Unearth the power of declared data
Insights That Work
Brand & Retailer tickets for all IIeX events now start at just $99! Get or give one today!

Innovation: Everything Is Incremental

At The Market Research Event in Orlando, Nokia's Dr. Oskar Korkman discussed how his company uses consumer practice as a starting point for innovation. His research puts the customer at the heart of product development and marketing, in four main ways.


Editor’s Note: Due to scheduling conflicts I was not able to attend TMRE this year, but the research blogging community was well represented and there is a ton of coverage available. The Affinnova Crew (as usual!) provided wonderful blog posts that you can find here. Annie Pettit also provides a great overview of many of the sessions here,  and of course The Market Research Event blog has a plethora of great content as well.

Frequent GreenBook Blog contributor Tamara Barber of Affinnova has a summary of one of the sessions on innovation just for us, and a few other folks have told me they will have posts for GreenBook Blog readers as well so keep your eyes peeled for them.  Enjoy Tamara’s post, it is thought provoking!


 By Tamara Barber

At The Market Research Event in Orlando, Nokia’s Dr. Oskar Korkman discussed how his company uses consumer practice as a starting point for innovation. His research puts the customer at the heart of product development and marketing, in four main ways.

Business Impact

Oskar’s goal is to make sure that consumer insights are involved in four key areas in order to support decision-making at the company:

  • Product strategy and portfolio – any and all research that is done before a product has even been developed
  • Product UX and concepting – involves concept development, design and validation
  • Product and campaign development – supports the R&D of a product once a concept has been decided on
  • Post-launch and leverage – assess performance in market

According to Oskar, embedding market research into each of these stages is a “tough job”.

Innovation Agenda

Market research tends to be obsessed by the psychological processes in peoples’ heads, where we try and understand how people think and reason. “But no one consumes with their heads. We consume in practice.” Shifting from seeing people as thinkers to seeing them as practitioners is key to innovation. So much of our Western point of view is based on the idea that people think before they act, but – put simply – Oskar says this is wrong. “If you want to learn early about consumptions and consumers, you should start with practical situations.” As an example, the iPad fills a very practical need for a screen in between the big TV and the small phone.

When you start viewing people as practitioners, you start to uncover behaviors that are common across geographies and consumer segments. At Nokia, Oskar says “we focus on shared context and practices, rather than on segments of consumers.” When he started at Nokia three years ago, the company segmented consumers very early in the innovation process. But this only complicates decisions. Being in this profession we should focus on finding simple answers for companies, he argued, and we do a disservice by fragmenting the market and making the world more complex. Instead by finding the common practices and behaviors, we make the decisions around strategic direction much simpler for our companies.

And, be warned, companies can’t have it both ways. They have to make a choice between either focusing on commonalities and driving specific consumer practices or focusing on differences. What’s the output of one over the other? Apple and RIM both have a limited product lines but have become known as market leaders for certain types of behaviors (i.e. email and messaging, music consumption). Whereas other vendors with more differentiated product lines have not found their breakthrough innovations.

Insights Portfolio

For innovation work, Nokia’s insights come from three stages of behavioral research:

  1. Global consumer trendsQuantitative syndicated studies, which Nokia uses to  track certain market behaviors. This isn’t a main source for innovation because it’s a lagging indicator.
  2. Leading edge behaviorsScanning the world for new behaviors (for example, how people listen to music). And they explore whether these new behaviors have the potential to spread globally. With a strong ethnographic background, Oskar says, you can tell what kinds of behaviors will spread. This kind of research is very qualitative, and you have to have the guts to trust small sample sizes for big decisions, as long as you can develop a good story.
  3. Behavioral studiesVery large structured deep dives done using ethnographic methods. This allows Nokia to model anthropological information.

Case Example

To put this process into context, Oskar outlined a trend called “connecting for purpose”, which he’d first uncovered from quantitative work. In social media, the trend has shifted from the value of the quantity of connections to the quality of connections. Social technology itself is not valuable on its own anymore; it needs a purpose. Oskar’s team took this research and then modeled the kinds of social behaviors that people have, in six different countries around the globe using ethnographic research and behavioral studies on time, place and type of social activity.

Out of this came a model for a spectrum of social relationships: self, lifelong, friendship, purposeful and incidental. This is a behavioral segmentation that applies across different market segments. Since digital social behavior is mediated through an object, Nokia has also researched what kinds of objects promote social behavior now, what their history has been, and how they might be used in the future.

From all of this, Nokia can build strategies that look at what behaviors the company can drive through its objects. For example, they can: improve existing mobile behaviors, turn Internet behavior mobile, turn non-digital behavior mobile or spread existing mobile behaviors to new geographies.

So what are innovations according to Oskar? “The improvement of an existing practice. There are now new innovations, but rather the development of existing practice and objects. Everything is incremental.”


Tamara Barber is the senior director of strategic marketing with Affinnova, an innovation software and services firm that exhibited at The Market Research Event.

Please share...

One response to “Innovation: Everything Is Incremental

  1. Great post. Would be curious as to the role Insights played at Nokia over the past 20 years – Nokia was one of the greats, an innovator and leader, but struggled to maintain this position. Did the Voice of the Customer get ignored, I wonder?

Join the conversation