How to take a more agile approach to consumer understanding
By Mark Walker, Revenue Director, Attest
Does anybody reading this remember when most new products and technology were developed with the ‘waterfall’ approach?
For those who don’t, here’s a quick primer.
In a nutshell, the waterfall approach to launching new products was to try and gather as much information on the end-product as possible, define all its requirements, then go through every phase of the development cycle, before finally launching a fully functional new product to the market.
The problem? Very often, the final product wasn’t what the market needed (or wanted), and by waiting until the very end to find this out, incredible amounts of time and money were wasted.
From waterfall to agile
The solution? Agile software development, characterised by shorter development cycles (sprints), allowing for rapid feedback and iterations, which reduces risk and leads to better outcomes by discovering bugs or feature deficiencies earlier. Mobile Marketing
Thankfully the agile approach to product development has been very widely (if not universally) accepted and adopted, and the result has been an explosion in productivity, speed to market and successful launches.
Yet away from software development, the waterfall approach is still the de facto way of working. Take for example the approach to market research, consumer insights and brand development.
When a business needs to refresh its brand, learn more about their market or develop a major creative marketing campaign, they will often start with market research.
While the idea of gathering insights from consumers is fundamentally a good one, the approach is anything but.
Typically an agency is called in. Briefs are written. Sub-contractors handle scripting, fieldwork and the like. Hundreds of emails, dozens of conversations and several weeks later a giant PDF report is presented and then circulated round.
You have to make major decisions based on this output, though you realise – once it’s too late – that you should have asked something slightly differently, or another question entirely that wasn’t obvious at the time. But you’ve sunk too much time and money into the project at this point, so you make do.
Just like less than stellar product or technology outcomes delivered by waterfall methodologies, traditional market research is slow and cumbersome, leading to poor levels of consumer understanding for organisations, all while costing more!
Sadly this approach is still prevalent across most established businesses.
Introducing scalable intelligence
But a better way is emerging, based on speed to insight, agile feedback, organisational collaboration and rapid iteration that matches the modern velocity of decision making.
This approach is known as scalable intelligence, designed to meet the needs of modern organisations, and a world where things change ever-more rapidly.
In just the last couple of years we’ve suddenly seen the emergence or voice-enabled shopping and search, autonomous cars and drone deliveries. Social commerce, artificial intelligence and the internet of things are rapidly developing fields.
Combine these seismic technological changes with the economic, social, political and cultural shifts that impact consumers almost daily and any business that relies on sporadic, project based market research can be sure to be left behind.
So, how can your company adopt scalable intelligence? Much like the shift from waterfall to agile in product and technology, there are three key elements:
Most importantly, organisations have to adopt a new culture and philosophy towards consumer insight. If there isn’t a commitment to the adoption of scalable intelligence, then clearly it won’t take root.
How do you know if you’re ready to embrace a new way of gathering consumer insight? Ask yourself (and your colleagues) these questions:
- Do we value an open, direct dialogue with consumers?
- Are we seeking to align the volume of insights with our rate of decision making?
- Will speed and agility give us an edge on our competitors?
- Are we seeking to be more collaborative and share insights across functions?
- Can an iterative approach to insights reduce decision-making risk and lead to better outcomes?
- Is it ok to admit ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’ and be open to unstructured learning?
Ultimately if your company culture embraces (or seeks to embrace) speed, agile decision making and iterative learning then you should be in a good place to adopt scalable intelligence.
If market research is defined by writing comprehensive briefs and running RFP processes, then scalable intelligence is defined by outcome-led sprints.
Much like waterfall application development necessitated huge teams and complicated sign-off processes, traditional research requires huge amounts of planning and internal sign-off due to the cost and complexity of running major catch-all projects.
With scalable intelligence, much smaller autonomous teams can work dynamically to answer important business questions as they arrive. The workflow involves:
- Identify a gap in your consumer knowledge or a major event that you need to better understand
- Define the business outcome and desired actions you’d like to take
- Run a small open-ended survey to learn and gather initial feedback from
- Refine your questions and approach based on these initial learnings
- Share across the team for feedback and to uncover any missed opportunities for deeper insights
- Repeat as necessary to built up a layered, rich and statistically robust answer to the original question.
This approach keeps things nimble, while also spreading knowledge across teams so the whole organisation benefits.
Initially the agile approach to product development was one that spread based on culture and new workflows; but eventually it led to the need for new technologies that mirrored and enabled the agile methodology. Tools like Jira and Asana became huge players as they facilitated a better way to work.
Similarly there has been a gradual shift in attitudes to gathering consumer insight, with more and more leaders recognising the need for a more agile and iterative approach that can scale across the whole organisation, keeping everyone closer to consumers.
Against this backdrop, more specialist technology providers have sprung up to support organisations looking to adopt scalable intelligence in place of traditional market research.
Attest is one of those leading providers of scalable intelligence, helping businesses to quickly get their whole organisation closer to consumers, match the volume of insights to their rate of decision making, and reduce the risk, cost and complexity of getting the right answers to their core business questions.
If you’re looking to adopt a more agile approach to consumer understanding, then you’ll need to ensure your organisation has the right culture to support it, a commitment to developing new workflows, and that you invest in specialist tools that will accelerate the benefits you’ll see from scalable intelligence.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Walker is an experienced B2B commercial leader and award winning content marketer.He is currently the Revenue Director at Attest, a fast-growth scalable intelligence platform, helping connect brands and agencies to networks of 100 million consumers across 80 different countries.He writes and speaks regularly about all things digital, marketing and content; and he loves to learn and connect with others interested in the trends shaping our future.