In January 2006, during the National Marketing Day organised by Adetem, Romain Moronzier from Danone Research told me about a problem his team was tackling: How to evaluate the relevance of disruptive technology with consumers, namely when it implies new habits or gestures.
The problem of testing disruptive innovation is indeed a recurring problem in market research: confronted with innovation, the consumer can turn out to be a poor evaluator and to give arbitrary answers that say nothing about the future success or failure of the innovation being tested.
The question raised by Danone Research reminds me of a conversation I had a few months earlier with Christophe Rebours, the founder of the management and innovation agency In Process. Christophe mentioned the launch of the talking rabbit Nabaztag and explained to me that with such an atypical product the approach adopted had consisted of not conducting a test with consumers but of launching the product on a small scale to observe whether or not it would find its place within the community of first users.
The best way to find out whether an innovation is going to work, is to make it live. However, our customers can’t afford to repeat launches “just to see”. With Danone Research we looked for an approach which, with a reduced cost and in a short time, would enable us to test innovations by integrating two dimensions which seem essential to the relevance of the innovation test: experience and exchange.
It is a fact that in the absence of concrete experience consumers find it hard to anticipate:
. they find themselves locked up within their perceptive frameworks based on a past experience and one probably not relevant to the innovation being tested,
. in addition when the concept is being tested they tend to call upon rational thoughts, whereas the body, sensations and emotions are insufficiently relied on.
At the same time, the manufacturer also ignores how the innovation will be appropriated or used by the future consumer (concerning this François Laurent was telling me how surprised clients who had commissioned an experiment with television on mobile phones were: the majority of uses were not outside the home, as expected, but in bed)
The dimension of exchange is another component we believe to be essential for testing innovations: the importance of the impact of word-to-mouth between consumers is growing. Today, the asymmetric relation between a communicating brand and the consumer as a simple receiver is no longer accepted. Consumers refer more to their peers, namely via the Blogosphere which provides them with a new realm of expression, exchange, reference and will soon help them in their decisions too.
Our research protocol therefore had to respect these two conditions of experience and exchange:
. a prototype tested in the conditions of actual use,
. with communication between users and namely a dissemination of uses and perceptions.
That is how we came to launch Home Use Blog: a community of consumers who test a product and share their experiences on a Blog. At the same time as the consumer Blog, a discussion forum enables exchanges within the project team (client company, market research institute…).
The Home Use Blog protocol is simple:
. we recruit 10 to 15 consumers,
. each participant is interviewed separately and is instructed on how to use the community Blog. Participants are given a product to test during a given period, 10 days to a fortnight in the studies already conducted,
. during this test period respondents share on a daily basis their experiences on the Blog, via texts, images, emoticons, etc. Thus generating an effect of amplification and acceleration (one use test generates x tests with immediate validation or invalidation) and an effect of regulating and testing the duration of opinions and practises.
The findings gathered are extremely instructive especially thanks to the special aspects of the Blog as a communication tool, it being at the same time private and social. And unlike focus groups where the effects of leading may perturb the reliability of the information, the experiences or the opinions of the other participants are taken onboard and reinterpreted but without altering their individuality.
In the end, the Home Use Blog is a wonderful, adaptable and quick experimental tool, in line with clients’ timing, an impressive tool for exchange (between consumers, between consumers and manufacturers and between the members of the project team) and for getting close to consumers. This protocol is perfectly in synch with the strategy adopted by brands of placing the consumer at the heart of the innovation process.
The use of the Blog as an information gathering tool in innovation tests has a promising future before it. We would like to conduct experiments with larger samples of consumers soon.
This method was the object of a joint Danone Research / Repères presentation at SEMO, the market research exhibition which was held on 7th and 8th November 2006.