We often talk about how the world is changing faster than ever. Information can spread quickly, and people can learn about the next big thing in a matter of hours. As a point of reference, it took a mere 19 days for Pokémon Go to reach 50 million users. And that was all the way back in 2018.
At the same time, we’ve noticed that consumers are getting even more demanding. Apps like Uber have convinced us that we should expect to be served on demand. Google Now — like other virtual personal assistants — is using predictive search to determine what we want before we even know ourselves. In a world like this, how can we be expected to offer a breakthrough product or service with insights that are years old?
Unfortunately, companies have limited resources, and they can only refresh their market research on a relatively limited basis. But that’s not always a problem. Some forms of research tend to last longer than others. Accordingly, I’ve identified the approximate shelf life of several common types of research to help ensure that your organization isn’t over- or under-investing in research. I also offer a few recommendations for collecting more shelf-stable research and for finding scrappy ways to gather in-the-moment insights when you need information that is more current.
From a stability standpoint, building a strong foundation of Jobs to be Done research will help ensure that your organization has a platform of insights that can be relied on for years to come. As a general rule, the jobs that customers — including both B2B and B2C customers — are trying to get done tend to be pretty stable over time. There may be large shifts in trends, technologies, or solutions on the market; those changes can make certain jobs grow or wane in importance, or they can make some jobs easier to satisfy. But the jobs themselves tend to be durable. So while you may need to do your trend or competitor assessments on an annual basis, you won’t need to keep repeating your Jobs to be Done research.
The other key reason to maintain stable Jobs research is that it allows teams to be more agile. With that Jobs platform to pull from, teams will be prepared to respond quickly as new challenges arise, new entrants attack, and old solutions pivot into alternative designs. Rather than offering insights that are only useful for Plan A, well-designed Jobs to be Done research gives you the resources you need even as you move on to Plan B or C.
Beyond building that stable base, it’s important for teams to be scrappy in collecting the insights that do need to be surfaced more regularly. Sometimes it’s necessary to engage in costly, time-consuming research; other times, it’s not. The key is to be targeted in defining your research objectives and disciplined in following through. Too often I see omnibus research projects that try to answer dozens of different questions that have been floating around the organization. Those same projects attempt to revisit past research to see what has changed, concept test new ideas, and identify emerging trends and behaviors. Before long, the data quality is diminished and the project has grown into a costly endeavor that eats away at teams’ time and budgets.
In addition to strictly defining the boundaries of every research project, teams can also leverage the value of just-in-time research methods to quickly answer important questions. Mobile video journals can provide insights into how customers are feeling in a particular circumstance. Pop-up “lemonade stands” can quickly gauge customer reactions to a rough prototype. A short round of expert in-depth interviews can answer path-dependent questions about a proposed business model shift. By pairing the right research tactics with the right challenges, organizations can gather the insights they need without over-investing.
While the importance of deep customer and market insights can’t be overstated, it’s equally important to ensure that you’re gathering the right insights at the right time. By gathering shelf-stable research where possible, revisiting past research at the right intervals, and employing cost-effective methods for gathering new insights, teams can ensure that they’re well-positioned to satisfy today’s demanding customers without breaking the bank.
Dave Farber is a strategy and innovation consultant at New Markets Advisors. He helps companies understand customer needs, build innovation capabilities, and develop plans for growth. He is a co-author of the award-winning book Jobs to be Done: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation.