By Rhoda Makled
Innovation in sensory & consumer research can be a slow process. Whereas other branches of market research have been able to piggyback innovation through the general technological advancements of the 21st century, there is simply no other option in sensory research than having a respondent on location to observe, feel, taste, hear or take a sniff. Traditional sensory procedures are not without faults, lab-based testing centers can often be inconvenient for researchers and respondents.
So, last year we set out to change the way sensory research works. To do this we looked outside the research industry to find the technological advancement we sought. What this taught us about ourselves and the change in culture it generated were really valuable in helping us to think differently.
It all started with a vision, a simple sketched idea. It was a fuzzy idea and maybe a little naïve and understated. The vision came about as a result of having conducted an environmental scan to understand some of the key issues in fragrance product research. We knew the traditional way in which we evaluated fragrance products had limitations; consistency across testing centers, confidentiality, and in some situations the ability to reflect an “in-use” experience. However, internally we did not have the skillsets to execute the innovation to address the methodological improvements we needed to find.
So, we looked outside ourselves to collaborate externally. We had to learn to be nimble and agile and were lucky not to have any “not invented here” syndromes or the internal pressures that come from big agency hierarchies, where you have to provide the solution and deliver ROI really fast, before the ‘powers that be’ shelve the project.
We teamed up with a band of MIT trained engineers, and specialists in chemical and electrical engineering, sensory and material science and design and manufacturing. This provided untold insights in the realms of technical capabilities and application, but also was invaluable in training us in a culture of collaborative entrepreneurship. We all “knew what we didn’t know” so by partnering with specialists that were willing to learn together, every member of the team was enriched by the experience, plus the collaborative culture reduced the risk.
Another key learning from the experience was in accepting failure. Through the process we purposefully went through many iterations of our original vision, but within the engineering world many of the iterations resulted in a failed product. As we did it quickly, learning critical requirements and using the learnings to make further developments, the success of the product was built on every failure that came before it. As an organization this has strengthened our commitment to new ideas, understanding that the ideal solution will often be much changed from the original concept.
Ultimately it gave us the qPOD®. This is the first portable olfactory device that addresses many of the deficiencies in the effectiveness of fragrance and aroma testing. However the gains for us at QRS went beyond the material product, it provided a change in culture and the lessons learnt in the development of qPOD® now flow through the organization as a whole.