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The Four Best (and Worst) Uses of Market Research

In an informal poll of top executives the single biggest obstacle to successful innovation was, “actionable insights.” Yet every year companies spend billions of dollars in search of “actionable insights” only to come up empty-handed. To add insult to injury, in many categories, breakthrough innovations are launched by unproven upstarts, begging the question: How is it that small teams with modest resources and limited industry experience are repeatedly able to win the innovation contest?

Making Market Research Work Harder

The first step toward actionable insights is to align market research with desired outcomes. Organizationally, a way to facilitate this is to split the research initiatives for tracking and improving business performance from the ones for transformational innovation. The next step is to give market research the right assignments. There are a number of jobs that market research can perform to advance the quest for profitable growth; let’s focus on the top four:

  1. Focus on consumers’ jobs-to-be-done. Former P&G CEO A. G. Lafley spoke of consumers’ poorly addressed jobs as “nuisances” and encouraged his teams to identify and resolve them. Breakout products such as Swiffer, Febreze and Crest WhiteStrips all provide elegant solutions to consumer “nuisances.” And P&G is certainly not alone in applying this successful approach. Many companies have learned that emphasis must not be placed on the attributes of the products themselves, but rather on the task the consumer must perform.
  2. Identify Non-consumers. Are there pools of consumers currently unable to consume your product due to wealth, training, convenience or accessibility? Oftentimes, a reconfigured product – like 5-hour ENERGY Shots or Minute Clinic – can open entirely new markets for growth.
  3. Identify “over-served” consumers. Are there people who would be thrilled with a scaled-down, less powerful, simpler-to-use product or service? As Apple has repeatedly proven, sometimes the best use of technology is to simplify and uncomplicate, rather than proliferate options, features and confusion. LegalZoom sprang from the insight that many legal services – from a sublease agreement to trademark registration – were simple and formulaic. The use of high-priced specialists is unnecessary and can be replaced by an intuitive, low-cost online service.
  4. Search for consumers using your product or service in unexpected ways. Fast food chains have discovered commuters, for example, “hire” milkshakes as an ideal in-car breakfast solution. Even a single versatile product (take, for example, baking soda) can inspire decades of successful innovation and growth in multiple categories (e.g., toothpaste, deodorant, laundry detergent and cat litter).

Putting it all together

In decades of client work and parallel research, there is no indication of one best way to organize a research function, but what is clear is that top performers – leaders of firms delivering consistent innovation successes and organic profitable growth – take great pains to align desired research outcomes with appropriate resources, methods and incentives.

Insights – especially those that result in breakthrough innovation and profitable

Growth – follow hard work, focus and clear process. Insight is the wellspring of innovation and, as such, is fundamentally concerned with identifying what isn’t – not measuring what is.

Actionable insights are much easier to find if you know where to look and how to identify them. Some of the very best ideas are simply hidden in plain sight for CEOs to find.

Taddy Hall is project director at The Cambridge Group, senior vice president of Global Practices and Consulting Services at Nielsen and an experienced practitioner in the fields of marketing, innovation, branding and competitive strategy.




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