Innovation doesn't have to reinvent the wheel


August 31, 2017

by Caroline Withers

MMR Innovation Lead Dr Caroline Withers on why MMR’s innovation stream looks within as much as without.

A casual sweep of Research Live’s innovation page is a quick way to sum up innovation in the research sector. One story talks about how research can grasp voice-controlled technology, another news piece covers Microsoft’s foray into AI. There’s real-time audience analytics here, and facial coding there, with a tangible hint of fear that Facebook, Google and Amazon are out for our jobs.

As Innovation Lead at MMR Research Worldwide, it’s my job to keep on top of developments in the wider world and put them to work in an insight context. You might imagine that this means creating exciting new digital platforms, hanging out with trendy young developers and launching one branded MMR innovation after another.

More often than not however, innovation simply means piloting a new technology before we’ll recommend it to clients. We’ve spent considerable time and effort exploring things like gamification, facial coding, implicit association and mobile surveys to ensure that the solutions we offer meet real client needs rather than paying lip service to trends.

Naturally such innovation streams have seen us launch the ubiquitous mobile research app and a video hosting platform - and we’ve got a real tech corker coming up - but as a rule, our most successful innovations have come from within, utilising our eyes and ears and the experience and expertise we have in-house.

The Focus Group is DEAD

For instance, disruptors would say that the focus group is dead; we’d say our EROS (Early Rules of Success) groups are anything but. We took the traditional focus group, and with our specialist knowledge applied articulacy screening and skilful sensory moderation to create a proprietary method that’s in huge demand with some of the biggest global names in food and drink. Why? Because it uses consumers to shape new product development, tightening up product and pack briefs and ensuring that marketing and R&D are all working to the same goal, with a better chance of getting it right first time. We’ve just been shortlisted for a Masters of Marketing Award for our work in helping baby bath brand Paddy’s Bathroom get to a better product and pack design in a matter of weeks.

Central location tests (or ‘hall tests’) seem a little old fashioned when we should surely be able to send new products via an app nowadays? Well no. In reality, there is no more efficient way to get consumers to physically try food and drink products (we should know, we’ve probably done tens of thousands of them over the years), so we dialled the hall test up a notch, using tech additively to provide a streaming real-time dashboard that allows researchers and clients to observe the story as it unfolds, and select participants directly in the hall for follow-up interviews, voxpops or quick qual groups as the CLT is happening. By removing the need to flesh out quant data with qual groups, or quantify qual with quant, we’ve created a great innovation in MMR-Connect that blends the two and really supports our mission to reduce the innovation timeline for clients.


Our latest innovation has to be the simplest of all, and it feels really exciting because of the huge value it offers to clients. Sensory evaluation of products typically takes place in controlled conditions at a sensory science centre, in order to get consistent ratings across attributes. But this is quite far removed from real life. Hermes (derived from hermeneutics) from MMR offers a cost-effective middle ground whereby MMR’s sensory panellists are issued with products to try at home rather than in the lab, which they can assess like real consumers, but with the benefit to clients of advanced sensory articulacy and acuity and as much control as the client wants to include. By combining sensory and consumer data in one go, we once again strip valuable days out of the innovation process for clients.

So you see, innovation doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. By looking to the expertise we have in-house and vast experience of the questions that we’re typically trying to answer for clients, we can arrive at an innovative solution that simply greases the wheels and gets us to those answers more quickly.

Dr Caroline Withers leads innovation at MMR Research Worldwide.