Market research

In addition to Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), market research is the traditional function many businesses turn to and rely on for new product ideas. SMEs are people, both internal and external to the business, although they are usually internal employees, who have expertise in a particular area because of advanced training or experience. KOLs similarly can be internal or external to the business but are generally external. They are somewhat neutral, unbiased commentators on a wide variety of areas and subjects, such as technology' advances, political events, social trends, and so forth. They express their views and opinions in blogs, articles in relevant magazines and professional journals, and at conferences. Both SMEs and KOLs have valuable insight businesses often draw on for ideas regarding what to put into their product development pipelines.

Although SMEs and KOLs are important for new product development, they cannot be solely relied on for guidance in what to produce next. They are, after all, not the customers, the ones who actually buy and will buy the business’s product and the ones who have problems the products are designed to solve. Ultimately, it is the customers who have the first and last say in what should be produced, but discovering what they have to say is not a trivial task. Market research methodologies are designed, and in fact continually evolve, to hear what they have to say. This is the Voice of the Customer (VOC). The customers may not know themselves what they want, and they probably do not, so they cannot articulate their requirements in sufficient detail so that product designers (i.e., engineers, technicians, marketers) can design and build a product. Instead, they send messages, sometimes cryptic, that hint at their problems and what they want or need to solve them. The problems are as varied as there are people so there is no one problem and no one solution. The problem could be product specific (“The power button isn’t accessible.”) or universal (“Ispend too much time vacuuming”).

The purpose of market research is to distill the key or overriding problem (or problem set) from the myriad of hints provided by customers so the new product development team can define and prioritize their efforts. See Inmon [2018J and Barabba and Zaltman [1991] for some discussions about the importance of the VOC as market information to be heeded.

Traditional market research uses surveys and focus groups to listen to the VOC and to distill the problem set from all the diverse messages sent by the diverse customer base. These tools can yield valuable insights. That is, uncover new market opportunities. At the same time that your business is researching customers, others are doing the same thing for the same purpose. So not only does your business have to assess what is important to its customer base but it also has to assess how other KMPs are performing in meeting customer wants and needs.

One approach for assessing what is important and what the competition is doing is the Competitive Environment Analysis (CEA) mentioned earlier. This is based on survey data to address two problems:

  • 1. The competitive differentiation of the KMPs, on attributes of a product to identify market opportunities.
  • 2. The strengths and weaknesses of each KMP on each attribute.

In essence, CEA is a classic Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats SIVOT analysis. This will aid the concept development team in identifying untapped or unmet opportunities. I will discuss this analysis and others in Chapter 2.

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