Listening to your prospective customers seems to be a logical approach when identifying new products or services. But too many companies look internally to their teams, assuming they have the expertise and knowledge to innovate.
It is true that they have industry and company knowledge. But they are not having daily, objective conversations with people in the target audience. Those conversations are necessary to fully understand their needs and pains, and what products or services will be valuable to them.
The most innovative companies of the last several decades operate a continuous customer insights program typically driven by some form of market research.
For example, in the consumer space, Proctor & Gamble has been one of the most respected companies in the world. That reputation was largely earned by bringing innovative new products that consumers want to the market.
Think Swiffer, the product that revolutionized floor mops, and more recently, Tide Pods. Both products solved a consumer need. In each case, a more convenient way to do these necessary home tasks was identified and fulfilled.
They did this with extensive research. In both cases, they observed directly how consumers perform these housekeeping tasks in their homes. Hence, from making the effort to fully understand their customers, they learned what pains they could overcome with innovation.
Apple is another great example. Apple delivers innovation that changes the way people live. They produce a continuous flow of new products that build their brand, drive sales, and create incredible loyalty. Both these companies enjoy long-term success. And most experts agree that it stems from a well-developed culture of innovation.
There are many ways to innovate, some quick, others more extensive, some costly, and others achieved in more resourceful ways. But listening to your target audience is the key to delivering winning products and services.
However, before we embark on customer research, we need to be informed about who we plan to target. Include demographics, psychographics, geographic areas, and anything else that defines the prospective buyers of this product or service.
Another important activity is to look at trends in other industries that may inform what could occur in your business. Then develop a research plan, write informed survey questions, and always test a “concept”—your idea of what you plan to develop.
From customer surveys and other research, we get information and insights that help inform gaps in the marketplace that we can fill.
This is sometimes called and “outside in” perspective, meaning that we do not develop products and services that we can easily make or that we think the marketplace may want. Instead, we listen to customers directly and design products to satisfy their needs. This process greatly enhances the success rate of new product introductions.
So how do small and mid-sized companies resource these critical activities. And yes, market research has historically been the best route, but expensive. Those costs are coming down dramatically with on-line surveys, Zoom based focus groups and other techniques that can drive down costs without sacrificing learnings. In my consulting practice I have written surveys myself, and then executed them via phone interviews to save clients the cost of a professional market research firm.
A successful insight phase will identify and define one or more innovations. These include “concepts” expressed as a written summary of the features and benefits of the new product, and ideally, an emotional connection to the audience.
The most successful communications of concepts or actual advertising appeal to the rational thoughts, emotions and needs of your audience.
The bottom line is that you plan to sell these new products or services to your customers and target audience. So, save yourself time and money by getting it right the first time by hearing what they need before you start investing resources.
This insight phase is the first step in an important stage/gate process that will add discipline into your efforts to keep innovation initiatives on time and budget.
Read my next article to learn more about the importance of a Stage/Gate Process and the key elements of implementing one successfully.