4 Key Roles Market Research Plays in the Innovation Process

When people think about innovation, generation-changing inventions like the car, the iPhone, and Tesla generally come to mind. These innovations are typically dreamed up by visionaries who we think possess a precognition of the world compared to their present day. The role market research plays is often devalued.

We have all heard these quotes from famous innovators:

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”– Henry Ford

“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”– Steve Jobs

There are plenty of articles that address the fallacies of these quotes (and the fact that Henry Ford never said his!), so I promise this isn’t another one of those. However, these quotes do demonstrate the misunderstanding of the value/role market researchers play in the innovation process. The goal of market research (MR) in early innovation isn’t to identify what to build, and this misunderstanding needs to be addressed within organizations.

So you may be asked, if MR doesn’t tell us the innovation to build, what value does it provide? Quester believes MR plays four key roles in the innovation process:

  • Provide an innovation framework that identifies consumer needs
  • Focus the innovation process on a Problem>Solution Fit
  • Identify short-, mid-, and long-term opportunities
  • Provide guardrails for innovation

Provide a Framework

MR is the tool that shines the spotlight on key unmet needs. There are several ways this can be achieved, but the best innovation practices put a disciplined framework in place. For instance, Quester utilizes a specific Jobs To be Done (JTBD) approach that identifies the needs within an area/category. Through JTBD, individuals are able to clearly identify the goal they are trying to accomplish (job spec), the products they hire and fire to fulfill that job, and the areas where their needs aren’t being met.

Focus on a Problem > Solution Fit

If you’ve been involved in the innovation process long enough, chances are you’ve been part of one or more that have failed. Often times, organizations focus on a Product/Market Fit which starts with building a product (though this isn’t ideal, we get it, and we can help). This can lead to innovation bias and a belief that a market will adopt an innovation without the need for any changes. However, insights can ground organizations in the problems and needs of their consumer and shift the approach from a Product/Market Fit to a Problem/Solution Fit, allowing for a greater chance of a successful innovation.

Identify Short-, Mid-, and Long-Term Opportunities

Innovation often focuses on the long-term opportunity. However, while working through the unmet needs process, MR pinpoints the short- and mid-term opportunities as well. The short-term opportunities could simply be repositioning the current brand to better align with consumer needs. The mid-term should focus on current products within a pipeline that would fulfill jobs. Keeping each of these areas constantly in mind will increase the success rate of current and future innovations.

Provide Guardrails for Innovation

MR, when executed well, can also provide innovation guardrails and areas of caution to be mindful of. It’s important to understand the consumer mindset and the space where they think brands can and should play. That isn’t to say innovation always needs to be within the brand’s core competency — or that this can’t change over time — however, this is the first step in building a long-term innovation roadmap that helps businesses expand their areas of consideration.

At its best, this process combines deep understanding, a system for evaluation, and thoughtful strategy. It’s not about the clever visionary – it’s about the consumer. To put it bluntly – the goal of market research should be to develop a sense of empathy for the consumer and a passionate drive to create solutions they need and want. By outlining the key role that market research can play in innovation, we can shift the misconceptions away from MR receiving the blame of failed innovations to being the foundation for their success.





  • Patrick Arminio

    As VP of Client Services and Content, Patrick helps clients identify actionable research opportunities to help drive their business results. He is also the self-appointed Minister of Fun.

    Despite missing half of the decade, Patrick loves all things 80’s. Hair bands, power ballads, MacGyver and Mullets…talk about a Golden Era! Coincidentally, he has a very patient and accommodating wife. Summer is his favorite season…sun’s out, guns out!

    Patrick’s favorite thing about Quester is the people. Some of the smartest people in the industry work here. Their passion for language and research is obvious in every project we do. We’re all one big happy family – some would say we are closer than the Tanner’s from Full House.

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