I recently had the pleasure of co-presenting with Pella’s Consumer & Market Insights Manager, Mark Hetrick, at the Insights Association Corporate Researchers Conference. We shared a case study on how Pella made the organizational shift to agile insights to increase the speed and quality of new product and marketing initiatives.
In this post, I summarize the key content from that presentation, including:
- How agile “sprint” methods work to improve the quality of innovation and insights
- The role of online qualitative approaches vs. surveys or in-person research in agile research
- Simple steps you can take now to apply agile “sprint” approaches for your company
Companies Need a New Approach
In the past, insights teams would wait for marketing and product development to approach them with ideas and concepts to test. But in today’s accelerated business landscape, organizations can’t afford to take a reactive approach to getting consumer insights when developing new products or campaigns. Time is money—perhaps more so than ever.
Consider that more than half of the Fortune 500 has turned over from 1995 to 2016. This is a stark contrast to when I worked at General Mills in the late 90’s. At that time turnover in both the Fortune 500 and S&P 500 was very low. And a topline growth rate for CPG companies of 2-3% was considered success. In the age of technological disruption, however, even established CPG organizations can no longer afford to rest on their laurels.
Growth “hacking” has become common across industries and the winners are often companies that have roots in technology. For example, Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods puts their private label brands in direct competition with companies like General Mills. In fact, a recent headline in a CNBC article on Amazon progress over the past year stated A year after Amazon announced its acquisition of Whole Foods, here's where we stand.
To stay relevant in today’s fast-paced business world, companies need a new approach. Instead of reacting to changing market dynamics and competition, organizations need to take a proactive approach to their operations, becoming agile and adopting growth consumer-centric hacking strategies today’s technological innovators are famous for.
Agile: Faster, More Cost-Effective & Better Quality
The faster you’re able to get to market, the more revenue you’ll generate. It’s that simple. Depending on what products you sell, each day could represent tens of thousands of dollars of sales.
Few organizations can afford to miss out on that kind of payday.
Imagine your team could release products 83% faster. And those same products would more than likely cost less to develop and be of higher quality than product you developed before.
With an agile approach to marketing and product development, that’s all possible. This is the reason why 37% of marketing teams are using agile today and 61% of them plan on using it next year. They realize organizations that adopt an agile approach are likely to be the most successful!
What Agile Looks Like for Marketing Teams
While agile increases speed, the philosophy behind agile is not simply about moving faster. Agile is a set of principles that enable organizations to move faster.
Here’s what agile means for marketers. Marketing teams should focus more on…
One of the cornerstones of implementing agile principles is “sprints,” which are two-to-four week cycles where teams define problems, prioritize solutions, build prototypes and test them with consumers, leveraging their qualitative feedback to iterate and repeat the process.
Compare that to the old-fashion method. Companies used to devise a strategy in July, for example, develop plans in August and build concepts in September. What used to take three months before consumer validation, would now receive consumer input in as little as two weeks, with an opportunity to iterate multiple times before launch.
With an agile approach, teams start not just by identifying problems or opportunities, but creating early solutions based on their hypothesis. By testing both the hypothesis and an early solution qualitatively and leveraging the data gleaned directly from customers, those ideas can then be refined. The process repeats until the concept is bulletproof.
Making Agile Work at Your Organization
How exactly can you complete a sprint in two-to-four weeks—particularly when you need to conduct qualitative research? In-person research, especially when it involves travel, can take up a ton of time, after all.
Today’s leading agile marketing teams are increasingly turning to online tools designed for rapid qualitative research. Instead of conducting research in person—and absorbing all the costs and investing all the time required to make it work—you engage and iterate using online research sprints, cutting your budget and timeline in half.
Newer online qualitative tools enable you to capture in-context experiences, test in a broader geography (compared to in-person research which must happen in a certain physical location) and limit moderator bias while continuing to iterate.
Let’s look at an example to see how a shift to agile might look in the real world.
Pella, a company that makes windows and doors, recently adopted an agile approach after their executive team pushed them to get more insights faster without significantly increasing budgets. As an initial test, the company conducted online research and was able to get responses from people around the country without having to travel to them—which helped reduced costs and time.
After liking what they saw, Pella decided to look for a more advanced online qualitative solution that they could scale up in their organization. They wanted to partner with a company that not only offered a strong platform for use internally, but one that enabled them to recruit and build a dedicated online community as well as pop-up communities that could be leveraged for special projects throughout the year.
That’s when they came across Digsite.
For companies like Pella, quantitative research was useful, but doesn’t go far enough to help the team understand “why?”. When you’re in the business of selling windows and doors, you think about windows and doors for at least 40 hours every week. The average consumer, on the other hand, might only buy doors and windows twice during their entire life.
The easiest way to understand what motivates customers and influences their buying decisions in this market is by engaging them in two-way dialog as you build specific products, features and campaigns. This enables you to get much deeper insights, uncovering the context behind behaviors that you simply can’t identify in quantitative research. And this approach allows you to use a mix of activities from survey questions, to image mark-up, video and more – building better quality and efficiency simultaneously.
By using Digsite, Pella was able to understand, with confidence, why consumers felt a certain way about doors and windows. When necessary, they were able to reframe questions and topics being discussed to gain additional clarity into their insights—asking follow-up questions based on responses to drill down even more.
For example, Pella wanted to know whether one of their ads was effective. In the past, the marketing team, sales team, and ad agency would all have different opinions on each ad. They’d discuss what they thought was the best path forward based on their gut instincts Testing wouldn’t occur until they had a final ad, if at all. By using Digsite earlier in development of the new print ad, Pella found out that customers were confused by the ad’s inclusion of a caliper, which is a tool used to measure windows. After conducting online qual and using Digsite’s whiteboarding tool for detailed ad feedback, Pella learned that a secondary visual in the ad was creating confusion. Seeing the “why’s” made it easy for the ad team to iterate several solutions. Ultimately, by replacing the caliper image with a tape measure the ad became more engaging and effective. And the resulting quotes about the ad helped sell-in the marketing program both internally and through distribution partners.
Pella has benefited tremendously since applying agile insights approaches:
- Deeper understanding. For example, Pella was able to understand how consumers felt about different styles of windows. They learned that one style—the “transitional” window—created consumer confusion because the word makes it seem as though the window is temporary, which doesn’t make sense.
- More Insights. Thanks to Digsite, Pella was able to increase their research output by nearly 85%. Before Digsite, they spent an average of $65/respondent for each idea tested. With Digsite, they’ve spent less than $10/respondent for each idea tested – significantly increasing the amount of insights their team can generate.
- Reclaimed time. In the past, it took Pella two-to-five days to complete a focus group. But, they had to wait two-to-three weeks to set up the interviews. And, it took two-to-three days to analyze the results. Add it all up, and it took more than four weeks to test 10 concepts. With Digsite, they can test 10 concepts in just over two weeks—a reduction of roughly 50% of time. And Digsite was easy enough to use they could implement many of the projects in-house using the time saved by internal teams.
Because Digsite has helped Pella accelerate development, the company continues to expand its usage across the organization. So far, they’ve used Digsite to test concepts and ads, name products, and gain path to purchase insights, with more uses to come.
Ready to learn more or get started? Download our free ebook, Agile Research Guide: How Consumer Product Teams Can Innovate Faster.