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Yes, Virginia, Quantitative Data Has a Role in Innovation

Quantitative Research

As a research firm supporting our clients’ innovation efforts, I get asked at least once a week: “Do you guys do quantitative research?” If you were wondering, the answer is a resounding yes! Tools of innovation and insight generation are not limited to ethnographies, focus groups, telephone interviews, and other qualitative research practices.

Where things get tricky is fully understanding what quantitative research can do for you in your innovation process.

Put simply, quantitative research is a measurement tool. It does not measure behaviors; it only quantifies the prevalence of things in your study population. And these things are limited to the following:  perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, opinions, memory, and choices.

While we still ask about purchase intent frequently in quantitative surveys, debate exists about the question’s predictive ability. If you think about it, purchase intent is nothing more than an opinion or attitude at a point in time.

Purchase intent is often used to mitigate product launch risk. If enough of the right people give a “thumbs up,” an investment decision is recommended. The downside:  as Americans, we love choice. There is evidence that, in surveys, too many people “raise their hand” and a lot fewer follow through and buy.

We think that you should measure different things at each step in your innovation process. For example, what is the exact proportion of your target population who shares the motivating need or insight? Aside from purchase intent, how do we determine which idea or concept does the best job of addressing the identified need? What is the optimal combination of benefits and features that will drive the greatest customer utility? And, most importantly, what is the pricing expectation?

In the past few years, there have some significant advancements in our tools: Max Diff, Discrete Choice, Adaptive Choice Based Conjoint Analysis, and more. (All great terms to impress your friends and associates.) Each tool works best at different points in a Stage-Gate® process.

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