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TMRE 2010: Explor Awards Finalists profiled

After a great presentation by Chris Anderson the Explor panel got off to a bit of a late start.

During setup Matt Dusig and Beth Rounds did a pretty fair imitation of an NPR comedy special intro – vamping for time as well as I’ve seen.

Matt led with a video clip from Simon Sinek, featuring his Golden Circle of innovative thought. Thesis? Innovators like Apple, MLK, Wright brothers think in a very different pattern from most of us.

We tend to start with what we are doing or want to do, go to how we would do it, and sometimes (pretty rarely when you think about it) trouble to arrive at why we do it?
Innovators start with the why and end with what.

If Apple were like the rest of us? They would say something like “We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. Want to buy one?” That’s starting with the USP and proceeding to the pitch.

What they really do is start with their “why”: We believe in challenging the status quo and thinking differently. We do that by making all our products beautifully designed and friendly to the user. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?

We could quibble with this, but Simon does a better job of this and probably can sell it. For the video, you can go over to

The finalists, as you know, are eBay, American Water, and ANZ Bank (New Zealand, which earns the “here from far away” award as soon as we get it back from the bronzer.

Later presentations this afternoon will present the nominated case studies in detail. Here we’ll just talk about the themes that emerged in the panel discussion.

What caught my ear first and wouldn’t let go for a while: American Water’s TIP (Target Identification Project) apparently delivered them new ways of opening and maintaining channels of communication between their management and the civic and business leaders who are their primary stakeholders – taking them beyond the relationship sell. Since almost everything we read stresses the importance of establishing and keeping up relationships with customers, I can’t wait to hear the details on that one.

A larger point is that innovation can be revolutionary and broad brush, but it can also be incremental – an accretion of small and continual improvements in product and process.

Part of eBay’s story (much more to follow) involved using storyboards to research product innovations by showing the consumer how the product would affect them and their experience.

Selling innovation within upper managment? It has to be done. Innovation can’t survive without buy-in and continuous support from upper management. But upper management doesn’t care about innovation in research or innovation qua innovation. They care about outcomes and advantage.

Moral for research? We care about the sizzle and internal researchers do as well. But we have to sell management the steak. What’s in it for them and what difference will it make?

And passion is important. Within conservation organizations like American Water, there is a reflexively cool reception to innovation. Selling a new approach must be justified by effects on the bottom line but must also be sold and resold by passionately committed managers. If you want them to believe, you have to believe double.

For at least two of the research providers on the panel, innovation is part of the DNA. Invoke was founded on an innovative platform and continues to involve clients in developing and refining their product and service offerings. Touchpoint, the ANZ partner, is a technology based company which eats innovation for breakfast and is founded on curiosity. As a technology resource, they interface with a wide variety of categories and are able to cross-pollinate by adapting innovative practices from one vertical for another.

Ian Lewis, from the floor, asked the panel to identify the most disruptive and innovative techniques and trends that would influence market research in coming years (hope I got that right, Ian).

I think we would have had a strong discussion except for the time constraints that squeezed the debate. Whatever the enabling technology or process, the panel agreed that the most important concerns are broadened and active and full duplex communications between the organization and the stakeholder, between senior managers and internal researchers, and between research buying clients and research providing suppliers.

The winner will be announced this afternoon. Stay tuned.

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