Agile is all over the news these days and its use runs far beyond the field of software development. Unfortunately, it has essentially become a cross-industry buzzword, a trend that in particular is more rampant in the world of market research. However, by looking beyond indiscriminate use of the word, we are able to see that Agile Research is an emerging strategy that leverages new techniques and technologies to make market knowledge more accessible, accurate and affordable.
While the practice has already been implemented by multinational corporations including the world’s third-largest consumer goods company Unilever for their most innovative brands including Ben & Jerry’s and Axe, it can just as easily be used for smaller brands, businesses and startups.
By embracing truly agile processes, marketing and business leaders can support every consequential decision using consumer insights. In a US marketing industry that now exceeds over $40 billion a year and rising, it is this strategy that will allow a business to efficiently grow into an industry leader.
Agile research: A combination of factors
Agile Market Research represents a different approach to managing market research and takes its inspiration from Agile software development and values: Responding to change by following a plan, focusing on individuals and interactions over processes and tools, collaboration over silos and hierarchy, rapid iterations over long projects, and undertaking numerous small experiments over a few large studies.
But it is not just about applying this strategy and letting it run. Agile Marketing needs to be complemented by Agile management, an iterative and adaptive process where small, highly collaborative teams work in a series of short cycles, incorporating rapid feedback to deliver emergent solutions and emphasize transparency among all stakeholders.
Agile research as the key in a fast-paced market
It’s not news that the scale of changes happening to marketing is unprecedented, and these types of trends have become the new normal for the world in general. In this fast changing environment, the adoption of real-time marketing techniques can help teams succeed in today’s always-on world and its many new challenges.
In this scenario, the true power for marketing teams is the ability to effectively adapt to what’s happening around them. Therefore, marketing needs relevant, actionable data and insights, faster than ever. For this, Agile Market Research is the answer. I am not talking about a new technology or another buzzword for working faster, but rather about the application of agile management principles in the context of Market Research.
Agile Market Research requires cross-functional team members – people who may have a deep specialization or talent in a particular area but are also willing to pitch in on a wide variety of other tasks. In an agile team no one says, “I’m just the analyst, so don’t bother me until you have the fieldwork done.” The whole team either succeeds together or fails together because being agile means being in a continuous loop of planning, building, inspecting, adapting, and repeating.
Agile Researchers also follow a process designed to increase alignment with the business goals of the client to improve communication both within and outside the market research team, and to increase the speed and responsiveness of research. This process is interactive, allowing for short studies and experiments, frequent feedback, and the ability to react to changing conditions.
Applying the strategy
Agile market research can be a service, a strategy, a discipline, a set of tools, and much more. No one, however, appears to define it as a capability. Certainly, one must first need to be aware of Agile research as an alternative approach (since it is radically different from traditional market research in terms of cost, lead-time, collection time, and resources), but the essence of agility is speed – the ability to react quickly. The greatest degree of agility must therefore come from a capability that provides immediate, unrestricted access to a source of available, qualified respondents. Informed judgment beats luck and gut instinct every time.
Given the explosion in data availability—emerging platforms able to express consumer opinions and the technology to make it all accessible—there should no longer be such a thing as uniformed marketing decisions. However, conventional research approaches still fall short. They take too much time, cost too much money and produce too little value to effectively guide marketing decision-making. They simply can’t operate at the cadence or nuance of today’s business.
This flows onto Lean marketing, a strategy based on the book, “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries that promotes the concept of iterative product design, development and launch. Startups need to identify their “minimum viable product,” or MVP, and get it out into the market as quickly as possible in order to start gathering feedback from customers immediately. Marketing can and should be managed in a similar fashion. Wherever reasonable, campaigns should get out the door quickly, with minimum fuss. The days of perfectionism are numbered, since what truly matters is not how pretty the signs are, but how good the product market fit is.
While it may seem strange to approach a marketing event like a trade show in a “lean” approach, since everything needs to be done in advance, there are still ways to treat a marketing event in experimental modes. For example, you can use the event for gathering customer or prospect feedback. You can also make changes during the event based on how people respond to your displays and pitch.
Lean Marketing is about being agile, about viewing each campaign or marketing activity as one step in the ever-improving progress towards customer acquisition and ultimately customer satisfaction.