Curiosity and the Cat: Bringing Agile Research to CLTs and Focus Groups

curious cat looking out window

At the 10th Annual MSMR Insights Conference at the University of Texas at Arlington last week, Jodie McInerney and Sandip Narang of Burke discussed how they applied agile techniques to in-person research. Their client, a cat litter brand team, needed a new strategic innovation to drive brand share – and gave Burke five weeks to optimize a concept. Where in the past the brand might have taken eight months to move systematically through concept, positioning, name, and package tests, that traditional process wouldn’t work in this case.

The client’s key learning objectives were:

  1. Motivating benefits and RTBs (Reasons To Believe) vs. the competition and benchmarks.
  2. Packaging design that delivered the idea best and created purchase interest vs. competition and benchmarks.
  3. Most preferred product name.
  4. Name and product fit with top benefits/RTBs.
  5. Complete concepts (RTB + Package Design + Name) created from learning on individual components.

The five-week schedule ended up like this:

  1. Secure project funding and approval and start recruiting for in-person research.
  2. Brainstorm RTBs, benefits, names, and packaging.
  3. Develop creative for all components and finalize recruiting.
  4. Run CLTs (Central Location Tests) and focus groups and start analysis and reporting.
  5. Finish analysis and reporting (formal documentation).

The beating heart of agile research is iteration, and in this methodology the iteration happens at a CLT facility:

  1. Gather 25 to 30 participants in a central location.
  2. Evaluate ideas and concepts using quantitative research, with results shown in real time in the back room (90-minute session).
  3. Choose 6 to 10 ideal participants to stay for a qualitative session (also a 90-minute session).
  4. Explore the “why” behind the “what,” with a moderator working with the group to understand why participants responded the way they did.
  5. Refine the stimuli based on what has been learnt from this group of participants, adding, changing, dropping concepts, and then reviewing the survey instrument.

Through iteration, the appeal of the leading concept climbed with each session, as new ideas were added and optimized.

What really makes the technique powerful is that everyone is present, to reduce friction and downtime. The whole product team committed to working in the back room: the brand team, marketing manager, creative/designer, brand manager, innovation insights manager, as well as the Burke team. As ideas were explored quantitatively and qualitatively, the team learnt as they worked: new ideas were evaluated, adjusted, and retested based on real-time consumer input. It inspired the team – everyone contributed, and the team left knowing what to do next. As an unexpected benefit, the multifunctional team’s collaboration created excitement for the resulting ideas.

Deliver results on a five-week schedule?! The client had everything they needed at the end of the fourth week, as the fifth week was used for final documentation. Agile in-person research enables teams to learn in the moment, iterate, evolve, and improve ideas quickly.

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