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Real-time Marketing & The Rise Of Agile Market Research

Agile Market Research represents a different approach to manage market research. It takes its inspiration from agile development and values.



By Adriana Rocha

It’s not news that the scale of changes happening to marketing is unprecedented.  It’s the new normal for the world in general.  In this fast changing environment, the adoption of real-time marketing techniques can help marketing teams win in today’s always-on world, with its many new challenges:

  • The increase of ever-shifting touch-points and channels to connect with consumers;
  • Explosion of content — “content” being the majority of what marketing produces in the digital world and the biggest challenge to deliver more than just content, but meaningful customer experiences;
  • Proliferation of devices. There’s the desktop, the smartphone, the tablet, the phablet. Yes, I said the “phablet.” And just wait until the Internet of Things goes mainstream. Imagine how people will use combinations of these devices at the same time!
  • Fast growing technologies to help execute all these content and experience opportunities on all the new devices, in all these touch-points. But this “help” requires marketing to navigate through a complex array of technology solutions;
  • Explosion of data – according to a recent estimate from Google, we’ve generated 90% of all data in the entire history of the world in just the past two years. 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day. And it’s only accelerating.
  • The connected consumers – instead of passively absorbing perfectly designed marketing campaigns the connected consumer has taken control of his buyer’s journey. He’s connected with other prospects and customers. They’ve found or become influencers, advocates, detractors. They question what brands say and demand answers, quickly. They heartlessly compare brands to competitors, judge, praise, chide, advice, all out in the public square. It’s 24/7, and can’t be turned off.

In this scenario, the true power for marketing teams is the ability to agilely adapt to what’s happening around them. Therefore, marketing needs relevant, actionable data and insights, faster than ever. And the question on the table is “Can Market Research meet these new marketing demands?” How?

Well, maybe Agile Market Research could be a response. I am not talking about a new technology or another buzzword for working faster, but the application of agile management principles in the context of Market Research:

“Agile management is an iterative and adaptive process where small, highly-collaborative teams work in a series of short cycles, incorporating rapid feedback, to deliver emergent solutions, emphasizing transparency among all stakeholders.”

Agile Market Research represents a different approach to manage market research. It takes its inspiration from agile development and values:

  • Responding to change over following a plan
  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Collaboration over silos and hierarchy
  • Rapid iterations over long projects
  • Numerous small experiments over a few large studies

Agile Market Research requires cross-functional team members – people who may have deep specialization or talent in a particular area but are also willing to pitch in on a wide variety of other tasks. In an agile team, no one says, “I’m just the analyst, so don’t bother me until you have the fieldwork done”. The whole team either succeeds together or fails together. Agile is a continuous loop of plan, build, inspect, adapt, repeat.”

Agile Researchers also follow a process, a process designed to increase alignment with the business aims of the client, to improve communication, both within and outside the market research team, and to increase the speed and responsiveness of research.  This process is interactive, allowing for short studies and experiments, frequent feedback, and the ability to react to changing conditions.

Maybe a first step is to consider ways to make market research more adaptive to change in general. To change how we think about change. So that when the next new thing explodes — maybe next week — we’re better able to capitalize on it.

What do you think?  Can Market Research be Agile?


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Agile marketing for a world of constant change

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12 responses to “Real-time Marketing & The Rise Of Agile Market Research

  1. In a parallel discussion about this topic on a Google+ community, I was asked where agile MR would best be applied. I thought it would be interesting to share my response here too:

    ” I believe agile MR can be applied in 3 different levels:

    1 – Project Level – Researchers working in ad-hoc projects that required fast-turnaround and constant client feedback during project life cycle, so marketing can react almost “in real-time”. Eg: a) digital marketing team needs to measure the impact of a specific cross-media campaign by analyzing spontaneous comments and sentiments posted by consumers via social media channels (The Oreo’s Super Bowl campaign well illustrates this case

    2 – Group Level – Groups of researchers working in continuous and collaborative ways with marketing teams to support rapid decision making. Eg: marketing needs to constantly measure consumer reactions (sentiments, feedback, impact to brand image, purchase intention, etc) due to ongoing promotions and advertisement campaigns. Research team adopts agile methods and tools to 1) gather in-store shopper feedback (using a mobile panel or community); 2) mine and analyze comments in social media or in a private community; 3) collect feedback through quick surveys, in depth online interviews or discussion groups (also known as “pop-up communities”). The data collected through the different sources with main KPIs and conclusions would be integrated into an online dashboard that marketing could quickly visualize and act upon the results. Another example on group level application would be: product manager needs to increase product development cycle based on continuous feedback and collaboration with consumers through an online MRX community (MROC).

    3 – Organization Level – the entire organization adopts agile principles to manage its projects, no matter if the area is technology, marketing, sales, market research, etc. In this case, agile becomes a corporate philosophy and the cycle of “plan, build, measure, adapt, repeat” becomes a norm, including to MR teams.

    If you note, the examples that I mention above all involve somehow 3 methodologies/ tools: communities, mobile and social media research (mining and analytics), so maybe it’s why they have been appointed by the market research community as the fast-growing #MRX methodologies, also reported by Greenbook in its GRIT report ”

    Would love to hear other opinions too! 🙂

  2. I like the concept – but putting it into practice runs a clear risk in my experience: chaos. How many marketing stakeholders already interpret the word “agility” to change things a) last-minute b)…..mid-stream !!!! Is everyone updated on all quick. short-term changes – Senior Management who won’t be involved on the daily-stuff but have fixed expectations?

    I see this concept working in small, team-like environments, possibly behaving and rapidly innovating like a start-up. In more complex, larger organisations, there are practical concerns about implementation and the clear danger of the production of a chaotic experiment with lots of lacunas, increased stress and higher mistakes.

  3. I love the points made here, Adriana. Striving for more nimble and effective methods by drawing from the agile approach used in technology development is solid. I also agree with Edward’s concerns about practicality.

    There are some realities when it comes to agile. First, it’s more expensive: you’re investing in more frequent communication in meetings and perhaps a platform like Atlassian’s JIRA to keep everyone on track, and you’re incurring more time spent context-switching among those on the team as they react to changes. The payoff of quicker time-to-market has to be worth it.

    Second, stakeholders must be comfortable committing to an effort where the date and/or cost of a high-profile end deliverable may not be set in stone. It’s tough to get buy-in to the unknown unless trust is very high. Unlike Agile’s arch enemy, Waterfall, if you’re really executing an agile-ish methodology then you’re building future efforts based on what you learn in current ones, so you never know what the exact end product will be.

    Finally, I say “agile-ish” because most every application of agile isn’t pure agile, but rather the parts of it that work for your organization in specific places. There’s an inside joke, “Agile is like sex in high school. Everyone says they’re doing it, but nobody’s really doing it exactly right.” The important part is that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. 🙂 The worst thing you can do is take pure agile as your silver bullet, or as gospel. Rather, we make it gospel to understand the dynamics of any scenario and its landscape, and then apply those parts of a nimble methodology – whether it’s Agile, Kanban, Waterfall or any combination – that are optimal considering our current priorities.

  4. @edward04 thanks for your comments. While agile can be extremely effective in complex environments, most organizational structures and modes of operation were built around more ordered and complicated structures. So I agree with you – companies implementing agile management need to be prepared to address some challenges. According to a survey with agile practitioners, three of the top reasons why agile adoption fails are:
     52% cite the inability to change culture
     39% cite general resistance to change
     34% cite lack of manager support

    On the other hand, companies that have adopted agile marketing practices report the following benefits:

     84% ability to change priorities
     77% improved project visibility
     75% increased productivity
     72% increased team morale
     71% faster time to market

    BTW, I found an interesting article “How P&G used agile research to keep up with consumers” published on Quirck’s Magazine, edition may 2013:

  5. We’ve found larger organizations like P&G are quite open to working in a more agile format, and are embracing this way of doing things regardless of organizational complexities. Not all organizations call it the same thing. At P&G, they call it “Do Learn”, but the principals are the same. Specifically, quit worrying about designing the perfect study design. Instead, go out and get some consumer feedback; figure out what you learned; iterate study design based on what you learned; get some more consumer feedback; rinse and repeat until the team feels they are sufficiently informed on which direction to go.

    Another key component which Adriana points out is we need tools and methods which enable a more agile approach. Fortunately, the quant and qual worlds have seen their share of innovation in the past few years from folks like Google Consumer Surveys, uSamp’s, and the GutCheck platform on the qual side. Without these enabling tools, the ability to practice an agile approach is greatly diminished.

    Adriana is spot on. Agile is on the rise in market research and ramping.

  6. @Matt, thanks! Very interesting approach used by P&G on applying agile management to their market research, or better saying “consumer learning”, projects, building incremental knowledge with short cycles of “plan, test, learn, adapt, repeat”. The raise of companies such as the ones you mentioned and many other start-ups with “agile mentality” should definitely help speed up innovation in this industry.

  7. With the growth of Big Data, we’re at a point in research where there is a much greater need for the implementation of agile-ish research. As commented by Clint, a move to pure agile might not be totally prudent in all aspects of a client’s business but can be very valuable where applicable. One of the biggest values that I have experienced in implementing agile research for clients is the speed and quality of disruptive ideas to their business models.

  8. @Scott, thank you! @Clint and @Scott agree with you that Pure Agile is not necessarily the best path for all business and projects. I do believe tough every company can apply “Agile-ish” principles and philosophy to speed up development processes and enhance team building and collaboration.

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