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Posts from October 2010

The Insourcing Business Case

By Anthony Bell

When you examine your project portfolio, what process do you use to determine which research activities to outsource to suppliers and which have reason to stay inside your team? The traditional supplier approach focuses on the who (selecting good suppliers) and the how (lowering cost or building thought partnership). While selection and cost are important, these considerations presume that outsourcing is always the best option.

The MREB has made the argument that strategically insourcing certain research activities may be the best move for the business. Ideal insourcing opportunities include those that:

  • Are cost neutral versus suppliers
  • Generate competitive advantage
  • Produce equal quality to suppliers
  • Add no additional risk

Research deconstructs and root causes the Outsourcing decision, but senior executives may misunderstand the research function as a cost function. Read More »

3 Cases of Insight Beating the Competition

By Aaron Field

In 2004 Hewlett-Packard’s computer arm looked in deep trouble. Low-cost producers like Dell dominated an increasingly commoditized market. It was so bad that observers even saw HP exiting the PC market.

Today HP leads the American PC market with Dell and others struggling to emulate their success. How did HP engineer the turn-around? They did it with insight.

HP saw customers ready for a personal and emotional connection to their computer. Everyone else saw the office-based customer of the 1990’s who wanted low cost, low cost, and low cost (preferably in black.) Instead, HP rolled out brilliantly colored, personalized laptops supported by Jay-Z advertisements (the CEO of Hip-Hop).

The Computer is personal again” worked brilliantly and (re)launched HP into market leadership.

MREB members can access three cases – Best Buy, Harrah’s, and HP – where companies used insight to beat the competition. Read More »

Research Libraries Help with Scenario Planning

Posted on  25 October 10  by 


A recent blog on outlines the applicability of the Association of Research Libraries’ future-focused analysis, The ARL 2030 Scenarios: A User’s Guide for Research Libraries, to corporate decision making.  The document outlines trends impacting the world today (social media, digitization, China, etc.) and defines multiple future scenarios for exploration.  Blogger Adam Gordon points out that the ARL’s scenarios aren’t specific to libraries – they are more general to research and scholarship – and recommends that all kinds of organizations and businesses use them (download them here for free) to determine if their value propositions and business model will continue to be valid.

MREB view: focusing on the future is key for pushing your business forward, but reporting on trends alone will not provide company decision makers the confidence and context that they need to stake their flags.  If Research really wants to drive action on long-term market changes you need to focus your conversations on vetted market opportunities rather than observational megatrends. Read More »

Org Chart vs. Network Analysis

Posted on  18 October 10  by 

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Blogger Aaron Silvers recently wrote about the difference between the organization chart and the actual flow of information and knowledge within an organization.  Silvers posits that although hierarchies allow complex organizations to tackle complex problems in ways that very flat, atomic networks don’t do very efficiently, traditional organizational structures may be too rigid to let information flow.  Thinking of workflow in terms of communication networks rather than hierarchical charts allows for more flexibility and cross-silo progress.

MREB view:  Understanding the relationships between stakeholders requires so much more than an understanding of dotted- and solid-line reporting structures—examining the more fluid dynamics of your organization will help you drive action on your insights and gather the best intelligence and tacit knowledge at your company. Read More »

5 Questions to Measure Customer-Focus and Predict Company Performance

By Aaron Field

Does customer insight drive business performance? We think so.

Really impressive companies think obsessively about the customer. Their mantra sounds like this: “We make decisions on customer understanding and never (never) based on doing more of the same.”1

The iPhone is a striking example. You may know that Apple can’t possibly make an iPhone. The phone’s communications run on an Infineon semiconductor. Its graphics interface through a National Semiconductor chip. Even the distinctive touchscreen runs on Epson, Toshiba, and Sharp technology.

Why did Apple make the phone? They certainly didn’t know much about phones. But they nailed the insight that consumers want easy mobile services merging fun with functionality. You can see that in their stores (fun places to play), their operating system (no complex commands), product design (one button), and their advertisements (tour Paris with your iPhone).

We’ll give Steve Jobs his due but it wasn’t one person. It’s never one person. Lots of people from hard-core coders to marketers work off the same deep customer understanding. That’s very hard.

How is your company doing? Try these out with your colleagues. Professors Patrick Barwise and Sean Meahan condensed decades of research into 5 diagnostic questions.2 Read More »

Research: A Company’s Best Collaborator

Posted on  11 October 10  by 


Morten Hansen, a management professor at University of California, Berkeley, recently blogged that organizations should appoint a Chief Collaboration Officer to help integrate the enterprise.  With companies relying on cross-selling to existing customers and innovating with existing technologies, departments need to work effectively across silos.  Hansen isn’t suggesting that companies hire a new C-level executive to fill this role, but rather that a current member of the C-level suite should be well-positioned to take the job.  Candidates include (but are not limited to) the CHRO, CFO, CIO, or COO.

MREB view:  Is it our job to get the rest of the business collaborating?  The Board argues yes. Who else in the company has talks to so many functions on a weekly basis? Our 2009 benchmarking survey results show that the vast majority of Research departments work with the Marketing, Strategy, Sales, and Innovation departments.  More than half also work with Corporate Communications and the General Manager and/or CEO.  Even a full third of departments serve the Finance department as a constituency. To find out more about your organization take part in the 2010 benchmarking survey. Read More »

David v. Goliath: 3 Companies Take on the Big Guys

Posted on  11 October 10  by 


Fortune recently posted an article about three small companies taking on hugely successful (and also just plain huge) companies in doll, guitar, and potato chip wars.  By differentiating their product and service offerings, Kahn Lucas, Rudy’s Music, and Popchips have managed to stay competitive in the shadows of American Girl, Guitar Center, and Frito-Lay, respectively. 

For more information on how Research can help its company differentiate its product pitch, MREB members should check out our work on Supporting Sales.

Crowdsourcing Your Next Big Idea

Posted on  4 October 10  by 

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A recent blog on the HBR Web site outlines the benefits of eliciting business ideas and innovation from the public.  Netflix, GE, and L’Oreal have all recently outsourced business development initiatives through contests.  These crowdsourcing campaigns all led to big business improvements, but the author notes that in order for this type of innovation strategy to work, companies must:

  • Target the right crowd—crowdsourcing doesn’t mean random-sourcing.  Seek out folks with the skills and/or experience you need to develop the best ideas
  • Nurture the network—motivate participants with non-monetary rewards like point redemptions, invitations to corporate events, and consistent communication about how new ideas are impacting your company

MREB view: As the voice of the customer, Research has a clear responsibility to ensure that innovation stakeholders are making decisions based on customer understanding—not just reviewing ideas on the back-end, but prescribing them at the beginning of the innovation process.  The challenge is that to uncover truly new and boundary-pushing ideas we must go beyond our traditional interpretation of mass-market consumers.   Read More »

3M’s Innovation Machine

Posted on  4 October 10  by 

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Guest blogger Brennan Kelly is a member of the research team at MREB’s sister program the Marketing Leadership Council.  He recently joined a meeting on innovation practices at 3M and shared some of his takeaways below.

I recently returned from a terrific member-hosted meeting at 3M’s Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, where we had the opportunity to learn from a company renowned for creating imaginative new products. We explored the “World of 3M Innovation” where the company showcases its 45 core applied sciences in interactive displays that let lucky visitors play with products under development. As you explore this fascinating world – much like taking a trip into the future – it’s hard not to ask: how does 3M generate such innovative new products year after year? What is it about this company that lets them shape the future and achieve impressive organic growth in the process?

Jeff Lavers, 3M’s VP of Marketing, Sales and Communication, shared some lessons that all of us would probably be wise to consider as we pursue innovation within our own organizations: Read More »