What is agile research and how do you get started doing it?

26 May 2021 | 5 min read | Written by Niamh Cunningham

95% of products fail. Why is that? Because companies are going off their gut instincts. 

But there is a better way to find out what the market wants: asking consumers every step of the way from idea inception to the product launch using agile research.

What is agile research?

Agile research is an operation that takes elements of agile software development and applies them to market research. This includes getting feedback throughout a product's lifecycle and completing iterative work, often done in sprints. By taking an agile approach to market research, brands can:

  • Test, iterate, and launch more effective messaging or products
  • Get a pulse from their consumers without having to roll out a product to their entire audience, saving thousands of dollars for many brands on course correction
  • Complete research in days that traditionally takes weeks

Why agile research? 

Agile research practices are useful for one simple fact: they help businesses de-risk decision making and innovate faster by getting rapid consumer feedback (often within a single design sprint) that is actionable. When done right, the agile research methodology also brings authentic human insights closer and faster.

At its core, what we’re talking about here is the ability to discover, define, develop, deliver and evolve all in a super short time frame.  Teams don't have time anymore to sit around making decisions for weeks or even months. The teams that do not innovate to keep ahead of their competition will be left behind. But how do teams utilize agile research to be successful?

Here’s a full breakdown of how agile research stacks up to traditional market research methodologies:

What is agile researchNow let's look at the most popular agile research methods. 

1. Online focus groups

Take focus groups online! During Covid organizations started to recognize they don't need to set up time-consuming, in-person focus groups. These focus groups are hard to recruit due to the large time commitment and are often not even representative of your target audience. Rival’s market research platform allows users to identify and invite their customers to online focus groups so they can dig deeper into hot topics where they are looking for immediate answers. 

Focus groups don’t have to take place in a sterile room — or any other place that’s likely far less convenient and comfortable for your participants.

Through online focus groups, you can have longer video-based conversations one on one with individuals or in small groups. Plus, no one has to drive across town to attend a focus group session, making it far easier to facilitate.

2. Daily check-ins

You may have heard about diary-style studies where participants log their daily feelings. However, now it’s possible to get key visual insights, as consumers can take photos and record video selfies that provide subtle emotional context that traditional methods couldn’t provide. 

Tyson Foods sought to find out new morning routines that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic to inform new products and messaging. Our sister research firm Reach3 insights designed a multi-phase study for Tyson Foods that began with a week-long morning meal diary documenting consumers’ weekday and weekend routines. 

Through our mobile research platform, Tyson was able to gather rich qual and quant feedback that they were able to quickly use to inform their messaging during a potential recession. 

3. Usability studies 

Usability studies focus on the MVP or latest version that your brand’s building, whether it’s a website or a new product. 

Kimberly-Clark serves as the manufacturer for major brands including Huggies and Kleenex. They found shoppers weren't buying specific personal care items at a rate similar to other product categories. They wanted to know the biggest barriers preventing shoppers from buying these items online and what user experience experiments they could perform to improve sales. 

In the third phase of a study conducted with Reach3, participants were invited to one-on-one, in-depth interviews. Using screen-sharing technology, they were able to deep dive into the online and mobile e-commerce shopping experience. This included search behavior, as well as UX and UI pain and passion points. They also gathered rich video selfies to help uncover emotional drivers and dynamics at plays that could help increase online conversions. With these agile research methods, Kimberly-Clark was able to drive a 20% online sales lift

4. Conversational surveys

While business leaders need to make decisions faster than ever, in many cases the methods and technology they’re using don’t let them. Conversational surveys deployed through mobile messaging let brands: 

  • gather consumers’ candid feedback in an experience similar to any messaging platform people already use
  • get higher response rates than email surveys thanks to mobile notifications
  • capture in the moment feedback as notifications hit their respondent’s phones

Using this agile research method, brands are able to get feedback in days compared to weeks or even months with traditional approaches. 

Rival worked with the hockey team Vancouver Canucks to help them better understand the fan experience and factors that convert audiences into season ticket holders. If conversational surveys weren’t available to send via SMS, they’d be stuck sending an email survey. Best case scenario with email surveys is getting enough responses weeks after attending a game. In one example, 33% of the Canucks fans we reached out to during a game through SMS responded within the first six minutes 

5. Video feedback

Video feedback lets brands get immediate input from consumers so you can meet ambitious deadlines.


Teams that move fast are busy teams. This problem is two-fold, these reports are time consuming to prepare and equally time consuming to consume. Most decision makers don't have time to sit around and listen to formally presented findings. Often, by the time the research has been wrapped up the decisions have already been made and the report makes zero impact. 

It's time to change the script. Quickly collecting feedback and sharing it back to the organization in a way that is meaningful and will resonate with executives is the way to get noticed and ensure your research will have a lasting effect. Swap out or support your regular feedback with videos that humanize the experience and make your team take action. 

Our sister research firm, Reach3, worked with a major recreational vehicle brand to get consumer input on potential new brand taglines. They were facing a looming deadline due to an executive presentation happening within 48 hours. They quickly sent mobile messaging-based conversational exercises to test several new tagline ideas. In the span of a few hours, they captured robust quantitative feedback along with qualitative input in the form of video selfies of consumers explaining their preferences.

6. Ongoing research communities

Instead of having to pay for each survey completed by your target audience, imagine having an already captivated audience you were able to grow and continually use to inform new business decisions. That was exactly our vision. In 2020, we launched mobile communities to help brands iterate and gather agile research over time. 

The House of LR&C’s team, which includes former Lululemon CEO Christine Day, pop star Ciara and football player Russell Wilson, built a mobile community on our platform before going live with their brand. The mobile community includes many POC Gen Zs to get feedback on the company’s initial mission statement, social media strategy, and UX and UI decisions. 

Summing It Up

Depending on your research goals, you’ll likely be using a combination of the above agile research methods. But remember: you can always pivot and iterate with the right agile research program. Equally important, this research can inform your brand’s entire product lifecycle.

Learn more about agile research and how to get deeper insights using conversational surveys by reading our ebook, The Future of Insights is Conversational

author image
Written by Niamh Cunningham

Niamh Cunningham is Rival's COO

Talk to an expert

Talk to an expert

Got questions about insight communities and mobile research?
Chat with one of our experts.


SUBSCRIBE Sign up to get new resources from Rival.

Subscribe by Email

No Comments Yet

Let us know what you think