Innovation Management Wisdom

Posts with the tag 'Qualitative Research and Innovation'

Product Development Advanced by Construct Psychology

One word changed the construct research subjects used to answer a question…and opened a flood gate of new product development insights.

We recently did some new product development research for a manufacturer trying to learn how tradesmen evaluate competing power tools. Personal construct psychology informed our approach.

Personal construct psychology (PCP) is a framework for understanding the categorical templates that people use to organize the realities of the world. Each person’s templates evolve in accord with what they learn from past experiences. They lay their templates over new, similar experiences to anticipate what will happen.

By understanding which constructs customer use to distinguish offerings, you can begin to understand which elements of message, product, package and experiential concepts differentiate offerings in customers’ eyes and which don’t.

In our initial draft of the discussion guide, we asked tradesman, “What makes some of these tools better than others?

We got these answers:

  • Durable. It’s going to get banged up on a construction job.”
  • “The manufacturer stands behind their product. They’ll take it back if it breaks.”
  • “You can maintain it easily to increase its working life.”
  • “How much it costs to use.”

While these comments were helpful, they weren’t entirely satisfying. We felt we had tapped constructs that tradesmen use to evaluate the quality of tool manufacturing. This was only tangentially related to what we wanted to know: what constructs do tradesmen use to select tools they’re going to buy?

So, our client agreed to change the question from, “What makes some of these tools better than others?” to, “What makes some of these tools more useful than others?” The word, “useful,” evoked a different contextual construct. It surfaced memories of on-the-job customer experiences where some tools were frustrating to use.

Here’s what we learned over and above what we heard before…

  • Speed. How fast it does the work.”
  • Maneuverability. It needs to fit in tight spaces. It needs to be lightweight.”
  • Portability. Sometimes, electric plugs get kicked out by other workers on a job site. That costs me time. Help me avoid having to use extension cords.”
  • Safety, Make sure it can’t tip over while it’s on. Put a guard on it so no one backs into and hurts themselves. Pat a safety lock on this so there’s no change it will turn on when it gets knocked around in my tool bag.”
  • Run time. Make it so I don’t have to replenish the power source as often. Give me a way of knowing how much run time is left so I can replaced the power source before I start a job.”
  • Adjustable controls. Let me adjust the power to a level suitable for doing the job.”

Much richer stuff. In this case, using just the right word meant the difference between acquiring pedestrian insight and scratching the surface of strategically valuable wisdom. It informed a variety of decisions about the product design and package copy.

We typically find that customers in a product category,

  1. cluster into groups who share common, but not identical sets of, constructs that help them anticipate what their experiences will be, and
  2. assign varying levels of importance to each dimension (e.g., speed, maneuverability, portability, etc.) across these groups

Personal construct psychology informs approaches that complement segmentation. At times, it can provide insights that go deeper. You learn not only what customers needs exist, but also how customers distinguish new products that will help them better meet their needs.

Bottom line: If you know why and how your prospect thinks and feels (not just what they feel), you can anticipate how they’ll act in new situations. That focuses creative thinking around those few new product ideas worthy of developing further.

Whyze Group works with B2B and B2B2C Fortune 500 organizations. The company has been recognized by the Baldrige National Quality Program, business associations and numerous business media as a leader in research and innovation. Inquiries: info@whyzegroup.com, (440) 785-0547.

June 28th, 2016

The Economist Innovation Conference: Platitudes or Playbook?

“Innovation: Fresh Thinking for the Ideas Economy”, a conference produced by The Economist magazine, starts today at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.

The program announcement includes many of the trendy buzzwords that have become all too familiar to those of us in the innovation trenches–open innovation, social entrepreneurship, bottom of the pyramid, flat world, crowdsourcing and the be-all-end-all, technology…Ugh…double ugh.

Since I’m not planning on attending, I can’t speak with any authority about the outcomes of this conference. It’s not that I don’t feel this conference could be useful. I just find that the vast majority of attendees at these events are mostly consultants and academics who already get it.

I’ve often felt that we were talking to ourselves, validating ethics, ideas and principles that are mostly inarguable. But, these ideas haven’t been practically implemented by the very people who would benefit their organizations and maybe even the rest of us by putting them to use.

They, by the way, also mostly get it, or are at least receptive. They don’t attend these conferences, I suspect, because they can’t implement it..or do attend because they are looking for ways to implement it. They need playbooks, not platitudes, nor quick fix psuedo-solutions.

Our conversations with clients breeze easily over the principles of innovation. They get it. Where they get stuck…and fear-struck, is where we start talking about applying these principles in their organizations. They want the playbook, the nitty gritty details of how we help them implement innovation–or change– in their organizations.

Their concerns pertain largely to the organizational barriers to innovation, or, to put it in simple terms, how not to get fired in the course of deflecting their organizations, with all their histories, traditions and lines of authority, away from the status quo.

Open innovation? Bottom-up ideation? Social entrepreneurship? “Fine,” they say. “How do I get people in my organization to be more responsive to customers when their bosses, whose interests may not be aligned with customers, are the arbiters of their immediate economic security?

The playbook starts with understanding the playing field, or more accurately the organizational mine field, which we describe in “Bridging the Research-Innovation Gap” (available for download on our home page.) Once you know where the mines are, it’s easier to avoid them, survive and even live a fulfilling life as an innovator.

So, I hope this conference marks the beginning of the Ideas Economy 2.0, where we begin to hold as self-evident that encouraging creativity and sharing ideas are good, like motherhood and apple pie. We need more of the playbooks that enable those principles to be exercised.

I’ll be watching.

March 23rd, 2010

Newspaper Innovation Requires Knowing What Readers Do with the News

Understanding what consumers are trying to accomplish with the news–not just where they go to get it–sets the table for innovating content, delivery, timing, digital and print channels and other aspects of the news business.

Our recent new product development work with two nationally prominent publishers underscores the urgency with which newspapers are scrambling to retool for the digital news world. Consumers are migrating to online news sources in greater numbers.

Readers are customizing their online news content, even creating it, and paying less for it. And there’s a wider spectrum of consumer expectations and behaviors with regard to news today than before.

Perhaps the most valuable insight we can impart to newspapers is that this migration is so broad and rapid, that many conventional approaches to understanding readers are rendered obsolete. Market share and other behavioral data will only tell you what you already know.

The real pay dirt is understanding why consumers are changing. Once you know what people are trying to accomplish with their news, you can anticipate where they’re going…and that is essential for “skating where the puck will be” in the news business.

To understand why consumers’ behavior around news is changing, we have to acknowledge that the news audience consists of people, not readers. Their lives involve touch points with people, products and events outside the news, but which are often influenced by it. Understanding how people use the news in their lives will guide news professionals to the what, where, why, when and how of innovating their products.

We’re on the forefront of customer experience research methods that unearth these insights–mental models and persona development among them. More important, we feel a kindred connection to the editors and reporters we’ve met. They, like us, are driven to create understanding where it hadn’t existed before. And that’s critical to improving our quality of life.

Jason M. Sherman is president of Whyze Group, a customer experience research and innovation firm based in Cleveland, Ohio. Whyze Group was founded in 2001 and has worked with more than thirty Fortune 500 companies in a variety of industry sectors. You can reach Jason at (440) 785-0547 or at jason@whyzegroup.com.

July 23rd, 2009

New Report Raises Bar for Innovation in U.S. Firms

Cleveland, Ohio (PRWEB) June 22, 2009 — The U.S. economy may be under-performing by hundreds of billions of dollars annually due to companies that squander customer information, botch innovation and miss global market opportunities, according to a report published by Whyze Group.

The report, titled Bridging the Research-Innovation Gap, describes eleven factors that determine executives’ effectiveness in leading their companies from the mountains of customer information they collect to innovation pay dirt. It provides ways for managers at all levels to diagnose innovation challenges and implement solutions.

The report comes in the midst of an economic crisis that has raised public skepticism of many company executives. U.S. taxpayers are on the hook for trillions of dollars in bailouts to companies that, among other faults, have failed to innovate products customers want. GM’s former CEO, Rick Wagoner, was ousted by an Obama administration calling for more accountability.

Whyze Group president, Jason M. Sherman, says, “This report gives U.S. managers, investors and employees the tools to recognize barriers to innovation in organizations and respond accordingly.”

Sherman adds, “It’s in our collective interest to assure that everyone who depends on the continued prosperity of the United States participate in making us more innovative and competitive. This report is a primer for those who will make that happen.”

‘Bridging the Research-Innovation Gap’ is the culmination of eight years of analysis of Fortune 500 companies. Whyze Group audited hundreds of strategy documents and conducted thousands of interviews with executives, employees and customers. The report integrates data from the U.S. Commerce Department and observations from thought leaders at top business schools.

The report includes an analysis of how management teams waste billions of dollars on market research each year. Companies use only half of the customer information they acquire. Some customer information is misapplied.

As a result, there is little association between how much companies spend on research and their relative financial performance. Company performance is influenced more by how effectively managers apply what they learn.

‘Bridging the Research-Innovation Gap’ identifies eleven factors that determine how effectively managers apply what they learn. One example is the degree to which executives carve out fiefdoms to the detriment of their organizations. In some companies, managers try to manipulate information for their own personal gain. In others, executives openly share information and work in ways that are more aligned with the interests of customers, employees and shareholders.

Other factors that determine how companies apply what they learn are management teams’ abilities to
–   Correctly identify their own blind spots
–   Stimulate innovation among employees
–   Identify and champion the most promising ideas

The report describes seven additional factors that determine companies’ abilities to bridge the research-innovation gap. Descriptions of each factor are followed by strategies executives can use to make their companies more innovative.

Jason M. Sherman is president of Cleveland-based, Whyze Group. Whyze Group provides qualitative, customer- and user-experience research and innovation workshops to Global 2000 clients. The company has been recognized by the Baldrige National Quality Program, business associations and numerous business media as a leader in research and innovation.

Connect with Jason on Linkedin.

Follow @JasonMSherman on Twitter.

Receive alerts by email.

Email Jason here.

Jason direct: (440) 785-0547.

June 22nd, 2009

What Customer Experience Really Means

Customer experience holds the promise of profound benefits for executives who understand what the term, “customer experience,” really implies:

  1. Your company doesn’t have a customer experience. Customers do.
  2. The customer experience does not begin and end with your company’s “touchpoints”. Competitors’ actions, expectations set by other industries, life changes, and changes in customers’ economic, technological, and political situations all influence the customer experience.
  3. Customers filter their experiences through their associated memories, mental models, values, perceptions, cognition and emotions.
  4. Whether you manage it or not, your customers are having an experience with your company.
  5. 20th century management methods assure that customers will have disjointed experiences delivered by discreet silos that regard customers as “targets” (marketing), “users” (product development), “audience members” (advertising), “prospects” (sales), or “callers” (customer service).
  6. 21st century customer experience research methods, many developed by Whyze Group, surface meaningful insights into customer experiences, in accordance with the time frames and contexts in which experiences form.
  7. The mental models of managers who spend 20 years in an industry are almost always misaligned with the mental models of customers, who may spend as little as 20 seconds dealing with you.
  8. An authentic, deep understanding of the customer experience shifts executives’ mental models into closer alignment with those of customers and accelerates their innovations of experiences that matter.
  9. Successfully innovating the customer experience builds on an orchestrated delivery across your company.
  10. Sustaining a compelling experience requires that you focus on monitoring the consistency with which customers achieve their desired outcomes, not the consistency of company processes.

Whyze Group has a combined 60 years experience helping executive teams innovate and deliver compelling customer experiences. Our approach has resulted in more efficient customer acquisition, higher customer retention, lower operating costs and greater profitability. Learn more.

February 1st, 2009

Market Research Best Practices: Snake Oil?

Are best practices useful or merely pabulum?  This question comes up frequently at Whyze Group. We’ve have never used “best practices” in our literature.

We’ve even advised our clients to exercise skepticism when presented with anything labeled as “best practices”. What works well at one company is often counterproductive at another.

Today, I received an email from a prominent market research company promoting its intellectual capital through an email with this document attached, “Developing the High Peformance Market Research Function: Study Excerpt”.

The document provides no criteria against which the best practices were evaluated. The report is a derivative of research performed by the sponsor on behalf of its clients.

This begs the following question. Why would client firms knowingly hand over proprietary secrets (their best practices) for publication to the world?

Casting my skepticism aside, I opened the attachment and began to smile as I read the best practices cited in this report. Here’s one. “Benchmark partners were aligned in their aspirations to turn market data into intelligence that can grow the business.”

As I read other best practices, I began imagining myself in a Dilbert cartoon. Here’s another, paraphrased…when companies invest tens of thousands of dollars in focus groups someone from the company should attend them.

There are no market research practices in this report that deviate from those uttered decades ago or common sense. If there were genuinely valuable secrets, the sources of those secrets risked being sued for disclosing trade secrets.

Hence, are best practices–meaning, “the practices that the best 1% are using to outperform you”–really available?  Even if they were, would they apply to your organization? Of course, if your company’s capabilities and opportunities were identical to the company you’d be emulating, then they might.

As catalysts of strategic adaptation and innovation, we have a sacrosanct obligation to our colleagues, employees, our shareholders and our customers to get it right. This is our reason for being.

Getting it right starts with an honest heart, an open mind and critical thinking. If we’re really honest with ourselves, aren’t these the only starting points for figuring out what’s truly best?

October 16th, 2008

Gyrations in Financial Markets Provide Lessons for Innovators

Unprecedented daily swings in the DJIA are symptomatic of investors losing their gimbals. Negative swings in customer loyalty and profits are similarly indicative of management teams who have lost their bearing.

So here is a parting thought.

Are your company’s innovation efforts determine by what customers will reward…or by what company leaders will reward?  If you’re outperforming similar firms on customer loyalty then it’s both. If it’s only the latter, then you’re company performance looks like the chart for the DOW.

You’ll be interested to know that most companies’ approaches to innovation are dysfunctional.  As a result, 40% of Fortune 500 firms won’t be in the Fortune 500 in ten years.  We’ve consolidated the results of several studies about this.

<a href=”http://technorati.com/claim/hd2ey9i77z” rel=”me”>Technorati Profile</a>

October 16th, 2008

Company Innovates Next Generation of Hand Tools

Managers at a leading hand tool manufacturer wanted to innovate the company’s next generation of hand tools. Previous research pointed toward the existence of diverging needs among professional builders and DIYs.  

There was little agreement among managers in marketing, product development, manufacturing and finance about which segment the company should focus on or kinds of product improvements that would increase sales and profits. Whyze Group facilitated the team through a customer experience management audit. The team identified several critical gaps in their knowledge, which Whyze Group filled. 

Over the next six months, Whyze Group worked with managers to prioritize segments, develop ideas, refine prototypes and prepare for production and rollout.  We conducted customer interviews that identified innovative product features that built on buyers’ mental models about usability, durability and safety.  

Whyze Group helped the team find the optimal combination of new product features with a customer experience survey that included discrete choice analysis. While finding the most desirable product features was a goal, we also wanted to minimize cannibalization of our client’s existing products. Working closely with our client, we found a new product configuration that increased buyer preference for our client’s product portfolio by 22%.  

October 7th, 2008

Wireless Company Learns that Customers in Two Markets Have Different Expectations

Managers of a wireless communications company wanted to improve customer experiences, loyalty and sales in two geographic markets. The company was considering several alternatives.  These included changing its rate plans, improving customer service, investing in transmission quality improvements and increasing its advertising expenditures. 

Improving “everything” was not feasible.  Managers needed to focus its efforts in the areas that mattered most to consumers.  Whyze Group designed, conducted and analyzed 1,000 interviews with cellular users, including competitors’ customers.  Questions focused on perceptions of quality, price and overall value for each competing wireless carrier. 

Comparing customers’ perceptions of each carrier enabled us to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each competitor.  Additionally, we determined the relative importance of each quality and price attribute we explored. 

Whyze Group demonstrated to managers that consumers in the first market were quality-sensitive.  Also, consumers perceived that our client’s transmission quality was inferior to competitors. 

The company needed to improve consumers’ perceptions of its transmission quality. We recommended that our client measure its signal strength throughout this market.  If our client’s signal strength was on par with competitors, then our client could effectively employ marketing messages bolster perceptions of quality. If not, then managers should consider increasing signal strength.

In the second market, consumers perceived that our client’s quality, price and value were on par with competitors. Consumers in this market were more sensitive to price. We recommended that our client incorporate messages about its competitive rate plans in it marketing materials to boost its share of this market.

October 7th, 2008

Insurance/nGenera Engagement Complete

Whyze Group recently completed an 18 month engagement at a leading Insurance company in conjunction with nGenera. The company’s property and casualty and financial services businesses are innovating their customer experiences based on wisdom they acquired with Whyze Group.

“We’re honored to have worked as a catalyst for innovation with these two great organizations,” explains Whyze Group vice president, Jason M. Sherman. Whyze Group deployed nearly its full complement of customer experience research and innovation design services over the course of the eighteen month timeframe.  The financial services division asked Whyze Group to repeat its success with them after Whyze Group’s initial nine month engagement with the property and casualty side of the business.

Whyze Group facilitates management teams’ discoveries and innovations of new customer experiences. Whyze Group applies a reliable and powerful approach, integrating deep customer experience insight, strategic innovation frameworks and executive alignment workshops to guide managers toward innovation breakthroughs. Clients include Rubbermaid, Zales, Nationwide Insurance, Grainger, ING, Humana, Dominion Power, Key Bank and nGenera.

September 5th, 2008

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