Why Businesses Need to Rely on Agile Market Research


To say 2020 has been an unpredictable year would be the understatement of the century. We were entirely unprepared for the Coronavirus pandemic, a crisis of epic proportions, and everyone has been forced to find their footing and adapt the best they can to this new reality on the fly while operating in a state of constant flux.

Modern businesses face marketplaces that are more complex and difficult to navigate than ever before. Innovation cycles are shortening, budgets are shrinking, competition is increasing, and consumer behaviors and attitudes – across every generation – are changing by the day. It’s difficult for a business just to keep up, let alone be a market leader.

What does agile mean, and where does it fit in?

While it’s not a silver bullet for these challenges, agile market research is the next best thing. But what does agile mean, and how does it differ from other types of market research?

Some will think of agility and believe that it just means fast. While speed is one of the characteristics of agile market research, it includes so much more. Remember, fast can also be unreliable, and when building strategies, products, or marketing campaigns that can mean the ultimate success or failure of your brand, it would be irresponsible to leave so much up to chance.

Let’s look at the 40/70 rule, coined by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. This concept states that, when making a decision, you should wait until you have at least 40% of the information required, but you also shouldn’t hold off on moving forward if you have at least 70%. Otherwise, you’re either going to be woefully unprepared on the low end of the spectrum or, if you wait too long after you reach the high end of the spectrum, somebody else will beat you to the punch.

Applied to the world of market research and when executed properly, agile hits the sweet spot or the Goldilocks Zone. When you apply the learnings from agile research, you’ll be able to make a decision based on reliable data and audience intelligence so that it hits the mark, but not wait so long as to see your competitor beat you to the market.

Why is this important?

The benefits of agile market research are numerous, and leading brands around the world have been reaping them for years.

Not only does agile help you get closer to your audience and create strategies and products that actually resonate with them, but you’ll be doing so faster and with more confidence than just going out there making major decisions on a whim and a hunch.

This is because a major strength of agile research is iteration. When beginning a new research initiative, you can’t just assume you know the perfect approach on day one. You likely have an idea of the areas you should focus on and the questions you should be asking, but thinking you know beyond a shadow of a doubt would be incredibly arrogant and misguided. But with agile you can fine-tune your approach over time, using insights you gather from one phase of research to inform even smarter and pointed research in the future. In the end, this yields even more trusted, accurate, and actionable insights.

Remember those constantly changing consumers we mentioned earlier, the ones that brands are so desperately looking to win over? With agile research, you can adapt to changes in their attitudes and behaviors much more quickly and gain a competitive advantage by proactively innovating to meet their needs.

And to cap it all off, agile makes a lot of financial sense. It’s important to note that traditional or highly customized research can be incredibly expensive, while DIY options are extremely labor-intensive. With budgets either stagnant or shrinking and internal research resources already stretched to their limit, agile offers a more cost-effective approach.

The value of agile

With the onset of COVID-19, brands faced a major predicament. How could they continue to conduct business at a time when so many aspects of their consumers’ lives had fundamentally changed in a matter of days? How could brands continue to sell products and services to gain revenue they depend on, but with empathetic messaging that would resonate and not be tone-deaf in this new reality? Suddenly, business strategies that were set heading into the year didn’t seem so clear.

To see the value of agile in action, let’s consider a hypothetical scenario in which a brand decided to tackle a challenge brought on by COVID-19 by relying on agile research. A member of this company’s executive team noticed that usage of the brand’s smartphone had increased significantly, but completed purchases and revenue from the app had grown minimally. Leadership deduced that while they were the leading brand in the category, they had a very subpar mobile app in comparison to the rest of their competition.

In an effort to combat this, the company conducted an online focus group to gain some qualitative feedback from real consumers. In a matter of two weeks, the company was able to confirm their assumptions that the app was outdated and difficult to use, so much so that exasperated consumers just decided to purchase similar products from a competitor. The focus group also uncovered specific areas and features of the app that users disliked, along with suggestions for how those could be improved.

The company decided it was time to upgrade their app in order to regain lost market share and increase revenue. Leveraging insights gathered from the focus group, the company executed a round of quantitative research and asked hundreds of consumers within their target demographic which features and functionalities should be prioritized in the new app and which should be dropped. They also mocked up several different versions of the app, and survey respondents were able to rank which variations they liked best.

In the end, the company was able to roll out its revamped app in just under two months and it ended up being a resounding success. By taking an agile approach, the company received the insights they needed quickly and used each round of feedback to inform the next phase of research. If the company had instead chosen a traditional or custom research approach, the process would not only have taken several months to complete, but would have also been less flexible to the demands of their app’s users. In turn, the company likely would have suffered lower revenues and the potential loss of even more market share.

When you think of “agile research,” don’t jump to conclusions and assume it means “quick and dirty.” When executed correctly, it really means taking decisive action quickly based on audience insights and intelligence that you can stake your business on to gain a competitive advantage, grow market share, and increase revenue.

Nick Herff is the Content Strategy Manager at GutCheck, a Denver-based market research firm that specializes in delivering agile insights to leading brands across a wide variety of industries, all over the world.

Agile research is just one of the topics covered in our affordable online Principles Express course, Emerging Methods and the Future of Market Research. We are grateful for this course to be sponsored by Dynata, a global leader in providing accurate, timely, trusted data from one of the world’s largest collections of permissioned first-party data. Such sponsorships have funded the development of our new line of Principles Express courses, a portfolio of $359 online courses that let you master a research skill, at your own pace, with just 9 to 14 hours of study.

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