Many people think that innovation starts with the proverbial “big idea,” the imaginary bulb that lights up above an inventor’s head when they reach that “a-ha!” moment. Think Sir Isaac Newton and the apple, or Steve Jobs and calligraphy.

But in reality, most business innovation, product or concept development is an iterative process, a story of gradual evolution based on methodical observation, insight development and strategic implementation.

We’ve taken a look at how major brands extract deep insight through qualitative analytics and developed a four-step approach to fuel both innovation and evolution based on our findings. The innovative partners we’ve worked with always seek and find the same results: better and more positive customer and user experiences that lead to higher levels of satisfaction across the customer lifecycle.

Before even developing a hypothesis on how to solve or evolve around a key issue, teams must be aligned to:

  1. Discover underlying truths

With modern analytics driving comprehensive, sophisticated data dashboards, most companies think they know a lot about their consumers — they’re not wrong, as quantitative data can clearly identify behavioral trends. But analysis of big data often lacks the human side of the stats.

What happened before your consumer clicked that “buy now,” button on the website? Why on this particular day did they select your brand over others? What motivated them to even consider shopping in your store to begin with? Examining broadly and looking deeply for the underlying truth can only be achieved with qualitative consumer research.

Getting face time with consumers using a combination of both direct and indirect questions will allow you to discover the “whys” behind the decisions that drive brand preference and loyalty. Finding a platform that provides a window into a customer’s life, as well as their experience with a brand or product, is the key to unlocking insights.

The next step involves further evaluating qualitative research and extracting the strongest insights.

  1. Distill observations into insights

    So you’ve held interviews with dozens of customers and uncovered some compelling underlying truths from qualitative consumer research. Now what? Lots of companies that work with big data are not sure what to do with their newfound “thick data” — that is, the rich pool of emotions, reactions, and stories that form a qualitative data set.

    Skilled qualitative researchers make use of online market research tools such as tagging tools and sentiment analysis, key features of’s Augmented Insights, to make their process approachable and scalable as they build from observation to insight.

    How will you know when you’ve struck insight gold? Make sure your insights include much more than consumer wishes or need statements — strong insights are essentially data plus context. They center on a concise articulation of a consumer truth and motivation.

  1. Define and prioritize opportunities

    Not every insight is created equally. Once you’ve identified the core themes that define your target consumer base, it’s important to also compare the insights you’ve found against your business goals, market dynamics and the competitive landscape to identify opportunities to ultimately pursue.

    Some companies use this step in the process to bring consumer data back into the picture. Qualitative research can help you to go deeper on specific opportunity areas, while quantitative studies can help you to validate and size.

    Bringing the “what” and “why” through both data sets, organizations can effectively employ qualitative data analytics into their approach to innovation.

  2. Deliver a strategic vision

    In defining the opportunities, many companies often find that they have gaps in their portfolio — believe it or not, that’s a good thing. Think about where you could either be serving your current consumers better or reaching new markets that are under-served today.

    Innovation is about evolution. So set a strong but attainable vision of what you’re setting out to achieve. Then, consider what feels like a step, stretch or leap for your company and organize your opportunities accordingly to create an action plan

    In gaining alignment on your vision, consider how you’ll bring the voice of the consumer into strategic conversations. Platforms like make it easy to find quotes, clips, and additional data points from research you’ve already conducted, which can strengthen your vision and bring it to life.

    Then, check and evolve. Strategies are not static — they’re dynamic and should shift and grow with your business, the consumer and the market in which you operate. Continue to leverage consumer research as you lean into developing the ideas that will fuel your innovation pipeline.

    Evolving your innovation process doesn’t have to be complex or confusing. To learn more about how to use qualitative research across the entire customer journey, download the ebook “How to Generate Consumer Insights at Every Stage of the Customer Lifecycle.”

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