Agile in Action: 3 Takeaways from IIeX 2020

IIeX looked a lot different this year. But just because we participated from the comfort of our homes doesn’t mean we skimped on the quality of our content. Sarah Snudden, aytm’s VP of Digital Transformation had a virtual sit down with Diego Han, Sr. Manager, Analytics & Insights, North America Oral Care at P&G, and Heather Dallam, Global Fuels Market Research & Data Analytics Manager at ExxonMobil, to talk shop about everything agile.

Their first order of business: to define what agile even means. Here’s how they see it.

Agile is about being able to adapt quickly to the changing wants and needs of consumers. It’s the ability to conduct iterative tests, bringing the consumer along at every touchpoint. This allows you to adapt with them instead of putting all your eggs in one or two giant baskets (studies). While most think of agile as being just about speed, it’s just as much about being more effective and learning as you go.

Agile tools also help democratize insights, empowering stakeholders who may not know how to conduct research to deploy studies quickly. 

When working with teams of engineers with a focus on design thinking, agile enables you to get those little boosts of feedback when you need them, helping you improve upon your products before launching them to the general public. 

From picking a name to deciding on a claim to product packaging and pricing, an agile methodology can help you get the answers you need and get you to market faster.

Below are three key takeaways from their conversation at IIeX.

1. Agile results in massive time savings

At ExxonMobil, Heather Dallam faced some serious challenges amid a global pandemic that saw the price of oil drop dramatically, while consumers also suddenly stopped driving their cars. Even though her research budget was slashed, she needed to uncover consumer insights more than ever because of all the change going on in the world.

Transitioning to an agile approach allowed ExxonMobil to quickly pivot and conduct research in more than 20 markets simultaneously. 

Because they no longer had the budget available to work with several of their go-to market research suppliers, ExxonMobil was forced to teach many of its internal team members to become researchers overnight. 

Heather sees this as an unintended benefit. Most people she worked with had never done research before. Suddenly, they needed the ability to write a survey, moderate online sessions with consumers, and really focus their efforts on what they were trying to learn to maximize the limited real estate available in their surveys. 

What they found at ExxonMobil is that what would typically take them 6-8 months to implement was now taking them 4-8 weeks to go from survey development all the way to implementation of the results. That’s the magic of agile research. 

2. Agile prepares you for the next normal

There’s a not so old adage that goes, “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” 

This proved true for Diego Hahn. When the pandemic hit, it was business as usual at P&G. Because they had already adopted an agile mindset two years prior, conducting both qualitative and quantitative tests virtually, leveraging DIY tools, and becoming accustomed to running their own research as opposed to farming it out to traditional full-service firms, they were able to move forward without missing a beat. 

The next time, if it’s not a global crisis, it will be an innovative start-up or challenger brand forcing your hand. Change is inevitable. You need to be ready.

3. Agile requires a mindset shift

The most valuable consumer insights stem from a continuous conversation between researchers and consumers. You wouldn’t want to directly ask them what product they want you to create next. You want to learn about who they are as people, and from that, you get deep insight into their unmet needs.

As an insights professional, agile transformation requires that you let go of your own agenda, removing your attachment to uncovering only what you want to learn, but being open to understanding what the consumer is truly thinking. Consider the work you’re doing as listening and being attuned to what people want and need from the products or services you want to connect them with. 

Getting your team on board with an agile approach is all about how you position it. Let them know what’s in it for them. Tell them that you’re all going to learn something new together, they’ll have a better connection to consumers, it’ll look good on their performance evaluation, etc. 

Take away all of their reasons not to believe in agile and give them plenty of reasons to embrace it.

Combining the old with the new

There are some situations where an agile approach to market research may not be ideal. For example, when it comes to large-scale changes to things like brand positioning, segmentation, and other bigger, broader, global initiatives. 

However, you usually have the ability to add in some agile elements to more extensive research projects. For instance, if your brand repositioning is slated to take 18 months to complete, you can offer little check-ins along the way to ensure you’re still aligned with the wants of the consumer. Taking a broad, long-term view and then breaking it into smaller parts helps to make it more bite-sized and digestible for your team. 

Grounded in the same principles and best practices of traditional market research, agile has been adapted to fit your needs, and any time or budget constraints you have. Savvy researchers are leveraging their learnings from conventional research methodologies to inform agile studies with sound strategies that have proven to work well in the past. 

Ready to shift your team to agile, iterative research? Contact us to learn more.