User-Centric Innovation: 3 Important Tactics To Help Ensure New Product Success
by Felicia Rogers and Hillary Semmelman
From home solutions to a variety of new health and wellness products unveiled at the (virtual) 2021 CES, innovation has been and will continue to be reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes it has brought to our world.
Given this changing environment, what are the keys to ensuring innovation investments pay off?
As pointed out by our long-time client and friend, Nadine Williams, focusing on the consumer is a critical step to ensure new products meet the needs and expectations of end-users.
"In all my years of marketing and innovation work for brands like Gorilla Glue and Bicycle playing cards, I have found the most successful product launches are the ones where we made the investment in consumer research. Insights into consumer preferences and what resonates with the target market is a critical piece of the innovation puzzle that, for me, is non-negotiable." Nadine Williams—Managing Director, &Beyond Innovation and Marketing
From a research perspective, there are several ways to engage with potential customers to help guide the innovation process. We’ll address three broad research tactics that many companies use to accomplish their goals.
Innovation is often sparked by a small nugget or germ of an idea that was unearthed in qualitative consumer research. One of the greatest strengths of qualitative is the ability to explore a topic, both broadly and deeply. It’s essentially a partially structured and partially free-flowing conversation. Because of this, there are almost always unanticipated insights or learnings from traditional groups or interviews, or digital-forward conversations like virtual ethnography or webcam interviews. Whether in-person or virtually, talking at length with consumers and exploiting the ability to probe into unexpected statements, or to press a bit on nonverbal reactions, will commonly lead to a discovery that eventually helps frame an opportunity for a new product or service, or at the very least, an improvement on one already in existence.
Qualitative techniques—typically involving relatively small numbers of participants—are also useful for exploring reactions to early-stage ideas. This is the right time to share idea frameworks, working concepts, or early prototypes. With enough information to get the idea across, consumers are generally able to provide valuable feedback and make suggestions on how to improve the concepts for further testing and development.
Sometimes qualitative stands on its own and move-forward decisions can be made. But more often than not, it leads to concept refinements and then to more rigorous concept evaluation with larger groups of consumers. At this stage, one of the most important things to consider is the type of testing to utilize. Bells and whistles are nice but often unnecessary. The key is to identify a tried-and-true system that will work for your brand and stick with it. Several great systems are available to help cull through scores of early-stage concepts and/or to use during the later development stages when thorough diagnostics and predictive analysis are needed on a few near-finished ideas. Once you’ve identified the right method for your organization, using it consistently to evaluate concept after concept helps build confidence in your innovation practices and will provide greater predictability over time.
Here’s a great example. We work with a company that has been committed to using the same structured concept screening and testing system for several years. Because of this rich history, they have developed a keen sense for the scores that will convert into retail success. They’ve even taken their system a step further by correlating concept research results with actual in-market sales data. This data validation step has helped further ensure their concept test scores will translate into positive business results, assuming the products they launch closely resemble the concepts that had been tested many months earlier.
When a product under development is intricate, with lots of possible features and benefits, leveraging a Choice Optimization approach is an ideal way to identify the right combination of variables to optimize the business outcomes. In other words, the techniques—though at times quite complex—can simplify the process of identifying the right features and benefits to include in the final product(s) in order to maximize demand, revenue, profits, share, or all of the above. This powerful technique utilizes a survey-based trade-off exercise that is administered to a large number of consumers. A sophisticated, behind-the-scenes design presents various pairs or sets of product configurations and allows the consumer to decide which one he or she would prefer most and their likelihood to purchase that particular product configuration. The process ultimately produces specific guidance on the best product design, with the flexibility to allow the brand team to explore “what-if” scenarios incorporating other knowledge or data, such as the cost of goods. Ultimately, this system helps define the optimal product features and pricing at which revenue or margin is maximized for the product or line.
Across business sectors, brands continuously need to innovate to stay ahead of the competition and to keep up with evolving customer needs. At no time in recent history has this been truer. For anyone who is passionate about developing new products, it’s an exciting and rewarding business. However, we all know it comes with risks, even when the new product has been developed and designed utilizing consumer research. When you have the right tools and systems in place, the odds of winning increase exponentially.
We would love to help you with your new product needs. Please feel free to reach out to us any time.
About the Authors
Felicia Rogers (email@example.com) is an Executive Vice President at Decision Analyst and Hillary Semmelman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Senior Vice President at Decision Analyst. They may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.
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