In recent years innovation has led the way. There have been great strides made in how to bring products to market and in innovation itself. However, even with these great strides, there has not been a significant improvement in success rates, at least from what I have seen published. In my experience working with startups and even more mature companies, there is still that idea of product dominant logic thinking that takes place. We have a great idea and go forward with it to build a minimum viable product and find a ready market for it. I don’t want to get into all the nuances of that logic, but most understand where I am going with it.
The Lean StartupTM has brought to the forefront terms of Minimum Viable Product and Product/Market Fit. In my world of marketing, I have often worked with startups that adhere to this practice and often the product owner will feel like it is the marketer’s fault for not finding that receptive market. They will often even add features and benefits to the product that will somewhat commoditize the product as they try to match other competitors. This approach does little to increase a products possibility of success.
I look at things a little different. I believe even with a good idea that at a minimum product development and market research should be done in conjunction and with equal resources assigned. I might even favor a little more of the resources be assigned to market research.
My idea of market research is not this paralysis by analysis type thinking. I conduct research in a very active way and in conjunction with customers/prospects. The most similar approach that I have seen to my work is the idea of Action Research. Kurt Lewin, when a professor at MIT, first coined the term “action research” in 1944. By most definitions, action research is a collaborative approach to inquiry and investigation. It is practically a problem-solving methodology. What I like about is that it focuses on developing knowledge in action. It is the idea that as we research we learn with our customers. If we succeed, we not only see opportunity at the earliest moment, we are in fact part of developing the opportunity.
In the book Action Research by Ernest T. Stringer, the author describes a basic Action research routine: Look-Think-Act. The expanded outline:
- Gather relevant information (Gather data)
- Build a picture: Describe the situation (Define and describe)
- Explore and analyze: What is happening here? (Analyze)
- Interpret and explain: How/why are things as they are? (Theorize)
The authors do mention this is not the only way to conduct this style of research. I think the Lean concept of CAP-Do closely resembles this method. It is the idea of Looking/Reflection (Check), Thinking (Acting/Adjusting) and Acting (Plan-Do). The wording seems a little awkward but the meanings of the processes align.
Action Research aligns with my overall concept of marketing. Marketing has moved from a process of primarily getting the message out to one of getting the message in. Research is at the forefront of our efforts. It is the new method of developing the opportunity.