Identifying Hidden Needs : New Book Review

Identifying Hidden Needs Book Cover

As innovators, we all know that identifying hidden needs is fundamental to new proposition development. With the phrase frequently bandied about in R&D facilities, marketing departments and boardrooms around the world, it’s strange perhaps that only now do we have a book on the topic.

So, how well does this title equip us to identify hidden needs in our chosen sector? A competence, we are told by the authors, that is critical to innovation success.

In short, identifying Hidden Needs (IHN) is comprehensive in its analysis and explanation of market research techniques. By contrast, it provides less information and guidance around the critical later stage of moving from a deep but still general customer understanding to actually identifying specific hidden needs. More on this later.

Market Research Techniques.

IHN gives a thorough explanation of a range of market research techniques that are relevant to innovation. It provides a history of specific techniques and of how they developed during the 20th Century. This is followed by step by step instructions about how to design and implement a project using the specific technique. This makes IHN more handbook than academic text and will likely be welcomed by practitioners.

Well known techniques such as focus groups and depth interviews are covered along with less well known techniques such as ethnography, repertory grid analysis, conjoint analysis and lead user groups.

The authors Goffin, Lemke and Koners all have excellent academic credentials and also extensive industry and consulting expertise. They have used these research techniques themselves with client companies, and therefore are able to give not only detailed instruction but also offer learning acquired through their own experiences. This includes some of the ‘softer issues’ and practicalities of the research project – how to design projects so that the amount of data acquired is manageable, and how long you can expect respondents to stay engaged with the subject.

Some of these market research techniques have been in use for more than fifty years. However, another strength of the text is that the authors have considered how the internet and in particular web 2.0 and social networking have impacted on market research techniques and processes – and this is considerably.

Further richness and appeal of IHN comes from the case studies. They reveal a good level of detail including in many cases, the specific industry sector, company, research problem, techniques used and findings. Some cases include comments from named research and innovation personnel who were involved in the project.

The case studies include both b2b and b2c examples and cover research projects for such diverse and well known companies as Astrazeneca, Bentley and Lego.

The Process of Identifying Hidden Needs.

I have to confess at this stage that my starting point on the process of identifying hidden needs, acquired through my experience of insight and innovation projects is different from that of the authors.

Their premise seems to be that if you undertake the ‘right’ combination of market research activities then hidden needs will emerge as part of the findings.

The authors stress the importance of rigour in the market research – to such a degree that their qualitative research is assessed in an almost quantitative way.

By this, I mean that they recommend rigorous coding processes for many of the research techniques. Respondent 'mentions' are quantified and value attributed on this basis.

I agree that some hidden needs may emerge in this way.

However, I see identifying hidden needs and insights as requiring more creative thinking and connection making than do the authors of this book. Specifically I believe that you need dedicated insight processes – as we have at Anatellô – in addition to good market research techniques.

I feel that that in order to get to the fresh insights you need to:-

  • Interpret your qualitative data in new ways.
  • Combine new data and old data in new ways.

Indeed, this does in fact mimic the way that the human brain gets to insight.

However, it is very different from the rational and analytical approach outlined in this book.

Furthermore, an effective insight process gets you closer to the ‘problem statement’ which is the starting point for the next phase of the innovation process - invention.

In IHN there is little coverage of developing the problem statement. There are some good examples, but little if any guidance of what the innovator needs to do to create one.  

A Book with Broad Appeal.

In summary, whether you are a junior marketer commissioning a research project for the first time and trying to understand the research techniques your research agency is proposing, or an Innovation Director seeking new techniques to invigorate your innovation team and innovation pipeline, IHN will likely offer much that is useful to you.

However, if you’re looking for the Holy Grail of identifying hidden needs, then this text may not quite take you all the way.

Anatellô score to assist with innovation and growth 3.5/5


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