Social Piloting as Testing Methodology for Media Innovations
Book chapter, 2008
There is a dilemma involved in market research. Firms can either disregard market signals or orient themselves to what customers say they want. In the first case, the risk of failure is very high. In the second case firms need to be cautious in how they conduct the research and use the results. The wrong data used in the wrong way may conserve current organizational practices and inhibit change, rather than helping the organization to become oriented towards true market potential (Dahlsten, 2004; Danneels, 2003). As the way you frame a question determines the answer you get, firms need to carefully consider the methods they use in their market research. The literature on how to do market research is vast. Most literature is concerned with how to do purely analytical research. This involves for example scenario planning, the collection of consumer preferences, questionnaire design, through observation studies to psychological analyses of brand colouring in the fast food business (for example, Birn, 2000; Carson et al., 2001). Much less literature describes and analyses product or concept testing (for example, Dickinson et al., 1997; Wu, 1989; Wu et al., 1992), which is the focus of this article. To escape the risks involved in researching current instead of future customers, firms commonly test ideas on ?early adopters? (Rogers, 1995). These customers are among the first to use a new product, and therefore have an important role in ?marketing? the innovation to a greater mass of people. It is hence in the interest of firms and market research organisations to identify these early adopters. However, the early adopters? framework builds on a set of assumptions on people?s preferences for the technological aspects of a product. This causes a problem for organizations in the media industry, as media products have important social connotations related to their content and their use (for example, Bazalgette, 2005; Deery, 2003; Park, 1923). The most popular methods for conducting product or concept testing (for example focus groups) also generally lack this ability. Though suitable in the right context, they concentrate too narrowly on certain dimensions of a product, are conducted in a closed environment, or simply test market success without analysing its components to facilitate a deeper understanding of their social use. In this chapter, we introduce a different kind of product or concept testing method ? social piloting ? which allows the social aspects of media products to be researched and analysed. By social aspects we mean both the content and the social effects of the media, such as the communication that takes place through the media, and the effect that the media has on community formation (Anderson, 1991; Deery, 2003; Park, 1923). To our knowledge the social piloting method has been only seldom described in the academic literature. Where it has been mentioned (Schwabe et al., 2000; Witte, 1997), the context and analysis have both been different than in the case presented here. In general, the literature on product development in the media industry is very scarce. No comprehensive overview of different testing methods in the media industry seems to be at hand (however, a short list of programming testing techniques can be found with Menneer, 2000). Therefore, we analyse the social piloting method in comparison to the most popular market testing methods. We argue that social piloting potentially represents a better method for testing products with a higher degree of social or experience content (Prahalad et al., 2003). The purpose and contribution of this chapter is therefore twofold. First of all we aim at questioning the use of different market testing methods that are available on the market. This should stimulate both media managers and media scholars to critically think about and improve product development and product testing methods. Second, we argue that the use of social piloting is interesting also outside the media industry. The paper starts with a description of earlier results on the use of product testing methods, as well as a description of the most usual techniques used. Then, the concept of social piloting ? which was used by a consortium of companies and universities in Munich, Germany, to evaluate new media technologies and content services ? is presented. The paper ends with a discussion about further development of methods and of research.