Game-Changing Product Innovation
Years ago I watched a film that documented how a new product developed. The idea was to create a pre-packaged sandwich for quick and easy lunches. As the idea made its way to the final product launch, it became something entirely different: a round tubular pretzel with a soft gooey interior – now a snack food instead of lunch. What happened? The existing machinery could not extrude and package a workable sandwich, so in effect, the machine forced them to create a “new product” rather similar (but with a new twist) to all the other products it was creating. So much for the sandwich.
Something like this happens in the market research industry. Large research companies advise hundreds of different product innovation teams and spend years collecting benchmark data on thousands of new product launches. They develop metrics and benchmarks, explore “white space,” and advise on how to optimize messaging. They tell you which of your eight product dimensions you need to revise (and how to revise them) to get good scores on their indices, all of which are driven by the thousands of other products they put through their algorithm machines.
For a lot of companies, the process makes sense. They’re big, they have a couple million dollars to invest in a line extension, and they need to show management that they can leverage their spend for another 2% in incremental sales. They don’t need game–changing innovation. Chances are they will not get it because they’re using the same machine that most other innovation teams are using.
So here’s an idea. The next time you have a $2M budget for innovation research, take a small piece of it and test a different process. Forget about the data machines and benchmarks. Ask smart people to think with you and to test some of your ideas on customers and prospects. They’ll use focus groups, ethnographies, surveys, and statistics, but ideally they’ll be focused around your ideas instead of what everyone else has done for the last ten years. Compare the insights you get from this process to the data machine. If you get good insights and a top-notch team helping you communicate it to your management, chances are you’ve found a better way to do research for truly game-changing innovation.
–Joe Hopper, Ph.D.