Archive for the ‘innovation’ Category

Innovating the market research industry – a startup perspective

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Anyone who has tried to get traction for an innovation – whether startup or internal initiative – will recognise the challenge. You have a view of a better future for your customers, if only you can convince them. Sticking doggedly to your grand vision on the one hand may not bring along enough people to achieve market success, while being too customer-centric limits your potential and fail to deliver the game-changer.

The trick of course if navigating a third way of market-driven innovation that meets people’s unarticulated and unmet needs – giving them the thing they didn’t even know they wanted but from which there’s no going back.

The following are some personal experiences from the last 3 years of launching and growing a mobile research platform – a tool that seeks to transform the market research industry. The examples are specific but hopefully the lessons are relevant to anyone trying to get their innovation off the ground.


Mobile – the next frontier in market research

When asked at the recent Insight Innovation Exchange in Amsterdam when the time of mobile market research is coming, Ray Pointer of Vision Critical replied, “About 18 months ago”.

This anecdote gives you some insight as to a market that has been hotly tipped for a while now but is still waiting to catch fire. (that said Survey Monkey recently reported that they had seen x14 increase in their mobile traffic in the last 3 years).

The case for mobile is various but includes: massive smartphone penetration and usage, an intimate and ‘in the moment’ channel,  the richer data made possible by smartphones’ communication, multimedia and location functions. This all adds up to a new way of engaging and learning from customers. At nativeye we talk about doing research that doesn’t feel like research.


Predicting real need is hard but vital

Prior to coding a single line we put together a clickable prototype and received strong encouragement to proceed. However those nodding heads we had initially were not necessarily our first customers. In fact, some are only starting to buy now, 3 years on. Possibly there was more we could have done to validate need, but there are a whole host of other factors beyond your control that dictate when people are ready to buy.

A clue to validating real current need is to look at whether people are already trying to solve the problem right now. They might be using other products, hiring people or inventing workarounds to try and do the thing that your product does.


Find your tribe

Some people resist just change (including new technology). This is certainly the case in the market research industry. Either because it requires effort to learn new techniques or because people feel threatened by it (which is probably justified if you are an Amazon warehouse picker). David A. Aaker advises innovators to ‘beware the pessimist’ that will attempt to derail innovation projects based solely of their irrational fear of the new (interesting to note that he also mentions to be aware of the over-optimist).

Some people you’re just not going to win over. The best you can hope for is to quickly identify them and move on. For others to try something new the Benefit must > Pain. Pain comes in many forms – the mental effort to work out where your product fits, the risk of an untried approach, bugs in a new product.

However, some people are much more inclined to give something new a whirl – the benefit to them being the potential transformation of their day-to-day. These people are like gold and will be your champions. I think Seth Godin provides the best advice here which is, “find your tribe and grow out from there.”


Learn to explain innovations in terms people currently understand

Of those that do embrace technology, many initially consider it in old frames of reference. Initially nativeye was seen as a mobile survey tool. Common questions included, “How will I get all the survey questions I want on a screen that size?” This made our spirit sink somewhat as we didn’t see nativeye this way – we saw it as a two-way customer channel that captured people’s experience in unprecedented richness and timeliness.

It’s sometimes frustrating when trying to push things forward only to be pulled back into old frames. But if your product is truly transformational and you can get people to try you out, then this should bubble to the surface and they will tell others of their great experience. In the MR world a tool has to deliver on old measures such as ‘response rate’ before people will countenance the new stuff. It’s a reality that you have to navigate this while still not losing track of the larger potential.


Don’t sell features, solve jobs

Clay Christensen talks about innovating by solving the jobs people want to do. Selling in these terms also makes your proposition much more compelling whereas only talking about features leads you to sell yourself short. This is why about 18 months in we started selling “relevance”. This is the bigger benefit that helps bring people on board by speaking language they can understand. As a customer, I don’t know if I want a ‘mobile research platform’ or to ‘open up a channel to my customers’ but I certainly want my brand to stay relevant to its customers.


Ben Claxton is the founder of nativeye, a mobile research platform that helps your business stay relevant.

What research is and what it isn’t

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Some choice quotes from this great article by Erica Hall in Wired on why the ‘fail fast’ startup culture can actually just be an excuse for avoiding doing any research – which hell, i don’t know, might actually help your business succeed.

At the heart of this is being the most informed you can be. Not to restrict your imagination to what customers tell you what they want, but to make sure you are able to “design and build for the real world”. In other words, direct your imagination in the right direction.

“a common concern and excuse for not doing research is that it will limit creative possibilities to only those articulated by the target users, leaving designers devising a faster horse (lame) rather than a flying car (rad).

Worse than being limited by potential customers’ imaginations is being limited by one’s own — especially if most business leaders admit they’re not going to be the next Steve Jobs. But why should they have to imagine how the world works, when it’s possible to find out through research? Their imagination is then better spent on designing the solution.”

As an entrepreneur one of the hardest challenges is to really ask yourself “am I designing a solution for a real problem?”. Ideas are temptresses, especially if they are your own. But doing everything you can to validate your idea before you embark on a long and choppy journey of development is doing yourself a massive favour. And this again is where research can help.

Research is…

  • A tool to help create for the real world
  • Creative fuel
  • A way to validate your ideas and kill your darlings
  • Increase the success rate of innovation

Research isn’t…

  • A substitute for imagination
  • A limit to the possible

What job are people trying to do?

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Clay Christensen asks whether understanding our customers actually helps us innovate? Knowing about the characteristics of people may only help you get to a correlation between people and the things they buy. Whereas understanding the job they need to do gets you closer to the causation of why people buy something or not.

Understanding the job people need to do (e.g. furnish their home in a day, keep busy on a dull commute) helps companies understand which dimensions of their product/service they should be innovating on. It’s pointless spending time innovating on a dimension that makes no difference to whether people actually buy or not.

This understanding also helps you know what your competitive set really is (it might not just be made up of direct competitors with the same product as yours).

Clay illustrates this in characteristic dry fashion in the first 15 mins of this Boxworks keynote (whole thing worth a watch if you have time).



Thursday, March 7th, 2013

This talk is about Robots. That’s interesting in itself, but it deals with how far they should stretch into human domains and mimic human traits. The ethics of this is one question, but the acceptability within the current paradigm of consumer technology is another.

In other words, would robots like this freak us out?

In the talk, Ben Bashford references the industrial designer Raymond Loewy who advocated the MAYA principle – Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. He also highlights two of his favourite designers, Jasper Morrison & Naoto Fukasawa who have coined the expression, “Supernormal” to describe “products that are designed to cause as little disruption as possible, whilst upgrading the existing framework of normality”.

This is an approach in favour of progress but sensitive to what people currently find acceptable. It advocates in favour of customer-led innovation. Helping you frame your leaps in ways that will be palatable to your market.

Always-on insight

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

‘Innovation is hard because “solving problems people didn’t know they had” and “building something no one needs” look identical at first.’

Aaron Levie, CEO of Box (via Bokardo)

That’s taken from a post by Joshua Porter called, “Don’t design blindly”. Rather than guessing what people need, do some simple research and observation. Here he gives some clues of what to look for:

  • Where are the pain points?
  • Are people already trying to solve the problem?
  • Are they already spending money on it?

You can commission formal research for this but you have to be careful not to be too focused or closed. Another way is to open up a channel to let the ideas and insights come to you. The advantage of this is:

  • Makes unknown unknowns known (!)
  • Does this quickly
  • Highlights areas for further exploration
  • Means you are always plugged into your market
  • Fuels agile and continual innovation




Research kills creativity and other innovation myths

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

We tend to mythologise the lone creative genius. The lone genius doesn’t need to do market research – they just know.

The reality? Sorry – the stats say that you’re probably not a genius. It is, however, your job to innovate.

How research helps:

1. It FUELS your creativity

Far from blocking your creativity, research gives you the raw material it needs. And this is perhaps where this whole misunderstanding arose – for good or bad, research isn’t going to give you the answer in 20ft tall pink neon letters. It will give you clues that you then must take and perform dazzling alchemy with in order to turn them into a great product, advertising campaign, fashion line, whatever.


Research helps you empathise with your subject. If you can feel their pain as well as see it, then it’s more likely you will have the motivation to care and to persist long enough to crack the right solution.

3. Gives you FOCUS

Constraints set you free. So having the insight that your communication will be most relevant in a particular context or that customers only care about particular features lets you focus your efforts. This will make your creativity relevant.

4. Lets you ITERATE

With the proviso that you don’t chuck out early ideas too quickly (remember – research doesn’t give you the answer in 20ft tall pink neon letters) customer research lets you test and refine your early concepts with your audience. And then iterate again and again until you have to ship.

And what does the genius have to fear from all this? That they might be proved wrong?

Innovation – the informed leap

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

I heard the old “Steve Jobs didn’t do research” epithet again the other day. Ford and his faster horse in another guise.

When learning to do qualitative research you are taught not to “over-empathise” with your research subjects. This is to avoid biasing their responses with your own, and to get to a more objective outcome. However empathy gained through research* plays a vital role in helping companies innovate. If they don’t understand their users pain then they don’t have the direction and motivation to do something about it.

No you can’t ask people what they want next. But through conversation and observation you can deduce what they are trying to do, how successful they are and how you might help them. This then helps you to make the informed leap that is innovation.


*For the research tecnicians out there – you don’t have to show empathy when actually conducting research, but you can demonstrate it by acting on what you’ve learned!


**UPDATE** from Henry Ford himself

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own.”

via UX Mag

The importance of empathy in innovation

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

We love getting feedback at nativeye. Not only does it mean we’re not just talking to ourselves, it helps us develop in a user-focused way. Receiving feedback of the type, ” it would be great if you had X as it would help us to do Y” is gold. If you hear it a few times from a few different people then you know you have a good argument for developing in that direction (balancing with internal factors such as strategy and resources).

But it’s more than getting user validation for innovations.

When you listen carefully to problems or wishes from real users you put yourself in the moment with your customer, faced with the same task they are facing. You might then start to think, “Yeah if that was me I’d really want to be able to do that too.” Taking on board their emotions leads you to a new level of understanding of the problem and how to design for it  – but also the motivation to do something about it.

User research might not always tell you the answer straight away (the old “customers don’t know what they want” maxim), but it helps to build the empathy that can lead to user-focused innovation.

Do whatever you need to do. Build an experience map – include touchpoints and all the attendant emotions. But first and foremost watch and listen. That will throw into relief where there is room for improvement and critically, help you to empathise deeply with the emotions bundled in with the customer experience. That will lead you to consider the problem in detail and then do something about it.

And that’s the point –

Until you feel the customer’s pain you’re just not informed and motivated enough to solve the problem well.