Think about which companies you know that have been able to adapt to change most rapidly. Chances are that the majority of them are tech companies. For years, agile methodologies have been used as a standard approach for software development. Driving early and evolutionary development with continuous improvement, software teams have been able to accelerate development and adapt to change much faster.
Given the modern expectations of innovation, speed, and quality, and the benefits of an Agile approach, it is not surprising that other teams, like Marketing, within organizations have started to adopt Agile methodologies as well.
Perhaps due to comfort and confidence associated with traditional market research approaches, established partnerships and processes, and some risk aversion, many Insights teams have been slow to incorporate Agile methods. Traditional methods have provided brands with a lot of valuable insights since their inception; however, society has changed a lot since then. Not only do we expect on-demand results, but the business climate, consumer lifestyles, and competition have dramatically changed as well. While traditional methods worked well in the past, they cannot keep up with the demands of today. With continued evolution and digitalization of consumer lifestyles, the way that organizations work, think and connect with consumers must also evolve to most effectively connect with consumer behaviors and compete for their attention and loyalty.
Agile market research, by contrast, provides flexibility. Instead of following a linear path, agile research focuses on conducting research in short “waves.” This provides a dedicated place for teams to pause, incorporate feedback, and iterate. Because traditional methods are conducted in person, this type of research is often expensive and time consuming to conduct. To reduce the costs associated with research facilities and travel, brands typically spend weeks crafting the “perfect” moderation guides, cram all their research into a couple of days, and then leave the analysis for when they return to the office. However, this leaves little room to adapt the research according to what is and is not working, sometimes resulting in fewer valuable insights.
We have witnessed some of our customers successfully implement Agile methodology with their research approach with fantastic results. One particular multinational corporation was able to insert research cycles, early and often into their innovation process, resulting in their ability to confidently launch a new product a full fiscal quarter early, crushing expectations.
Leveraging virtual tools and incorporating multiple 2-week Agile research sprints within their innovation process, they were able to receive and react to consumers’ feedback throughout the project. Each sprint began with 3-4 days of recruiting to find and locate the correct audience. Over the next few days, teams participated in 7-9 sessions with consumers. Digital whiteboard and marking tools were used to show designs and solicit and encourage detailed feedback.
Findings and feedback were aggregated and a simple report was developed within 48 hours. The report was shared with all stakeholders so all were informed and accountable. From there, the team determined the right changes and questions for the next round of iteration. This cycle spanned a period of about 2 weeks and then was repeated in 5-7 waves.
Using an Agile approach, the Insights and Innovation teams were able to collaborate in more effective ways and incorporate consumer feedback throughout the process. Should they have taken this approach using traditional in-person methods, each of these 5-7 waves would have taken 4-8 weeks; as opposed to 2 weeks per wave when leveraging online tools.
Due to the shorter cycles, they were also able to drive innovation into their recruiting approach. During each wave, they identified “super-users,” people that provided thoughtful and insightful feedback. Toward the end of the project, they invited all of the “super-users” to participate in one session together. As a final validation, they wanted to ensure that they would not lose their loyal following (ie the “super-users”) by introducing a new product category to the brand.
This example is one of many that outlines how digital tools and technologies can enable the Agile approach to research. Now, it is possible for brands to run multi-wave projects in real-time to quickly gain feedback at multiple key milestones along their process. This approach allows knowledge gained through previous waves to be utilized and built upon, thereby optimizing results with each iteration, and ultimately resulting in better products and shorter time-to-market. In multiple instances, we have heard our customers claim that they have reduced their time-to-marketing in as much as one full fiscal quarter.
Start a conversation with us to learn more about how to launch an Agile approach to your insight generation.
Jim Longo is the VP of Research Solutions at Discuss.io, a consumer-connection platform for market research. He brings over 25 years of domain expertise in the market research industry. Jim is considered a thought leader with regards to online behavior and market research technology. He has consulted with brands and research agencies around the world on how to have insightful online conversations and was instrumental in building the first global online qualitative research practice at Harris Interactive (acquired by Nielsen). There, he led a team that conducted more than one thousand online groups in the first three years of its existence.