Blind spots: question is not how to avoid them but how to deal with them
Scope of Market Intelligence depends on ‘intended use’
Every proper market research starts with determining intended use and accordingly scope. Adequate scoping (which is a key success factor in research) depends on the how the relationship between intended use and scope is designed in the research approach.
For example, in case of strategic planning market knowledge is required. Without knowing what is happening in the market it is impossible to determine strategic course of actions. To make the ‘market’ researchable we should define what we consider to be the market in the first place. This may seem obvious; however, it is not. What should be defined as the market depends on the way the enterprise sees or defines itself.
Product market combinations as anchor for scoping
Usually, businesses define themselves and consequently their markets (certainly in the context of strategic planning) in terms of the product market combinations (products, services, and technologies) they provide. Scope of market research, in this case, is a result of the product and services portfolio: clients of the defined products, competitors who are offering the same products, developments influencing demand and supply of these products etc.
The blind spot: a consequence of defining scope?
Every scope not only defines what will be object of research. It also defines what is not and, therefore, what will not be observed. The term blind spot, usually, is not reserved for the part of the business environment which deliberately is not being observed. Blind spots are reserved for unintended ‘non observations’ and consequently are related to intended use.
A blind spot is a not conscious non-observation and is experienced as negative if it should support intended use. This relationship with intended use of the insights to be produced is the key to dealing with blind spots properly without aiming to avoid them (which leads to non-focus or to broad focus and all disastrous effects this has for the execution of market research).
Intended use as a key to deal with blind spots
The most important point of reference to determine whether focus is generating unwanted blind spots is intended use. From a strategic planning perspective when intended use is ‘detecting growth potential in the current portfolio of product market combinations’, a scope within formation needs based on these current markets is enough. However, if we want to detect what future markets (the firm is not active in today) might be attractive to enter this scoping is not effective. In the latter case we do need another point of reference for determining the market to be observed (and prevent us from having an unwanted blind spot).
In that case we should aim for a reference point which enables us to identify not actual but possible relevant future markets without falling in the earlier mentioned pitfall of non-focus resulting from to broad market definitions. We can do this to define the firm itself at another level of abstraction than the actual products or services it provides. Competences (underlaying the actual products and services) or brand values (associated by the environment with the products and services of the firm) may serve as a reference point for alternative definitions of the market and as such make other market characteristics visible.
Competences and brand values can serve as reference point for defining non-actual but relevant markets in a structured way. Such a methodology enables us to observe what kind of other markets and product market combinations require the same competences or address the same brand values, and from that point of view might be relevant to enter. When defined they can be selected as being relevant for further market research. Consequently, we generate market insights about potential and alternative markets which might be in the blind spot corner if we restrict ourselves to current product market combinations.
Solution for dealing with blind spots: vary anchor points in defining scope
To conclude we can state that blind spots are unavoidable. Every research generates them. However, we can deal with them by relating right scope to right intended use and by ‘playing in a structured way’ with the reference points for defining the market and business environment. Depending on intended use e.g. business analysis, strategic planning, innovation or other purposes, another reference point for definition of the market should be chosen. By doing this, both effectiveness and efficiency of market research can be combined.