Conference Update

Where is 2011 going? It feels like only yesterday the year was beginning and now April is almost complete.

I had the opportunity to speak at a Marcus Evans conference at the end of March, on the intersection of research and innovation. My talk was mainly about the research technique of in-home ethnography (or applied ethnography) and how we use this type of research to drive insights to help the product innovation process.

Over the many years I’ve been doing research, it has become more and more critical to me to actually intersect with consumers in the spheres where they are actually using products. When I first learned about conjoint (which was *the* sexy research technique for a while), the whole sales pitch was around how this recreated a “realistic” marketplace, because consumers are forced to make choices based on variables like brand, price and features. While conjoint isn’t as sexy anymore, the in-home study has risen in prominence as a way to feel very close to consumers.

This is because there is no substitute for seeing someone use your product in the way they do every day. While surveys are useful and provide quick hits for feedback, getting into the consumer’s mind and having a picture of a consumer can change the mindset of a product, marketing or design person. You have someone real to hang your hat onto  — and an ability to see the distractions from your product.

My talk at this conference in March focused on specific exercises for in home interviews that linked to things that we desperately needed to understand – either for search while I was at Ask or on products in the AOL Applications and Commerce Group.

Other talks focused on how to manage an innovation pipeline. It was interesting to hear how product managers take insights and then merge those with industry trends and competitive threats to develop new products. The team at Sunny Delight is doing some interesting work, and I got to hear from Coleman Products and Allstate Insurance too. This enjoyable aspect of this conference was that they deliberately keep attendance low. With significantly fewer people there is a greater opportunity to network and deeply discuss with folks how they area apply their research findings.

It’s always great food for thought to be able to talk to other people who do what you do, but in disparate industries. I’m still mulling over ways that CPG and insurance companies deal with their pipeline and how to apply other innovation tools to our processes.