The Art of Beanbags & Funny Hats: thoughts from a GRUMPY Innovator

This week I am excited to share a very special guest post. It is written ( and illustrated) by the infamous Grumpy Innovator himself Costas Papaikonomou. He shares an excerpt from his book “thoughts from a GRUMPY innovator” that is already in its second edition. Witty and wise, sometimes irritating, always provocative but never boring, he takes us on a wild ride of mass market innovation, commenting on why most companies have got it wrong – VERY wrong! Marketers, be prepared to have your very soul challenged.  

Every solution has a problematic history by definition. In that sense, the skills behind successful innovation could be framed as the ability to create solutions for problems before anyone realizes what a nuisance they are. Successful innovation is not about dreaming up what would be science fiction today, but about foreseeing what will be plain vanilla tomorrow.

You can imagine most creative professionals do not find that thought particularly motivating, which is why such a large chunk of this discipline appears to be about putting the ‘art’ of being creative up on an ever higher pedestal than the output it generates. By the creative themselves, obviously. Much of the world of creativity is populated by gurus, visionary high priests who scatter riddles across 2×2 diagrams to paint your future portfolio. Well, implement creativity like a religion and you’ll need miracles to be successful.

Breakthrough ideas too often feed creative egos, not consumer needs. If anything, successful new products and services are like the weather; about 90% likely to be the same as yesterday’s products. This isn’t to say the world needs no game changing innovation; it’s merely that too many businesses waste time looking outside the box when their market still has plenty room left to grow and differentiate inside it.

For some of the world’s leading companies and br and teams, success seems based on historical serendipities, luck, or lack of competition. Nevertheless stupendous amounts of money are wasted on turning innovation projects into a beauty parade.

Maybe creative capability is genuinely seen as something much more difficult than it really is? Then again, if Edison really meant it being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration he would have invented deodorant. Or GoreTex. What’s making this all so difficult?

  • A belief you need to be uncomfortable to work outside your comfort zone. Funny hats, beanbags and humiliating ‘energizers’. A whole industry has grown around the mantra that in order for people to take creative risk, they should be made to feel even more uneasy than they already are.
  • Two men discuss innovationFeatures rather than benefits? The first decade of the new millennium brought high-end software and technology into consumers’ daily lives, in a way previously unheard of. With it came an insatiable drive for new features in order to provide marginal difference between devices and social media, a trend which seems to be trickling down into mass markets of physical products.
  • Innovation creativityRe-inventing predecessors’ wheels. In many corporate ecosystems the responsibility for innovation lies with the marketing department, a discipline known for high job rotation. New marketing & br and managers waste plenty of their time redeveloping ideas that have bombed many times before. Or worse – getting their heads spun ‘round by the creative agency who’s been working on the br and longer than they have.
  • Believing your own spin. In mature FMCG categories, the reality is that everyone needs to push the envelope on what can be claimed in order to st and out from the crowd. But the line between substantiated claims and spin is thin. No problem. Think homeopathy. But in practice this leads to claims that sound credible in respect of the br and equity or previous claims, rather than being based on new developments. And that’s when a credible myth all too easily becomes the new benchmark for truth.
  • Marketing executive’s lives and their consumers’ lives couldn’t be further apart. Having empathy with your target consumer does not mean bringing to market only the products you’d buy yourself. On the contrary. Corporate professionals dealing with mass market innovation tend to belong to a society’s top 2% income level, with the other 98% being their target. This target is seldom as interested in ‘on-the-go’ or ‘stress relief’ or ‘personalization’ as one may hope.

So what to do? Well, first of all assume there is a solution for any creative problem and trust that it won’t require black magic to uncover it.

  • Innovation creativity funnelMake time, not space. You don’t need to be in a Hungarian lakeside castle to be creative. In fact, the environment is mostly irrelevant as long as it’s comfortable – that’s why beds and bathtubs ignite new ideas. What you need most is TIME. Uninterrupted time to work on the innovation task, alone or as a group – to underst and the problem, the context and to work on solutions.
  • An un-filtered look at the (consumer) context. All you need is some rigor in pinpointing what the real needs are, for relevant answers to pop out painlessly. Real insight carries far. Note this involves more listening and reading to what consumers actually say and less reading of macro-economic trends or your br and vision deck.
  • Cherish the small incremental ideas. Most growth challenges do not require breakthrough solutions. Give small ideas a chance and create a culture of rolling them out regularly. It’s that culture that then makes the big innovation easier to create and deploy.
  • Reality first – then br and equity. Stay in touch with the physical attributes of your product before getting carried away by what you wish were possible. The touch, the smell, the chemistry, the taste, the sounds… Nothing beats a trip to your factory and R&D lab before getting to work on a consumer problem.

Not an innovation pipelineWishful thinking and blue-sky ideation are absolutely fine, but they are a transfer station, not the end destination of your effort. Even the wildest ideas must come back to earth in order to become part of an operational process that can make a business thrive.

If you would like to know more about innovation, perhaps in a less provocative way (!), then please do check out our website:

Need help in innovating or renovating your own products & services? Then let us help you catalyze your customer centricity; contact us here

10 Ways to tell if you’re Customer Centric: And what to do about it if you’re not

Summer is a great time to reflect on the progress we have made to date on our plans, be they personal or professional. Having finally completed the “nth” revision of my latest book –the formatting not the content! – it was the perfect occasion for me to review what I wanted to achieve in the coming six months.

This got me thinking about how organisations too need to take a step back and review how their plans are going and what changes need to be made to ensure their completion over the remaining six months of the year. So here are my ten ways to tell if you are well on your way to becoming truly customer centric – and what actions you can still take to go further along your journey.

#1. Identify the category in which you are competing

This may sound strange to you, but many br ands are not competing in the category in which they first thought they were. Think soup which is now a meal replacement, or laptops which are now entertainment platforms.

Action: Review how your product or service fits into the customers’ daily life and how they compare and decide between options. This will help you identify your real competitors and the actual category in which you are competing.

#2. Underst and your primary target

Boston MatrixKnowing precisely who the customer is for each of your br ands is the first essential step to satisfying them. Use the BCG Matrix to help select the best group. Do you already work with this matrix, or do you have a better system? Please share your own best practice below, so I can learn.

Action: Review the target audience for each of your br ands and ensure you have information on their +4Ws” – Who, What, Where and Why: demographics, purchase, usage, media use, places of purchase, consumption, connections to communications, their values, usage motivations and emotions when doing so.

#3. Watch and listen to your customers

Personal experience of your customers is essential to putting them at the heart of your business.

Action: Ensure everyone has regular – ideally monthly – contact with the customer, whether by listening in at the call centre, watching market research interviews & discussions, or observing customers as they shops and use your product / service.

#4. Know what current trends could mean for your business

Many organisations follow trends, but they don’t provide any competitive advantage unless they are turned into future scenarios.

Action: Identify the most relevant trends for your br and and then project them into the future to develop two axes of uncertainty and four plausible future worlds. These will help prepare the business for future opportunities and challenges.

#5. Reinvent your innovation

Example of innovation leversMost organisations innovate based upon their current knowledge or technical skills. This keeps them boxed into a narrow b and of categories.

Action: Take your NPD thinking outside its box, by making use of all relevant innovation levers, including, but not limited to, packaging, channels, sourcing, communications, br anding, services.


#6. Follow your image

It is amazing how many companies don’t follow their br and images on a regular basis. Image trends are a great way to be alerted to possible sales issues before they appear in the numbers.

Action: Identify the major image attributes of both your own and competitor br ands, and measure them regularly (annually for fast moving categories, every two to three years for slower moving ones).

#7. Turn your information into insight

Whilst information and knowledge are essential to gather, it is only when they are turned into underst anding and insight that they become truly customer centric.

Action: Review your insight development process and ensure decisions about customer satisfaction are based on them and not just on information. Insights ensure your communications resonate with your customers and your product / service delights and sometime surprises them.

#8. Share your information and insights

Companies spend a lot of money gathering data and information about the market and customers. However, in most cases they spend far too much money, because the information that is needed is actually already available somewhere in the company.

Action: Review your organisation’s information needs and negotiate contracts and access company-wide rather than by department. Make your information and insights available to everyone in the company through a library or database with appropriately managed access rights.

#9. Evaluate your progress

Business DashboardAs the infamous quote from Peter Drucker says “What gets measured gets managed”. Besides br and image, are you following other KPIs to measure your progress on your journey to customer centricity?

Action: Identify the three to five most important areas you want to improve and then measure them consistently. If the numbers aren’t trending up, act – see #10. below. The actual metrics you follow will depend upon your industry, but may include market comparison (shares), availability (distribution or out-of-stock) communications impact, competitivity, value.


#10. Plan for action

Once you have identified the KPIs to follow, you need to take action to improve those that are trending downwards and perhaps also those which are stable.

Action: Since your KPIs are the most important metrics for your business, plan actions as soon as their trend changes and don’t wait.

These ten steps should ensure your organisation remains focussed on the customer and doesn’t get lost in the day-to-day issues of the business. After all, as I have been quoted many times for saying:

“There may be customers without br ands, but there are no br ands without customers”

Think about it; do you have the right priorities? How do you know? Have I missed an essential step off of my list above? If so, let me know. Please also share which of your actions towards customer centricity you are struggling with the most. Together we’ll find a solution.

If you would like to  know how customer centric your organisation really is, then why not complete the C3C Evaluator? Check it out on our website:

Need help on your journey to customer centricity? Let us help you catalyze your business; contact us here.

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Increasing your Information ROI: Turning Knowledge into Gold

We all gather information about our customers. What do we do with it? We (hopefully) use it to inform our decisions and then it gets filed away. In some cases this is vertical (i.e. thrown away) but usually it is horizontal, to gather dust on a shelf somewhere that is soon forgotten. I think it’s time we changed this and turned our information investments into gold!

There are many, many ways to gather information about the customer: observation, listening, market research and external reports. I recently wrote about all the information on our customer that we should have at our disposition in a post called “12 Things you need to know about your target customers”. We need a lot of information to really know and underst and our customer and it clearly will not come from one single market research project or report. Therefore that knowledge must be built up over time and that is where the problem lies.

Often we forget we already have the information and go out and buy it again. This is particularly common when the marketing department changes its lead or members – which seems to be every year or two in many organisations these days! Everyone thinks they need more information, when they actually most likely need more insight. (I have written several posts on insight development, including “ Are you into insights or information?”) Therefore I thought it would be a good idea to share some ideas on resolving this situation, so that your hard-fought budget gets spent on gathering information that you don’t have available and really do need.

#1. Review what you’ve got

Data, information and knowledge are only useful if they are analysed and converted into underst anding and insight. In today’s data-rich environment, this is often where companies struggle the most. Next time you need information about your customer, start by reviewing the information and knowledge you already have, and also ask other departments who may need similar information, if they have it, before commissioning further research or report purchases.

#2. Share what you’ve got

One of the reasons companies spend money on gathering information that is already available internally, is because they don’t know it is! To help reduce this overspend, which unfortunately most suppliers will not inform you of, you need to make sure that everyone who might need the information is made aware of it and has access to it.

For one of my clients, we discovered that some external reports were being bought separately more than 20 times within the organisation! As if that wasn’t bad enough, several different departments were also buying access to the same databases, and others were doing almost identical pieces of market research at approximately the same time.

To avoid this:

  • make a review of information needs across the organisation, or across the region or globe if yours is an international business
  • make one person responsible for negotiating company-wide deals with suppliers; the savings made may even cover the cost of this position and is therefore well worth the investment
  • share plans for market research projects across businesses and look for opportunities to combine for further cost savings

#3. Store what you’ve got

Despite all the actions specified in #2. above, you may still find that there are times when unplanned information needs crop up. This is where a knowledge database or library becomes effective. It can be as simple as a folder on a shared drive or as complex as a bespoke platform, or anything in between. What is important is that is meets the needs of those looking for information and that all relevant people have easy access to it.

Whichever size of storage you decide on, I suggest first making an audit of information needs. This should cover both what is available, as well as what is needed and why. However be careful to distinguish between what people would like to have and what they actually need; I have found a wide difference between the two in many cases.

#4. Build your Library

Once you have identified the real needs of your organisation, it is time to build your Library. And don’t think once you have built it that people will immediately start to use it! They need to be encouraged to share their knowledge. In my experience, this can sometimes be met with concerns about the confidentiality of the information stored:

“I would love to see what everyone else has gathered, but of course my information is confidential and can’t be shared”

One possible solution to this is to provide right of use only to those who share their knowledge and information, ideally at similar levels to their access.  “Greedy outliers” who take more than they give should then be easy to identify.

Another issue that can crop up with open sharing is management’s worry about leaking information to the competition, especially when employees leave the company. Although this is often an exaggerated risk, in most cases this can be significantly reduced by controlling information download. If certain projects, especially new product development, are considered to be too high a risk to share, then these can have a confidential “as needs” basis rule, or a time limit set on them before being made public.

#5. Mine the gold

The real gold from information sharing comes quickly once it starts to be a reality. Even for smaller knowledge libraries, I have found that within six months the available information starts to replace planned research projects or report purchases.

Once the Library is up and running, the next step is to start sharing your insights too. As mentioned in “ Five ideas to improve your insight development” insights can often be used across more categories than the one for which it was developed. In the post I share a couple of examples of them:

  • INSIGHT: Parents want to protect their children so that they grow up happy and healthy used by:
    • Unilever's OmoUnilever’s Omo and its “Dirt is Good”; see one of their ads on YouTube here
    • Nestle Nido logoNestlé’s Nido; check out one of their ads here. Interestingly Nestlé has also used this same insight for its bottled water in Asia and pet food in the Americas.


  • INSIGHT: Young women want to be appreciated for who they really are i.e. not models used by
    • Unilever Dove logoUnilever’s Dove was the first br and to recognise and benefit from this insight with their infamous Real Beauty campaign; see one of their more recent ads here
    • Migros IamThe Swiss Supermarket chain Migros has a store toiletries br and “I am” which uses the same insight across all their health and beauty products, even using it for the br and name itself and advertising copy: “ I am – what I am“.

The power of information sharing goes a long way to increasing the return on information investments. Reviewing what you’ve already got, sharing and making it accessible to all, and then developing a library platform will all help increase its use whilst at the same time reducing the costs of market research and information gathering. So, what are you waiting for?

Have you developed your own system or library for information and insight sharing? If so please share your experiences and horror stories in the comments below. Everyone would love to know what some of the challenges may be for them when they follow your example. 

Need help in negotiating your information contracts or in building an information / insight Library? Why not call us to discuss just how much you could be saving and increase your information ROI. No obligation, just INSPIRATION!

If you would like to know more about knowledge sharing check out our website: and

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