One of the reasons why this blogger and many innovation researchers are skeptical of traditional market research methods, such as surveys and focus groups, is the importance of contextual knowledge and sticky information. Users sometimes fib on surveys but more importantly they don’t know what information is relevent. Hence a long history of suggested approaches that more completely involve/immerse the researcher such as site visits, ethnographic techniques, probe and learn, experimentation and effectuation.
Studies by Gabriel Szulanski, Eric von Hippel and others have shown how difficulty it is to verbally transmit key information: even within the same firm. I had personal experience with this phenomenon when I moved to Hong Kong.
For a couple of years in Chicago I was making a morning call to some institutional bond and derivative clients in the US and Asia. After I moved to Hong Kong one of the Asian accounts commented that my trading ideas did not seem as fresh. I initially blamed it on how busy I was running an Asian sales operation and increased my efforts to read research and study charts.
It dawned on me later that what was missing was my 45 minute train ride with the department economist in the morning and my chat with Tommy Tubz and the other floor people at the CBOT before they went to work. I regularly called Tommy and our economist and they diligently tried to convey all of their important information to me in 5 minute phone calls… but I was missing a lot of information that probably none of us might identify as important!
This raw information, including context, is valuable. Firms must be aware of sticky or contextual data and use more invasive market research tools.
This phenomenon is also another concern of mine about outsourcing. Information and ideas from factory workers and service reps are key inputs into new product development. What happens to this key information when production and service are outsourced???