Do you have the authority to research innovation?

30 Apr 2006|Darrel Rhea

Making innovation happen in the best environment is tough. Making innovation happen when the lines of authority are foggy is exponentially harder.

In the ideal world, someone owns each of your company’s brands. That is, he or she is accountable for the brand’s performance, and has the authority to control brand touch points and mandate changes. Without this structure of authority, there will be “brand by committee,” or “brand by politics,” or “brand by pecking order.” Usually it’s all three, and usually it’s ugly. If this occurs in a franchise business, which is where many consumer products and services are distributed, it’s worse than ugly.

If you are the brand manager and you own a brand, your responsibility is to define the brand experience. If it is clearly articulated (functional benefits, emotional benefits, economic benefits, and an explicit way the brand creates meaning in our culture), you can define criteria to evaluate how the brand is delivering today. And you can provide a tight creative brief for efforts to improve it. This focus provides a critical context for innovation research.

Defining objectives is critical

With a defined brand experience objective, we can use research to assess the performance of those design elements that we hope will trigger the desired customer experience. Design research gets pretty straight forward at that point. You need clear objectives for how the design will stimulate attitudes and behavior, and need clear a definition of metrics for research to measure those attitudes and behavior.

Sure, we can screw up by using inappropriate methodologies or misinterpreting consumer response, but the greater risk is in not defining what we are researching and why.

Messing up the how is less critical. Why? Because smart people can use different tools and accomplish the same result. A master carpenter can still craft a beautiful door even using different tools than another carpenter might use. I can garner good insights from the application of any research method, whether qual, quant, ethnography, etc. Some tools are more efficient and easier than others, but a master will get the job done regardless. And if there is no master, there are usually smart people around and they will still get most of it right.

Getting clarity

On the other hand, if we research the wrong thing, the wrong issue, use the wrong stimuli…we’re sunk. It’s a typical case of garbage in, garbage out. The chances of making these kinds of mistakes go up exponentially when the brand design objectives are not crystal clear across the group involved with the research. Too often there is a hope that clarity will emerge from the research, but to hope that research will reveal what the design objectives should have been in the first place is seriously bad practice.

Research can reveal what the design objectives should be, but it can only do so if done in a separate and earlier phase than evaluating creative executions. First, Contextual Research tells us what the opportunity is, who it is with, and why. We can use it to create design principles for success. Then we can do Generative Research that lets us explore and optimize concepts. Last, we do Evaluative Research to validate our concepts. Market researchers know how to do Evaluative Research. They are less capable when trying to stimulate creativity and innovation. That is what Design Research focuses on.

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