How Might Qual. Researchers Be Hindering Your Innovations?

All too often we see the same vicious cycle of events: clients write the concepts, a qual researcher is briefed with questions to answer and given the concepts, results come back, the best concept is tweaked and goes into quant testing. Usually it fails or you get mediocre results. Why doesn’t this approach work? What are the pitfalls of using researchers inappropriately when it comes to innovation?

The default partner that is often turned to is a researcher but they are unfortunately staring adversity in the face when it comes to innovation. Researchers have a great role to play when it comes to sense checking, but not when building ideas to solve real consumer problems and frustrations. They may sound like pretty big statements but let’s consider the reasons behind them.

1. Jumping to judgement:

Innovation has to springboard from a real understanding of consumers’ frustrations, needs and desires. However, these can be very difficult to get to through traditional research methodologies.

Researchers don’t tend to develop or refine innovation concepts with an open consumer conversation: they don’t delve in any depth into frustrations and needs and then empower consumers to see how they would solve the problems. Instead, they have a 10-15 minute warm up, give consumers a worked up list of ideas provided by the client and then ask consumers if they like them or not. This immediate leap to judgement narrows the field for discussion and closes down innovation areas and ideas before the process has even begun. Consumers are being asked to judge ideas cold, without being given the time to understand themselves first. And if the consumers don’t understand where they are coming from, how can the researcher?

2. The consumer: business equation breaks down:

Let’s now consider the commercial side of the innovation equation. Clients can be the researchers worst enemy, sending them in ill equipped to deliver a consumer: commercial balanced output. Often, researchers aren’t given the same depth of information around business strategy, objectives and capabilities as other partners. Only the information deemed necessary to deliver within their narrowly prescribed area of expertise is shared. However, without the complete picture as to what the business or brand is trying to achieve and the parameters they need to operate within, they can’t come back with the ideal solution to the innovation challenge; the perfect blend of consumer needs and business ambitions and realities. They are limited to listing likes and dislikes and it is then left to the client to balance the business requirements and consumer view on their own. Undoubtedly, making this a joint challenge and letting the researcher be fully involved would result in far better outcomes.

3. Be impartial – at your peril:

Consumers, just like the rest of us, need to be challenged and be able to bounce ideas around when they are trying to come up with product solutions. This presents a challenge for researchers as their code of practice holds that the facilitator must take a neutral position rather than one of thought partner. This limits how hard consumers can really be pushed in terms of their opinions and ideas so their best contribution won’t usually be made. This neutrality also means researchers can’t bounce ideas around and throw their own ideas in to help consumers reach the solution they are seeking. This clear division of roles between facilitator and consumer doesn’t allow either of them to contribute to their full potential.

Having now considered the reasons, hopefully the earlier statements don’t seem as big and bold. Also that you can now understand how the use of qual. researchers could be hindering your innovations. Whilst researchers have much to contribute in terms of consumer understanding – U&As, segmentations, brand tracking to name a few things – they simply aren’t in the best position to deliver on innovation. Their position of strength is when a straight yes or no quant response to a final concept is needed. This is where they can really deliver, not in the development, building or refining of innovation ideas.