. It has been designed to overcome the limitations of traditional MR. Its dynamics:
- developing alternative future scenarios
- situating a community of customers in these concrete future contexts, and
- modeling both the rational and emotional aspects of customer choice to develop future customer value propositions,
are unmatched in scope, richness, and relevance.
Please contact us for a more detailed discussion. We will be happy to demonstrate how Three Steps Forward can benefit your company’s NPD and innovation programs.