Launching a product or service that no one wants is like throwing a party that no one attends. The number one way to get some insurance on your innovation ideas? Invite your customer to the product development team by using online research communities. Injecting the voice of the consumer is essential to generating new ideas and validating them at the same time. And generating rapid, iterative insights throughout development is the fastest way to get there.
Darin Eich, Ph.D., is an innovation facilitator, speaker and author of Innovation Step-by-Step. Darin has worked on innovation initiatives with Procter & Gamble, General Mills and other powerhouse brands, and has developed an approach to help us avoid these kinds of mistakes.
So, let’s take a quick look at Darin’s approach and how insights can help maximize success at each stage.
Darin’s approach includes 7 key steps:
- Clarify the challenge
- Formulate questions
- Generate ideas
- Analyze and synthesize ideas
- Develop concepts
- Test and select concepts
- Communicate and advance
The Challenge: Start by gathering the consumer’s opinions, complaints and compliments.
The first phase of new product innovation is The Challenge — specifying the problem you’re solving or the opportunity you’re trying to capitalize on. But before you generate even one idea, make sure your innovation direction is aligned with your mission and relevant to your customers.
“During The Challenge phase, customers can help you validate which direction your company should take, so when you’re generating and launching new product ideas, they’re the kind of products or services that customers actually want and need,” says Darin.
Just like success, failure is (unfortunately) part of doing business. These failures can take different forms – a product doesn’t sell, it’s recalled, discontinued or doesn’t come close to meeting a consumer’s expectations.
Take for example some of these famous flops:
- Sony’s Betamax: Despite having better quality recordings, Betamax tape lengths capped at just an hour. VHS players were also cheaper to produce, which appealed more to consumers.
- The DeLorean: The sports car made infamous by Back to the Future was plagued by performance and safety issues. After three years, production stopped in 1983.
- Crystal Pepsi: Pepsi’s attempt to cash in on the health fads of the ‘90s didn’t catch on. Consumers were also confused about the taste. It was citrus-flavored, instead of a clear cola as the name implied.
- Bic “For Her”: Advertised as being built for women’s comfort and available in colors such as pink and purple, many consumers considered the product to be sexist and its Amazon page attracted a slew of mocking reviews.
Poor market research doomed these products. Instead of asking consumers how they felt about the product or how it would fit into their lives, these companies went full throttle in misguided directions. The lesson here is to get customer feedback early in the innovation process to clarify the challenge and determine your path forward.
Want to learn more about a framework for better understanding customer behavior? Check out our post on the Jobs-to-be-done theory here.
The Idea: Consumers know how to generate ideas that stick.
This leads us to the second major phase of innovation: The Idea. This is where you generate ideas, as well as analyze and synthesize them before developing concepts.
Darin has observed that “The rapid pace of change today is wearing on product lines. Our audience is easily bored. Their attention gets diverted. This is why a company needs many more customer-validated ideas in the warehouse.”
Consumer research does more than just confirm which ideas they want and which ones they don’t. They can be a source of innovative product and service ideas. In fact, one customer can generate a hundred ideas for you in a span of two hours. The smarter the question, the better the ideation.
For example, look at two hypothetical questions posed to craft beer drinkers by a research project for a microbrewery.
- Version A: How may we create more fruit-flavored beers?
- Version B: What’s a great idea for a fruit-flavored beer?
Version B creates an expectation that only “great” ideas are welcome. The framing of the question puts undue pressure on anyone involved in the brainstorming process — choking ideation instead of inspiring it.
Version A removes the judge. By having more properly-framed questions, you end up with more ideas worth analyzing, synthesizing and developing. Turn vague questions into specific ones to fuel more innovative ideas and action.
Looking to create better ideas? Check out this case study from The Garage Group about running Innovation Sprints.
The Launch: Don’t settle for innovative thinking, aim for innovative action.
By using Darin’s 7-step approach to guide your innovation process, you’ll arrive at the third major phase: The Launch. This is where you test, select and communicate concepts to others, and put your marketing concepts into motion.
Don’t just leave communication strategies to the ad agencies and marketing firms, go ahead and ask how to market your product. Instead of trudging through endless options, position your promotion strategy around your consumer’s life. Do they scroll through social media, watch traditional TV, attend live events? Build your marketing campaign around their routine to maximize success.
Keep in mind that the greatest marketing campaign cannot overcome the weakness of a new product concept. Don’t be the next DeLorean. If that product doesn’t meet the needs of the consumer, what’s the point?
The beauty of involving customers throughout every phase of your innovation process — The Challenge, The Idea, and The Launch — is that you get validation all along the way. Change is inevitable and innovation is essential to keeping your business, products and services relevant. When you follow an innovation process that champions the voice of the consumer, you can ensure that you’ll have a victory.
Wondering how your team can jump-start the innovation process and begin testing ideas?
Check out our new 3-part eBook series: Ready, Aim, Fire: A Guide to Agile Insights for Consumer Product Teams.