Increasing the Odds of Innovation

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The last article we posted from our friend Peter Murane over at BrandJuice was featured in Ad Age. Here’s a new one that’s equally as smart. Can you believe you’re getting all this amazing thinking free of charge? Neither can we.

Put Your Consumer to Work, Increasing the Odds of Innovation By Peter Murane

The challenge we hear every day from our clients is simple – can you help me increase my chances of innovation success? Innovation today is slow and resource intensive – it takes many years and hundreds of thousands of dollars. And despite the intense investment, still 95% of new products fail every year.

Let there be no doubt – the current model is broken. And it is based on the false premise that the right market research plan can remove risk from the process. If you talk to enough consumers and get enough good data back, surely you will succeed, right?

Better market research alone isn’t going to fix the innovation conundrum many consumer companies are facing today. But changing the way you think about it and do it can certainly increase your odds.

Many market researchers will encourage you to put down the M&Ms and move away from the one-way mirror. They will tell you that companies have lost touch with their consumers and they will expound on the many flaws of the traditional focus group – it’s not authentic, it’s costly and consumers are trained to tell you what you want to hear. But the truth is that consumers have a lot to say, they are eager to talk to you about it and it can very much change your business – provided you ask the right questions and actively listen.

Just look at the number of consumer entrepreneurs out there becoming overnight successes by making their own products. Whirpool recently awarded the “Mother of Invention” grant to a frustrated mom contestant who created a bottle nipple to be used with regular water bottles when she was on-the-go. On “The Big Idea,” Donny Deutsch is able to feature a million dollar idea every week – an invention created by the average Joe frustrated by the way something was done. Everything from first aid kits that coach you with audio instructions to ergonomically designed backpacks and customized pet products – consumers are reacting to their frustrations in the consumer market by creating their own answers. And they’re pretty darn good at it.

I challenge you to think of the last time you did consumer research. Do you think you got enough out of the investment? Did you really make consumers work for their incentive? Were you really engaged to get the most out of it yourself? There are better ways to talk to consumers, but we’re not recommending you throw the baby out with the bath water. Traditional market research methods can work and there are a few easy ways to get more out of them.

Be a Voyeur
There is considerable value in getting out of the focus group facility. Facilities can be a great venue to make six consumers focus and dig into concept language and positioning benefits. But it is true that consumers tell you one thing – and when you see them in action, it’s another thing entirely. We once talked to a consumer who was really concerned about the amount of sugar in food. But when we watched her eat breakfast that morning, she put two heaping spoonfuls of sugar on her cereal. We’ve also gone into the homes of severe allergy sufferers to talk to them about their symptoms and treatments, only to find dusty shelves, carpets, two dogs and a cat in the bed.

Sometimes consumers know what they should be doing and what they should care about, but when the rubber hits the road, real behaviors can be distorted. There are downsides to going into consumers’ homes – ethnographies are more expensive, they are time intensive and all ten clients can’t come along with you. But if your insights are critically flawed, why risk sitting around the conference table in a focus group?

Deprive People
If you want to find real pain points, fast – take something away from the consumer and make them live without it. They will come to you angry, depressed and full of coping mechanisms. For a cereal looking to expand usage, we took away the bowl and spoon from loyal consumers for a week to observe how they ate their cereal. What we found were really innovative ways to deliver cereal on-the-go and usage occasions that existed already beyond the breakfast table.

Deprivation studies can be really cost effective as well. By sending journals, cameras and homework to consumers ahead of time, they can all meet in a facility or at home to talk about their experiences. As clients, you get to hear them firsthand, and you don’t waste manpower and resources following people around all day.

Make Them Mad Scientists
CNBC and Whirlpool have shown us that consumers have a lot of ideas – tap into it! For a food product, we gave consumers pot luck food assignments and had them bring their food creations to a dinner party. Much like a traditional focus group, we got to talk to them about their needs, creations and motivations, but in a relaxed environment, and with real life stimulus.

Even in a traditional focus group setting, by having consumers bring inventions with them, you save valuable time from probing into needs and daily rituals by immediately identifying a distinct consumer need and talking about the impetus for their creations. It requires more incentive for the consumer, but it is well worth the real life, authentic information you get in the end.

Battle Test
The age old innovation challenge is really making a great product idea sell, once it is on the shelf. There is no better way to put a consumer to work than to watch them shop and see if they put their money where their mouth is. Everyone has been to a focus group and seen quantitative results that say, “Yeah, I would buy that!” But then you struggle to figure out why a product failed once it launched.

Once you have a product idea, create a small batch of products to sell. But don’t just put them on a shelf and read the data, that’s for later. Put yourself in a retail environment, like a mall or farmer’s market, where consumers are ready to buy, and see if they are interested in your product. In fact, you can pit a few products against each other and figure out which one does better and why. You can identify and evolve distinct variables in the product, get real target audience feedback by seeing who is interested in your booth and find out where in the purchasing process the wallet comes out and the deal is sealed. Essentially, consumers can do nearly all of the evolution work for you in a few days and with a small investment in production, resources and staff time.

For more information on our services and ways we might approach your next consumer research project, give us a call or drop us a line.

Peter Murane is president and founder of BrandJuice, a brand strategy and innovation consulting firm based in Denver, CO. He can be reached via e-mail at peter[at]


You guys need to put a photo of something here if you want anyone to read all of that copy.

How about a photo of cake, or a puppy?

Just a thought.

And speaking on the topic of innovation.. why is it.. that the retail environment can’t figure-out the notion of putting tape next to wrapping paper. It’s always three aisles away. If Target, Wallmart and every other major player can’t do a simple task, how can we expect innovation?

Goes back to what Peter is saying. get in the store and see what’s going on.. you’d think that the person doing the shelf resets may have once tried to both items at the same time. Innovation needs to start here. Common sense stuff. Sometimes, innvovation can be the smallest things. Taking existing concepts and giving them a small twirl. And the retail environment should be one of our first battlegrounds. While most people have preconcieved notions and dogmas about what they’re going to buy before they walk into a store, a simple interuption can change perceptions.

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