If you’ve never heard the term “Agile,” you may not be aware of the iterative and incremental methodologies that are changing the way some industries are responding to a fast-paced market. Although it was initially created for software developers, the concept is influencing other industries and is now becoming an Agile movement. For example, the market research industry is beginning to see the wisdom of agility in their own field, and market researchers are making moves to adapt Agile concepts to their profession in order to respond effectively to market changes. To understand how Agile concepts can be used in market research, it’s important to first take a look at the four main objectives of the Agile Manifesto.

  •      Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  •      Working software over comprehensive documentation
  •      Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  •      Responding to change over following a plan

Using these four objectives, software developers have created a highly flexible, adaptive method of development, designing better products and fostering stronger client relationships without attaching extra expenses. The process works mostly by breaking down a large project into iterations. Development teams work to complete iterations, which are essentially segments of the project as a whole. The team works on one iteration at a time and reviews it frequently in order to discover what steps should be taken for the next segment.

For both software development and market research, the main function of Agile is to keep up with a fast-paced market. Imagine this: you conduct lengthy trials on a new product and a marketing team puts together a master marketing campaign based on the results. However, during the time it took to conduct the research and create the campaign, another company released a similar product that is performing better because of the material they used. For your company, it may be back to the drawing board – this time with fewer resources and capital.

Agile stresses a rapid, iterative approach to research and market strategy to get product out there, receive feedback, and make changes to keep up with a fluctuating market.

In a way, using Agile for market research is not a new concept. There are some striking similarities between the way research is conducted and the concepts in the Agile Manifesto. However, it bears significance to look at market research from the viewpoint of Agile methods to think more deeply about agility in the way that projects are managed. One way we can do this is to compare market research concepts with the four main objectives of the Agile Manifesto.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

The Agile Manifesto values the interaction of individuals and the resulting insights over processes and tools. In practical terms, this means that teamwork and collaboration among key players is far more essential to the success of a project than a predefined process, or the tools utilized. This is something that research marketers can relate to, as it takes the collaboration of a research team to create and execute research strategy. More importantly, individuals and interactions can be used to quickly receive feedback from test subjects or consumers so that the next iteration of research can be conducted, or the next iteration of the product can be released without undue delay. Researchers are also consistently seeking the human element of any market research study. The biggest questions in market research have to do with consumer behavior, understanding human intention and how people specifically interact with brands and each other.

Working software over comprehensive documentation

In a software development iteration, the focus is to ensure that the segment of the product in development is fully functional at the end of the iteration, or that the newest version of the software as a whole is ready to be released. In market research, the purpose is to help develop a better product or a more satisfactory experience. Hence, each iteration of research is intended to develop a working product, not merely documentation of consumer responses.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

This is an essential objective, especially if you’re customer-facing. In its essence, it makes the claim that prioritizing collaboration with customers over strictly adhering to a contract fosters better customer relationships and ensures that the customer is satisfied with the result. If you or your team are conducting research on behalf of a client, making frequent contact is fundamental to ensuring that the research is accomplishing what it was set out to do. We can also refer back to the “individuals and interactions” objective in this case and remind ourselves that transparent communication with customers is a key tool for rapidly completing research and product iterations, as feedback is critical to effective research.

While many researchers are experts in a number of areas, in collaborating with the client, it’s imperative to remember that their experience and understanding of their business and brand are  essential resources that can be tapped into in order to create the most optimal outcome. Research is a service industry and constantly renegotiating inflexible contracts will eat up valuable planning time and create a less inviting environment for the customer. Enable the collaborative atmosphere by keeping contracts flexible within reason and keep the client in loop throughout the design and execution process.

Responding to change over following a plan

The foundation of Agile is being able to respond to changes if and when they occur. While it is important to begin with a plan, if changes occur that may affect market response, and researchers can’t respond effectively to those changes, the results may be less than satisfactory. Like the example given above, it is better to absorb constant feedback from the market and make quick pivots than to spend time and money building a product that the market will close its doors to.

Each of these objectives are meant to help market researchers build profitable products and respond to changing markets. With rapid iterations and constant feedback, market researchers have the ability to bend with the tide of consumer demand, something that traditional methods are slower to accomplish. But, in a market that moves quickly and where products can become obsolete almost as fast as they’re released, market research needs to be as quick and adaptable as the market itself.

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