Vantis Voice is a new, recurring column on Innovation POV that features the experts behind Ipsos Vantis. Here we sit down with these researchers and pick their brains.
Today’s conversation is with Kevin Dona, Senior Vice President at Ipsos Vantis and head of the technology research division. Kevin has been published on Quirk’s Marketing Research Review, please read his article here.
Please click here to view Kevin’s profile.
Q: First, how do you recommended clients use research to find ideas or concepts for advancement?
A: Most companies have some kind of process in place similar to a stage-gate process where things have to pass certain hurdles along the way. These steps include ideation, concept screening, concept refinement, and product launch.
Now, innovation in particular is interesting because everybody throws around the term loosely and in my opinion – it’s become a bit cliché. The problem with following a stage-gate process where research must meet specific hurdles for advancement is that innovation doesn’t always fit a standardized process.
There’s one client that I work with that takes a different approach towards innovation. They come up with ideas first, make sure they are consumer driven, and then figure out how to make these ideas come to life. This long term perspective is often missing from innovation initiatives, and innovation just doesn’t work well in the short term. However, the long-term perspective is often at odds with short term expectations, specifically when it comes to company goals and meeting quarterly objectives.
Q: What common challenges do you see with companies who struggle to find innovative ideas? It sounds as though a large factor is that innovation isn’t easily recognized through a standard stage-gate process.
A: Yes, that’s one. The other is an internal business challenge. Innovation takes time, so companies often have ROI expectations that are not totally realistic or they don’t consider the go-to-market strategy early enough. Go-to-market strategy is something that should be kept in mind starting at the beginning of the process. This strategy may change over time, but a general go-to-market strategy should inform the research.
Replicating the true marketing experience in research, as closely as possible, is ideal. For example, if manufacturers include every single detail about a product, forcing respondents to be exposed to every bit of information, this level of education is not true to the customer experience a lot of the time and can skew results. Customers are not going to get the same level of product education immediately in-market; it’s something that is built over time. So while a concept may look like a great opportunity, and eventually it may get to that point, the reality is that it will take time to build product momentum and education.
Q: There appears to be a theme here of expectations, things people do not keep in mind such as the investment or the time that’s required to develop and launch innovation. Do you think that a business set up on a 6-month, quarterly basis hinders innovation?
A: It absolutely does. There is this perception of speed to market – that everybody has to be faster. This thinking doesn’t really allow time to set up and refine things like messaging, business strategy, and marketing plans. I’ve actually told clients this: “Why are you in such a hurry to fail?”
The problem comes also from corporate pressure, like companies that need to launch in a particular quarter because they told industry analysts they would. In that sense, they are pinned to a target date and have to move fast to meet their promises. Often companies will have a new product that has already been developed, and they want to get it to market quickly.
You don’t need to wait until something is physically developed; you can test ideas in advance and save yourself the development investment. If ultimately consumers are just not interested in your product, invest in something else. Companies disregard the notion of sunk costs. They’ve made the investment to develop a product, and now they need to do something with it. I’ve watched many companies launch bad products because of that mentality. After launching something that performs poorly, they will throw even more money away trying to market it, when that money could be spent on something else.
Q: Companies are always looking for the next big thing. But when testing concepts, not all concepts can be winners. Some end up being losers, and some end up in the grey middle area (i.e., not a clear winner, not a clear loser). How does “archetyping” help researchers figure out what to do with concepts that land in the middle?
A: The reality of it is, to your point, there are winners and the losers. However, there are not as many “true winners” – ones that would be in the top of the Vantis Database for example. These “true winners” might comprise less than 5% of things tested. Similarly, you usually end up with about 10% of concepts tested that are clear losers. That leaves you with approximately 85% of ideas being tested that fall somewhere in the middle grey area.
Every product that we test has some kind of profile, which we call our archetypes. Archetypes help us understand what kind of concept you have. Looking across the data, we can help identify what kind of concept you’re dealing with. Is it a niche product? Is it breakthrough? Does it have pricing issues? Does it have believability issues and how severe are those issues? Understanding these profiles or archetypes informs how to best market it for success.
This requires looking across a set of measures, instead of focusing simply on one measure (often purchase intent). The purchase intent measure in research has become one of the marquee measures, because clients want to know if people will buy their product – naturally. The problem with just looking at purchase intent is that with innovation in particular, generally purchase intent tends to not be that good. If you’re setting your criteria for advancement based on high purchase intent, innovative ideas are screened out and you’ve just missed your big opportunity. What this leaves you with is a system that focuses only on things that are going to sell well today. If consumers are accepting of it today, it might not really be that innovative and you’re going to have a hard time differentiating it from competitive products.
Archetypes help answer, “what do I have here?” As well as, “how does that fit our objectives? What does that mean for our return on investment?” Certain innovation might be good for some companies and bad for others, so concept results need to be taken into the context of corporate objectives as well. Ideally there should be more objectives to fulfill than simply, “let’s find something good.”
Q: What final insights do you have for researchers who are looking to improve innovation in their company?
A: When looking to improve innovation, companies first ask “what do we need to do differently? How do we need to test differently?” Improving the research methodology can help, but the bigger barrier isn’t just be the information, it’s how that information is absorbed.
Part of making this process easier is not simply looking for products that pass the hurdles, but adjusting goals to look for particular types of products that fit business objectives. Perhaps it means focusing on a niche product for a niche opportunity if you’re looking to fill a void. As long as clear business objectives and a scorecarding framework are established, setting criteria across certain measures can help prioritize and streamline the hunt for opportunities.
Investing the time and thinking about the strategy behind your concepts can improve innovation. It is possible to have research be fairly standardized and fit corporate processes. That is hard to avoid with analyses and research products becoming more and more cookie-cutter today. There’s nothing wrong with having some standardized products that companies can use for research. The problem starts then to become the standardized interpretation.
– Marian Strauss