Giving the Customer a Voice: A Study of Market Research Methods and Their Perceived Effectiveness in NPD

Christopher Van der Hoven, Adela Michea, Claus Varnes, Keith Goffin

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There is a widely held view that a lack of, “…customer understanding,” is one of the main reasons for product failure (Eliashberg et al., 1997, p. 219). This is despite the fact that new product development (NPD) is a crucial business process for many companies. The importance of integrating the voice of the customer (VoC) through market research is well documented (Davis, 1993; Mullins and Sutherland, 1998; Cooper et al., 2002; Flint, 2002; Davilla et al., 2006; Cooper and Edgett, 2008; Cooper and Dreher, 2010; Goffin and Mitchell, 2010).
However, not all research methods are well received, for example there are studies that have strongly criticized focus groups, interviews and surveys (e.g. Ulwick, 2002; Goffin et al, 2010; Sandberg, 2002). In particular, a point is made that, “…traditional market research and development approaches proved to be particularly ill-suited to breakthrough products” (Deszca et al, 2010, p613). Therefore, in situations where traditional techniques - interviews and focus groups - are ineffective, the question is which market research techniques are appropriate, particularly for developing breakthrough products? To investigate this, an attempt was made to access the knowledge of market research practitioners from agencies with a reputation for their work on breakthrough NPD. We were surprised to find that this research had not been conducted previously.
In order to make it possible for the sample of 24 market research experts identified for this study to share their knowledge, repertory grid technique was used. This psychology based method particularly seeks out tacit knowledge by using indepth interviews. In this case the interviews were conducted with professionals from leading market research agencies in two countries. The resulting data provided two unique insights: they highlighted the attributes of market research methods which made them effective at identifying customers’ needs and they showed how different methods were perceived against these attributes.
This article starts with a review of the literature on different methods for conducting market research to identify customer needs. The conclusions from the literature are then used to define the research question. We explain our choice of methodology, including the data collection and analysis approach. Next the key results are presented. Finally, the discussion section identifies the key insights, clarifies the limitations of the research, suggests areas for future research, and draws
implications for managers.
We conclude that existing research is not aligned with regard to which methods (or combination of methods) are best suited to the various stages of the NPD process. We have set out the challenges and our own intended work in this regard in our section on ‘further research’. Also, the existing literature does not explicitly seek the perceptions of practitioner experts based in market research agencies. This we have started to address, and we acknowledge that further work is required.
Although our research in ongoing, it has already yielded the first view of a model of the perceptions of 24 expert market researchers in the UK and Denmark. Based on the explanation of these experts, the model situates a derived set of categories in a manner that reflects the way in which they are inter-linked. We believe that our model begins to deal with the gaps and anomalies in the existing research into VoC methods.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2013
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventThe 20th International Product Development Management Conference. IPDMC 2013: Re-Enchanting Technology - Dauphine University and MINES ParisTech, Paris, France
Duration: 23 Jun 201325 Jun 2013
Conference number: 20


ConferenceThe 20th International Product Development Management Conference. IPDMC 2013
LocationDauphine University and MINES ParisTech
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