It has been a long time since Paul Lazarsfeld, founder of modern empirical social science, has shown how powerful observational methods are. His famous piece of work „Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal“ is a classic for everybody interested in sociology. Sociographic was the order in those days.
Today it looks to me as if observational methods within market research are on the rise again; especially the increasingly used online qualitative methods such as online research communities or social media monitoring.
The use of these methods is beneficial not only for generation of insights, but is becoming increasingly important for innovation management process. This is partly due to the nature of innovation on the one hand, and, on the other hand because of the – for years underestimated – power of observation.
From the most common method focus groups to modern behavioral economics, observations bring forth new insights, perspectives and new thinking. The usefulness of observations has nearly always been proven in our studies.
In particular for the innovation process, we have found that this method can be ideally combined with other methods. Thus, a social media monitoring approach as a precursor and input for a consumer study is ideal. Furthermore, we have seen that the combination of asynchronous methods (e.g. community research) can provide a high density of information if it is combined with synchronous elements (e.g., chat)..
For a contemporary view of innovation, it is important both to establish working practice and environments that support the idea process. And again, that is a perfect field for the use of observational method. Because consumers don’t tell what they think, don’t think what they feel, and don’t always act as they tell us how they feel and think… an old but familiar dilemma..