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Agile Innovation Begins and Ends with the Customer

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Tue, May 01, 2018

collaborating-2

It’s a daunting reality for today’s executives: consumers can provide feedback with the tap of a finger. Just ask United Airlines about the havoc social media can wreak. On the flip side, this empowerment is also a tremendous opportunity for innovators.

I believe we’re lucky to be innovating at a time when it’s so easy for customers to give us their ideas and feedback. Collaborating with customers at the front end of innovation is critical to building truly customer-centric products and services, making the most of your innovation dollars, and mitigating the risk of a public backlash or loss of brand trust and equity.

What starts at the front end can move through an agile process of ideation and development, one that integrates the customer through roll-out, communications, measurement and optimization.

At CMB, we help clients innovate through a Design Thinking framework—including the customer in all phases: Empathize/Define/Ideate/Prototype/Test. As Jeff Immelt, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, urged the crowd of engineers and designers at last week’s Front End of Innovation Conference (FEI), it’s critical to “accelerate customers through the business model”.

As CMB’s VP of Strategy + Innovation, it was gratifying to hear that at FEI, “customer” wasn’t just a buzzword. In fact, there was an entire track devoted to “Customer Driven Innovation.”  In another keynote address, Dr. Peter Koen of the Stevens Institute of Technology, lectured on the incremental innovation that often comes from internal-only ideation—disruptive innovation comes from users, not corporations.” Consistent with that, manufacturing giant 3M has found its user-generated products are eight times more profitable than products generated internally.

Here’s how we incorporate Agile and Design Thinking to include customers at every phase:

  • Empathize: As you obsess your target, research and share all you know about them.
  • Define: A clear understanding of your target and their needs will help to inform a clear definition of the problem that needs solving. It answers, “What are the ‘jobs to be done’?” At least three presentations at FEI quoted Albert Einstein: If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
  • Ideate: You might not find inspiration inside the halls of your office. Instead, we take you and your customers into a creative space for an engaging and collaborative workshop that utilizes System I and System II thinking. We diverge and converge to elicit dozens of new ideas, then narrow the list and envision the path forward.
  • Prototype: This begins during the ideation workshops. We use an illustrator at your workshop who can visually record the day’s conversation and progress—sketching the ideas that teams have brainstormed.
  • Test: Test qualitatively as you build out ideas with customers. Then, test quantitatively as you move towards commercialization.

Some organizations are more open to the principles of Design Thinking than others. So how can you prepare your organization for this? Encourage an environment grounded in collaboration, where failure is expected (not just accepted) and humility is rewarded. Design Thinking is more than a process—it’s a mindset.

Contact us to learn how to tackle innovation with your customers.

Kathy Ofsthun is the VP of Qualitative Strategy + Innovation for CMB. Her favorite vacation destination is Cambodia and her favorite class is Philosophy.

 

Topics: qualitative research, growth and innovation, agile research

Telling Your Insights Story: Reflections from a 2018 Qually Award Finalist

Posted by Kelsey Segaloff

Wed, Apr 04, 2018

Earlier this year, I ditched snowy Boston for the Qualitative Research Consultants Annual Conference in sunny Phoenix. I’d been to the conference before, but this year was particularly special because I was a 2018 Qually Award Finalist—a competition that challenges researchers to demonstrate a creative approach to problem solving.

In the competition, we were asked to respond to a client RFP. The three finalists then were invited to present our proposals to a live audience at the conference. While I didn’t win the competition, it was an incredible opportunity to challenge myself to think creatively about how we can approach qualitative research.

Since working in the industry, I’ve learned that storytelling—finding and communicating the story from the data—is one of the most important skills a researcher can have. It’s our job to dig into the data and create a compelling narrative so that our clients have relatable and actionable insights.

I wanted to incorporate storytelling into my proposal in an unconventional way. So rather than looking at how other researchers tell stories, I looked outward—how are people telling and consuming stories in everyday life?

One of the most powerful and culturally-relevant ways stories are shared today is through podcasts. I listen to them every day on my way to work, so I thought, “Why not create an insights podcast?”

I proposed taking the audio gathered from in-person interviews, ethnographies, shop-a-longs, etc., and piecing them together into a podcast. It’s a simple yet powerful way to tell an insights story.

Too often our minds default to a PowerPoint presentation when we talk about storytelling. But as you’ll see in the video below, inspiration for storytelling can come from anywhere:

Kelsey Segaloff is a Senior Qualitative Associate Researcher at CMB and an avid consumer of true crime and Bachelor-themed podcasts.

 

Topics: qualitative research, storytelling, conference recap

Qualitative Research: Thinking Outside the Box(ing) Ring

Posted by Kelsey Segaloff

Wed, Aug 02, 2017

My friends and family greeted the news that I was joining a boxing gym with more than a little disbelief. Granted I am an imposing 5 feet tall and have a reputation for tripping over my own feet, so maybe they had a point. But four months and two pairs of gloves later, I’m not only fitter and stronger, I’ve learned some essential truths about boxing that I can apply to my professional life as a qualitative researcher. 

 kelsey boxing.jpg

Don’t forget the “Why”

Boxing is a commitment—physically, financially, and mentally—and it’s tempting to hit the snooze button when I don’t want to get out of bed for an early morning class. Oftentimes, I must remind myself why I keep up with it. To help motivate members, there’s a large chalkboard titled, “Why I Fight” filled with trainers’ and members’ “whys” in the front of the gym.  It’s the first thing you see when you walk in and serves as motivation to both me and fellow boxers.

Focusing on the decisions or the “why” is critical for researchers. Before kicking off a project, we work hard to fully understand our clients’ business needs and the decisions they need to make—this focus keeps us on track for everything from designing a study and choosing a methodology, all the way to the final deliverables and implementation. It’s also important to consider our participants’ “why”—that’s the reason we often use tools like projective techniques in qualitative research to dive deep into participants’ thoughts and uncover their beliefs, motivations, feelings, etc.—the old one-two punch, as some might say.

#FightFam

One of my favorite things about my gym is the sense of community it provides. My #fightfam challenges me to put my all into every class, whether it be Gennifer reassuring me I’m “crushing it,” or Roscoe in the bags room reminding the class we are winners (“And what do winners do? THEY WIN!”). While I feel a personal sense of accomplishment after every class I finish, I also feel a shared sense of pride with my fellow classmates and trainers—and that’s important.

A knockout team is also the foundation for greatness in qualitative research. At CMB, our all-star roster, VP of Qualitative Strategy + Innovation, Kathy Ofsthun, Qualitative Research Director, Anne Hooper, Qualitative Project Manager, Erin Stilphen, and I work together and encourage one another to perform at our highest capacity. We bring inventive and innovative qualitative methodologies like co-creation, and over 40 years of combined qualitative experience to the ring. We’re also adept to thinking on our toes—ask me about the time I recruited for a study in a Canadian train station! And when we need to tap other teammates, we’ve got specialized qualitative research consultants in our corner.

Master Technique, Prepare to Improvise

Boxing is known as the sweet science (the nickname is an appreciation of the technical skills required—strength, endurance, conditioning, core, and flexibility), but it’s just as much an art, requiring improvisation and creativity.

The same goes for qualitative research. We’re masters of improv, but good technique is integral. Recently, I was thrown through a loop while moderating an in-home ethnography for our self-funded research on Millennial and Gen Z use of virtual assistants (think Siri, Cortana, etc.).  Shortly into one of the interviews, it turned out the participant belonged in a different segment than what my guide had indicated. Instead of stopping the interview, I used my improvisation skills and reframed the questions without interrupting the flow of the conversation. Going a little off script helped us gather the insights we needed.

I love that I’ve discovered a sport and gym I am passionate about, and I’m even more thrilled I can draw meaningful parallels between boxing and my profession. Of course, there are times when my muscles ache, my wrists hurt, and I’m tired, but then I remind myself why I keep going. I box because it makes me stronger, faster, and confident—and that these attributes help me be a better qualitative researcher is a bonus!

kelsey boxing 2.jpg

Kelsey Segaloff is CMB’s Qualitative Associate Researcher, and can be found working on her jab-cross at EverybodyFights Boston.

 

Topics: our people, qualitative research, Consumer Pulse, co-creation

Breakthrough Innovation with Co-Creation

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Tue, Jun 06, 2017

creative mind-2.jpg

Innovative companies have long recognized that failure can be an important step on the way to success. Brands are told to “quicken the pace of innovation”, “try new things” and “don’t be afraid to fail”. But these days there’s little room for failure: the stakes are high and there’s more pressure than ever for brands to innovate. Customers have spoken and it’s time for brands to listen—to be customer-centric.

So how can brands challenge themselves to innovate and to try new things without wasting time and money?

Co-creation can help you innovate and sometimes, fail faster. This innovative approach is based on principles of Improvisation and System 1 / System 2 thinking and brings brands and customers together to ideate and build out promising new ideas, products, and services. Co-creation inserts customers directly into the conversation—not through a survey or by listening from behind the glass, but by working right next to you. Our approach lets you collaborate with your customers to decide what the issues are, where the pain points occur, where joy happens and where the opportunities lie. Then together you build that future.

Technological advances, including social media, 24/7 news, online reviews and the resulting rapid word-of-mouth, have put customers in the driver seat. It’s no longer brands talking to customers, rather, it’s a two-way conversation. Brands need to listen intently, be accessible and available, and authentically work with their consumers, instead of working in isolation, creating products and services that often don’t address customers’ needs, or messaging that misses the mark.

Co-creation eliminates the guessing game in an energetic and productive day or ½ day workshop. Facilitated by an expert moderator, a group of cross-functional stakeholders together with customers, collaborate at an offsite, creative space. Pre-work is assigned to upskill and orient participants to the topic. Using divergent and convergent methods, in plenary, small group and individual exercises, you jointly explore the relevant topic, ideate scores of new ideas and begin to build out the future, together. 

At CMB, our Innovation team has successfully led co-creation sessions for large CPG brands, insurance clients, academic institutions, hospitality execs and more.  We have explored food, beverages, loyalty, apparel, deductibles and education with Gen Z, Millennials, Moms, sneaker heads, professors, underwriters, patients, and probably your customer. 

Want to see co-creation in action? Check out this recent video of a workshop we facilitated in NYC for a global leader in hospitality.

Kathy Ofsthun is the Vice President of Qualitative Strategy + Innovation.  She is a facilitator and RIVA trained moderator and has co-created with clients and their customers in the Hospitality, CPG, Insurance and Academic industries.  Her Twitter handle is @ShopperMRX as Kathy loves to shop, hoarding shoes from heels to hiking boots.

 

Topics: product development, qualitative research, growth and innovation, co-creation

QRCA 2017 Conference Recap

Posted by Anne Hooper

Wed, Mar 01, 2017

powerofperspective-image.jpgA couple weeks ago I took a hiatus from the Boston winter and flew to sunny Los Angeles for the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) Annual Conference: The Power of Perspective. For any qualitative researcher interested in learning and connecting with the qual community, this conference is a must

For three intense days, my fellow “quallies” and I were immersed in the latest industry methods, tools, and techniques.  I’m always impressed with QRCA and this year’s theme “The Power of Perspective” didn’t disappoint.  In fact, it was one of best conferences I’ve been to in years!  I came home feeling renewed, refreshed, and reenergized with plenty of new tools for my qualitative toolbox.

While I learned a lot during those three days, a few things really stood out to me. Some of my learnings will make me a better practitioner while others went as far as making me cry.  (Yep, you read that right.  I cried.  But I swear I didn’t make that ugly cry face!). 

So here are some of my most memorable takeaways from QRCA 2017:

Theater and qualitative research are more alike than different. Theater is storytelling—stories that reflect our society, help us empathize with others, bring to life historical figures and moments, and have the power to change our perspectives. This is similar to what we do in qualitative research. We are storytellers, truth-seekers, and opinion shapers. We strive to connect with others in a meaningful way, to tell their stories, and to ultimately affect change.

Just as the protagonist is vital to a theater performance, the participant (our “protagonist”) is vital to the market research story. For our story to be successful we must fully understand them—who they are, what they want, and their situation.

Technology continues to shape qual. As new technology transforms society, it’s also reshaping the way qualitative researchers collect and analyze data. In one session, speaker Pam Goldfarb Liss spoke about the impact of new technology—for example, using virtual reality like video screens and specially outfitted wearables to let participants interact with a fabricated environment. Qual researchers are also using facial recognition software, augmented reality (i.e., virtual shop-alongs and package testing), and artificial intelligence in their work. With new technology emerging almost daily, it’s important to continue to think of ways it can help improve our work for the benefit of our participants and clients.  

Listening is powerful. Benjamin Mathes, founder of Urban Confessional*, the LA-born free listening project, lead an interactive session on listening. Urban Confessional is grounded in the belief that people just need someone to talk to and recruits volunteers to stand in public spaces and offer to lend an ear to anyone who wants to unload something.

Armed with a simple cardboard sign reading “Free Listening,” a few quallies and I hit the streets of LA to give Urban Confessional a try. Was I scared? A bit. Excited? Totally. Ready? Not at all… but what an experience! What I learned not only applies to life, but there is a direct connection to what makes for an effective qualitative researcher:

  • What others hear is more important than what we say
  • True listening is allowing someone to be completely themselves in our presence
  • Respecting silence can be really tough, but it’s important

My QRCA experience culminated in a session lead by John Boettner, Chief Enchantment Officer at Teen Press Inc. John, along with two teen journalists, spoke about the beauty and challenges of humanity and how they apply to the work that we do.

Whether you’re a qualitative researcher or not, you’ll be moved by Teen Press, maybe even to tears. Here are my key takeaways that will stay with me forever: 

  • When someone is telling their truths, things can go where you never expected them to. Embrace it and let it happen.
  • Listen to people with sincerity and a genuine desire to connect with them—when you do this, something special happens
  • Other peoples’ perspectives and stories better help us understand each other as human beings. We need to do this now more than ever.
  • Everyone has a story to share and sometimes just wants to be listened to. Be an active listener for them.
  • Embrace awkwardness, especially silence. You might learn a thing or two from it.

I could go on and on about the great things I learned at QRCA 2017, but you’d be here a while. This is just the tip of the iceberg of a conference full of tips, tricks, tools, and special moments.

I’m putting all the valuable insight I learned at QRCA to practice and am already excited for next year’s conference. See you in Phoenix for QRCA 2018!

 As CMB’s Qualitative Research Director and mom of a 15 year old daughter, Anne is thankful for teachers like John Boettner and the millions of other teachers out there that make a difference in our kids lives’ every day.  And BTW:  she’s finally stopped crying and is officially back to work.

 *Disclaimer: If you aren’t familiar with Urban Confessional, I highly recommend checking it out because it’s relevant to all of us human beings.

 

Topics: qualitative research, conference recap