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One of the greatest challenges in building out an innovation pipeline is figuring out where a brand can go next. This type of opportunity space exploration is really important to get right, right off the bat. Unfortunately, too many people rush this phase of innovation—resulting in a garbage in-garbage out mistake. Whether it’s demand spaces, JTBD (Jobs To Be Done), or another framework you’re using, you have to map out the opportunity territory well before you can set out on the journey.

There are two ways most marketers approach Opportunity Exploration:

  1. Qualitative Research
  2. Quantitative Research

Both have strengths and weaknesses—but these often come down to whether you care more about depth or breadth. Let’s take a walk through each.


Talking one-on-one with individuals—or doing traditional ethnography—is a great way to get to know your consumer. This type of research usually yields excellent insights that bring color and detail into the ideation phase. And I truly believe that to succeed in idea generation and concept development, you have to actually talk to real consumers. But for the purposes of qualitative Opportunity Exploration, the sample size tends to be small and expensive, while the data can be messy and time intensive to analyze—costing you the two things you never seem to have enough: time and money. Think about it. First you have to find the right people, then you have to spend enough time with those people to get something out of it, and then you have to do the analysis.


If you’re looking for survey data and large-scale samples quickly, quantitative research is the way to go. Online bulletin boards can reach lots of people—and provide lots of pictures and written input. It can be asynchronous, which offers some much-needed multi-tasking time, and it’s usually inexpensive to get going. Simple, faster, cheaper. But it usually doesn’t go very deep. There’s a lack of emotional context and nuance—and misses non-verbal responses completely. This can be a tough trade-off as many marketers have discovered that some of the most breakthrough opportunities emerge from the emotions behind the data.


So how do pick where you want to go when you’re trying to identify opportunity spaces? My advice is to take a look at the challenge you have:

  • If you’re going to completely new territory and don’t know what to do, go quantitative and get a higher sample size. This will help you explore the geography around certain opportunity areas.
  • If you’re staying in your category and want to focus your innovation efforts on areas you’re familiar with—or are looking at an opportunity within your brand’s wheelhouse—try qualitative. This research will go deep with the base of knowledge and use cases you know, and help you uncover the untapped possibilities where unoccupied niches hide.
Greg Cobb

Greg Cobb is a Creative Process Designer and Facilitator as well as the creator of Ideas To Go’s Inspire® visual survey platform. Greg has a BA in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania.  Prior to joining Ideas To Go in 2011, Greg led the US consumer division at a leading global market research firm.  Facilitating innovation sessions and moderating consumer interviews and groups since 2007, Greg has worked extensively in most consumer categories as well as pharma, B2B, and automotive.