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Four Categories of Market Research

By Scott Burleson posted 10-09-2020 17:50

PDMA Body of Knowledge: Market Research in Product Innovation Insights #1
PDMA Body of Knowledge: Market Research in Product Innovation Insights #1

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7 minutes

The kHUB Curator Team members have each been assigned a BoK section to own.  This includes seeking, editing and sharing content related to that section.  The curators are also sharing their perspective of various sub-sections of their chapter and contributing personal examples, experience, or related articles corresponding to the subject matter.

Without proper market research, companies are treating new product development like a casino. Hoping and wishing for successes. After all, innovation is a problem-solving process. It’s just that we’re solving problems for customers.

Everybody solves problems in their personal and professional lives. It’s understood that a diagnosis phase is required. When going to a physician, a diagnosis phase is expected. There will be tests and evaluations. And for innovation, we must seek out the folks who have the problems to be solved. The objective of market research is to define these problems with sufficient precision that they may be solved.  

Market research can be organized into four sub-fields: qualitative research, quantitative research, data analysis, and concept testing.

Qualitative research is used to develop hypotheses, to uncover customer needs, and to learn about the “unknown unknowns” hidden within a market. Though the format is most often described as a “qualitative interview”, in truth, it is closer to a guided conversation. “Guided” so that it is preprogrammed to stay within the desired scope while still allowing for the customer to provide unbiased responses.

The most common forms are the IDI (In-Depth Interview) and the focus group. The IDI is conducted one-on-one with the researcher and customer. The focus group contains a carefully chosen assortment of customers that the researcher will interview.

Ethnography (or contextual research) is a type of qualitative research which is executed within the customer’s environment. The term “ethnography” has been borrowed from the social sciences where it has a narrower definition.

Quantitative research involves numbers. Therefore, it will typically use some type of quantitative analysis upon which a conclusion will be drawn. Quant researchers will be concerned with ensuring that sample sizes are large enough for reliable inferences. They also must be experts in sample planning, ensuring that the samples will be representative of the targeted population.

Prior to concept development, quantitative research generally serves to either prioritize needs or to seek evidence for a hypothesis. Quant research usually, but not necessarily always, implies the use of a survey tool. After concept development, quant research is used to estimate SKU mixes, determine market sizes, or even to estimate the popularity of the concept itself.

After the completion of quantitative research, data analysts must interpret the results and transform them so that they can be understood by a broader audience. They should help folks to understand the statistical significance of the findings.

While there’s an infinite number of research contexts that will warrant a specialized approach, there are two broad categories worth mentioning: B2B and service innovation. According to Dan Adams, author of “New Product Blueprinting,” (2005) in B2B market research, in addition to insight, there is usually an additional objective: to nurture the customer relationship, which Adams refers to as “engagement.” Next, regarding service innovation, author Lance Bettencourt (in his book “Service Innovation” (2010)) reminds innovators that the service is a solution, really another name for a product, and therefore, most of the qual and quant research will actually be quite similar when executed in service-based markets (if not the same).

There are a few major works that practitioners should be familiar with. The first is the one that launched the phrase “Voice of the Customer.” It’s “The Voice of the Customer” (1993) by Abbie Griffin and John Hauser. This paper launched the modern concept of VoC research. Next, two books by Edward McQuarrie provide an ideal foundation: “The Market Research Toolbox” (2005) and “Customer Visits” (2014). Finally, Anthony Ulwick’s “What Customers Want” (2005) makes the connection between modern market research methods and jobs-to-be-done theories. Product managers and developers who are serious about their craft should be familiar with all the books listed here.

When executing market research, practitioners should keep a couple of things in mind. First, it’s generally the best plan to triangulate to the truth. That is, any single study is likely to be imperfect. And therefore, we should look to all the data available. Most companies underutilize readily available information such as service call center data and warranty reports. Next, innovation practitioners should embrace the importance of market research. It’s an investment in the future. According to the PDMA Foundation Comparative Performance Assessment Study (2005), “the number one factor leading to new product success was an understanding of customer needs.” And what business function is most focused on delivering customer need insight? Market research.

About the Author

Scott Burleson

William “Scott” Burleson is the author of The Statue in the Stone: Decoding Customer Motivation with the 48 Laws of Jobs-to-be-Done Philosophy.

He has a diverse professional background within manufacturing engineering, product management, voice-of-the-customer training and SaaS development. Notable career stops include product manager for John Deere’s compact tractors, innovation leader for Actuant corporation, and Director of the Strategyn Institute. At Strategyn, he worked alongside the world's best jobs-to-be-done practitioners. Strategyn, founded by pioneer Tony Ulwick, is ground zero for Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI).

Today, as Senior Vice President for The AIM Institute, Burleson leads product development for Blueprinter® software, teaches workshops on innovation using the New Product Blueprinting process, and advises corporate leaders and practitioners on growth via JTBD principles.

He has a MS in Management and a BS in Electrical Engineering from North Carolina State University.

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