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The Best Ways To Improve Innovation With Better Ideation & Insights

One of the most frequent questions I get asked by my clients is how they can improve their innovation. 

Whether they are large or small, global or local, they all want to their new products and services to be more successful. And the answer I give them to this question every single time is simple; start with the customer!

Many companies create great new products and services – from their perspective at least – but they fail miserably! They then ask me if I can help them to improve their innovations and identify why this happened. Of course, I do help them, but I also suggest that next time it would be better if they called me before they started innovating! In a failure situation, it is almost always due to an outdated innovation process in which the customer has not been involved.

I know it can be difficult to innovate in this new age of technology, but it remains vital for growth. And Switzerland remains one of the most innovative countries in the world. In both the GII (WIPO Global Innovation Index and Bloomberg Index Switzerland appears in the top five. I think this is why I regularly get invited to run workshops on the topic around the world.

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China is an innovation hot-house

China, excluding Hong Kong, joined the top 20 most innovative countries in the WIPO global innovation index for the first time in 2018. This is because they no longer rely on cost-effective manufacturing alone. They also applied for more patents than the next two countries, the United States and Japan, combined! This clearly shows that China is improving ideation as well as their innovation process. But they know they must do even more. To become a truly competitive nation, they have to better understand their target customers, especially their growing middle and higher-income residents, who continue to prefer primarily imported Western brands.

 

Let me share with you a few of the ideas that I spoke about during my recent visit there. They may also deliver more successful innovation for your organisation too.

 

Innovation is essential

Most companies innovate from an internal technical and skills-based foundation. It doesn’t usually work very well, if at all. In fact, according to NielsenIRIFortune and many others, it is estimated that between 85% and 95% of new consumer products in the US fail. In Europe, it’s just as bad, with only 25% of new consumer products being still available on shelf just twelve months after launch! And less than half that number by the end of the second year.

With such disastrous results, you might wonder why companies continue to innovate. Well there are three main reasons why they do:

  1. It keeps brands fresh. Brands which innovate have something new to share with current and potential clientsWe have come to expect it. What excites today, is normal tomorrow and then just boring after that. We have gotten accustomed to regular updates and constant new choices.
  2. It encourages switching. If brands and options remain the same, people would only switch if they became dissatisfied and the cost of switching was low. Since product performances are so similar in many categories today, new variants and offers suggest differentiation. The brand appears more vibrant and people like that.
  3. It revives brands through excitement and buzz. In today’s connected world, this is vital. People learn about brands as much from friends and family as through advertising. And they trust the former more than the latter, even if some of these “friends” are virtual ones they’ve never met. According to Nielsen’s report ” Global Trust in Advertising” more than eight-in-10 global respondents (83%) say they trust the recommendations of friends and family, and two-thirds (66%) others’ opinions posted online.

 

 

Renovate your innovation process

NPD Funnel copy

It still surprises me that companies continue to use the same innovation process as they've always done, when their failure rate remains so high. Today's digital environment needs a whole new approach.

The old process often looks something like the diagram on the right. Is that what yours looks like? In fact, is your process a funnel? If so, then you're facing at least two problems:

 

1. That it is a funnel. This process is linear, with a beginning and an end. It assumes that there is only one “winner” from all the ideation and brainstorming. And it also supposes that only one concept developed from that “winning” idea will succeed.

But what if all your ideas are great? You would be throwing away all but one of them! Or suppose that they are all “losers” and you launch the least “awful” amongst them? There must be a better way, no?

Even IDEO’s iterative process still assumes “winners”, because they quickly move from brainstorming to prototyping and testing with customers. At least they do suggest co-creating with customers, which is a positive element of their process and it is great fun to do – from my own experiences. But as I said, there is a better way.

 

2. That it doesn’t include the customer. How can you have any chance of innovating for your customers if you don’t include them? You are relying on your own perspective to make choices. Are you the typical consumer for whom you are innovating? Probably not. So why are you taking decisions based on your own opinions and those of your colleagues? They're pretty irrelevant if you think about it!

Virtuous circle of better innovationThe second diagram on the right is the type of NPD process that I encourage my clients to use. It is, of course, always adapted to their own specific needs and based upon their current process to speed adoption and change.

The major difference from most current innovation processes that my clients have shared with me, is that it is a virtuous circle. It starts and ends with opportunity identification, in other words with the customer and insight. This, of course, means that we must know and understand our customers deeply.

 

Know your target audience intimately

We all think we know our customers, don't we? But in most cases this is not strictly true. At least, we don't know them as deeply as we should or could. One of the quickest roads to improving ideation and innovation is to know for whom you are innovating. 

One of the quickest roads to improving ideation and innovation is to know for whom you are innovating. #Marketing #Brand #Innovation Click To Tweet

The first thing I ask my clients to complete, and regular readers will know it well, is the 4W™ Template of the “who”, “what”, where” and most importantly of all, the “why” of their target audience. Often times they struggle with the last “W”. If you want to try it for yourself, check out our detailed post on it “How well do you know your customers?”

Even with this template completed, you still have to go further. Optimal understanding comes from regular connection. Our customers are changing - fast - so we need to keep our fingers on the pulse of the market. Yesterday’s information is not much use to manage today’s brands or innovate for tomorrow.

Yesterday’s information is not much use to manage today’s brands or innovate for tomorrow. #CustomerUnderstanding #CustomerInformation #CustomerData Click To Tweet

During my talk at Shanghai’s ECUST University, someone asked me how we can be better prepared for the future. I love the question, as it enables me to speak about another of my passions, that of scenario planning.

Change happens, and especially rapidly in fast developing markets such as China. My recommendation to the student was to not rely on trends alone. They are uncompetitive. To gain an advantage over the competition, you need to develop trends into plausible future scenarios. If you are interested in learning more, then do check out our post “10 Steps & 5 Success Factors to Ensure your Business is Ready for Anything“.

Knowing why your customers do what they do, buy what they buy and consume what they consume, and then watching and listening to them to understand even better, will put you in the best possible position for improving ideation and innovation. But there’s still more you can do.

Increase your external partnerships

As mentioned above, many companies still rely on their own technology and skills to innovate. However, while technology can certainly help deliver improved benefits, it is usually not sufficient. In many areas, companies need to collaborate with others who are more specialised in certain areas.

Joint ventures and partnerships are also useful for developing new products and services more quickly. You don’t need to build the needed skills internally and you can rely on the immediate support of external experts. Whether you team up with another corporation or a university is up to you, as long as you recognise your need for additional support. If you rely totally on your internal knowledge for improving ideation and innovation, you are unlikely to find those breakthrough ideas most companies are searching for.

There are many examples of large consumer goods companies partnering with external experts. The Laboratoires Innéov was a joint venture in nutritional cosmetics between L’Oréal and Nestléalthough the relationship ended in 2015. Nestle also created  Cereal Partners Worldwide as a joint venture with General Mills and Beverage Partners Worldwide with Coca-Cola.

Procter & Gamble and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries announced the creation of a joint venture in consumer healthcare in 2011. The newly named PGT Healthcare partnership with president Tom Finn has since negotiated tens of JV’s, partnerships and strategic alliances.

 

Expand your business model

Another external lever from which more and more companies are benefiting today is a change in their business model. Take the food industry. It is moving from basic nutrition into health and wellness, and could become a direct competitor to the pharmaceutical industry as it develops more nutraceuticals.

Pharma, on the other hand, is moving from sickness to wellness, from treatments to prevention.

And what about telecoms? They now make almost as much money selling geo-localisation data as they do from providing communication services.

Or how about Google moving into cars, solar panels and most recently travel with its Trips App? Through the analysis of their customers’ searches, Google can identify those of us who are looking to travel, those interested in buying a new car or in using taxi services. Google knows more about us today than we know ourselves! And that is both exciting and frightening.

 

Harness emotional benefits 

Companies which succeed at innovation know that it is the emotional benefits of their product or service that matters, often more so than the functional ones.

Companies which succeed at innovation know that it is the emotional benefits of their product or service that matters, often more so than the functional ones. #Emotions #Benefits #Functional #Brand #Marketing Click To Tweet

Apple used to be a great innovator. In the past few years, I feel they have been relying too much on their technical expertise. The launches of their iPhone 7, 8 and X and the new Mac Book laptops were all less successful than their previous launches. While none are real flops, they failed to ignite excitement in their potential customers.

There have been numerous posts on why Apple is failing at innovating today. One article in the HBR by Steve Blank stated that both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates

“… suggested execution executives as their successors. They confused world-class execution with the passion for product and customers, and market insight. Yet history has shown us that these two talents are not the same. For long-term survival in markets that change rapidly, one is far more important than the other.”

Another article in Business Insider by Julie Bort concludes by saying

Microsoft is now officially more innovative than Apple

based upon Tweets of the events. But Microsoft too failed when Bill Gates handed the company leadership over to Steve Ballmer. For 14 years Ballmer successfully ran the business from a financial perspective. He tripled sales and doubled profits. But he didn’t set the company up for long-term survival. In early 2014, Satya Nadella took over and made some radical changes which focused the company on mobile and the cloud (Azure). This freed Microsoft to become more innovative again and the result is already showing.

You can never go wrong if you start from your customers’ perspective and connect emotionally with them. #CustomerFirst #CustomerCentricity #Business Click To Tweet

 

Develop insights as a company

Some managers think that insight is just another word for market research. They’re wrong, but perhaps you too see it in this way?

Market research is a great source of information, but for insight, you have to integrate multiple sources of information. It is rare for a single project to provide a deep insight. This comes from truly understanding the customer and that takes time. It takes data and information, turned into knowledge and then understanding to develop real insight.

Knowing your customers is insufficient to develop insight unless you understand what it all means to them. #CustomerFirst #CustomerCentricity #Insight #MRX Click To Tweet
C3Centricity insight development process
C3Centricity CatSight™ Process for Insight Development

The full development process, such as the example given on the right, takes time and people, ideally with differing perspectives. It takes a detailed understanding of the target audience, their needs and desires so that you can resonate emotionally with them.

Many organisations work with human truths to help in identifying a concept that will resonate emotionally. These are usually based on basic human needs, which cut across cultures. This makes them particularly useful for regional and global brands.

During my different talks, I share many examples and case studies, but one which my audiences usually find particularly fascinating is the insight both Unilever’s Omo and Nestle’s Nido have used. The insight is based on the human truth that “All parents want their children to grow up happy and healthy”. The insight they then developed, which is as equally relevant for washing powder as it is for infant formula is “I want my child to experience everything life has to offer, even if it means getting dirty”. What is particularly interesting in this example is that both companies have been able to use the same human truth and insight but make it relevant for each of their categories.

My recommendation, therefore, if you are struggling to develop insight, is to analyse your competitors or the brands targeting a similar audience. If you can identify on what human truth and insight their message is based, you may be able to use it too.

 

Conclusions

These are just a few of the many ideas which I shared with enthusiastic audiences wherever I speak about innovation around the world. It is clear that both entrepreneurs and corporate executives in China are particularly keen to improve their innovation. They are also thirsty for support in further improving their ideation. For this reason, I believe they will continue to top the nations in patent applications for many years to come.

Therefore, it is vital that we supposed "developed" nations support our entrepreneurs and creative executives to stay in the race. Unless we do so, we could see China dominate new products and services in the future, as they have dominated manufacturing in the past.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts on the race for innovation. 

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Never, Never, Never Give Up: How to Succeed When All Around You are Failing

 

I heard a famous quote this morning from Winston Churchill’s address to Harrow School in the UK in 1941. It was certainly one of his shortest speeches but probably also his most quoted. He said:

“Never give in, never, never, never, never”

You can read his full speech – which is not a lot longer! – here.

Hearing this quote got me thinking about failure. Failure in our lives, our businesses, our jobs, our relationships. How often do we fail merely because we give up too quickly?

Now whereas I don’t feel qualified to advise you on your private life, I do feel sufficiently knowledgeable to speak about business.

Last week I mentioned the 7 reasons most companies fail to adopt a customer first strategy. They were the conclusion to a post on what a customer first strategy is, and what it isn’t. If you missed it, then click the link above to read the full article.

Over the many years of blog posting, I have written many other posts on many different topics, and which include my solutions to failing in countless areas of marketing. I therefore thought it would be useful to share four of the most important ones here in a single post. Let me know what you think.

 

How you React to Failure could Make You a Success

Failure's only a failure when you don't learn from it
Source: Microsoft

For this first summary of a post, I’d like to share not a list of solutions but a selection of inspiring quotes on reacting to failure. I think it sets the stage beautifully for the other articles to come.

In the full post (which you can read by clicking the above link) you can also find suggested actions for each of them. They will make you realise that there is great opportunity in every failure! So don’t be afraid to fail. Just never give up!

1. “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure” Bill Gates, American Businessman

2. “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be” John Wooden, American Coach

3. “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” Benjamin Franklin, American Politician

4. “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently” Henry Ford, American Businessman

4. “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently” Henry Ford, American Businessman #Quote #Success #Failure Click To Tweet

5. “The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure” John C. Maxwell, American Clergyman

6. “Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure it just means you haven’t succeeded yet” Robert H. Schuller, American Clergyman

7. “Enjoy failure and learn from it. You can never learn from success” Sir James Dyson, British Designer

8. “Fear of failure must never be a reason not to try something” Frederick W. Smith, American Businessman

9. “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” Nelson Mandela, South African Statesman

10. “Failure seldom stops you. What stops you is the fear of failure” Jack Lemmon, American Actor

They say that pride comes before a fall; I say success follows failure! I wish you much success in failing fast, learning faster, so you can enjoy more success!

 

How to Innovate Successfully (What You’re Still Getting Wrong!)

This post mentions the ten reasons innovation fails and then shares ideas on finding a solution to each of them. That is what I share below.

The virtuous proces of innovation

#1 The process: Introduce some creativity into the process. Use a virtuous circle (as shown above) rather than the usual linear or funnel approach.  All innovation processes should start with a deep understanding of the potential customer segment and then insight development.

#2 Meeting company quotas: Instead of company quotas on the number or proportion of new product launches, a better target is a percentage of sales. This should eliminate all but the very best ideas, which are expected to increase sales rather than merely replace current products.

#3 Lack of customer understanding: The best way to innovate successfully is to start by looking at the target customer’s lifestyle and seeing how you can make it easier and more enjoyable for them. Watching and listening to your customers with an open mind, rather than with a hypothesis in your head, will enable you to identify pain points the customer may even be unaware of.

#4 Lack of category understanding: Never assume you are competing in a certain category until you have identified how your customers are choosing and what they are currently using. You might be surprised to learn that your competitors are not those you thought they were!

#5 Not living up to your promises: In today’s connected world, false or exaggerated promises are quickly identified and shared on social media. Nothing is every hidden for long these days, so if you make a mistake, admit it, own it, correct it and move on. It will be forgotten or forgiven quicker than if it becomes a scandal.

#6 Not being sufficiently differentiated: With such an abundance of information available to everyone, comparisons are easy to make.  Solution based offers will always be able to charge more than product based ones. It’s up to you to decide which you want to be.

#7 Being too different: Identifying a sub-category of users with a precise need and then meeting that need better than anyone else is the more successful way to differentiate.

#8 Pricing yourself out of the market: Understanding how much potential customers value your offer is essential to the success of any product or service.

#9 Inappropriate distribution: Appropriate distribution doesn’t mean being in stock everywhere at the lowest price. But it does mean being in the retail outlets that your target customers visit more often.

#10 Being too far ahead of the customer:  If you can’t afford to wait for your customers to catch up with your new product or service idea, then you should certainly reconsider your launch decision. Keep the concept in your “back drawer” until customers are ready. You will then be the first to respond to these new needs and beat the competition to market with the correct solution.

The full article goes into more detail on each of these solutions of course. So if any of them resonate with you, it is worth checking out the full post.

You must innovate to stay in the game, but that doesn’t mean launching anything just to meet the company’s innovation targets. Launch bigger, bolder and better, as one of my bosses used to say. And never give up!

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What Great Leaders Know and You Probably Don't

What great leaders knowThis post summarises my easily applied learnings that will make your leadership style more efficient and effective, no matter the industry in which you work.

1. We should never stop learning. As we age and rise in the corporate world, we seem to forget that we don’t know it all! We even think that we should have all the answers, or worse still, think that we do!

2. We should accept help. Some people find it hard to ask for help or even to accept it when it is offered. This is foolish, since we cannot be an expert in every area of business. In fact if we lead a team, whether just a few people or many thousands, we should be good at managing people first. 

If we lead a team, whether just a few people or many thousands, we should be good at managing people first. #Team #Leadership Click To Tweet

3. Practice really does make perfect. It’s not only perfectionists that think they’re never good enough. We should always strive to be the best we can be. We should never compare ourselves to others, only to our previous selves. 

We should never compare ourselves to others, only to our previous selves. #Learnings #Self-respect Click To Tweet

4. That final check is worth itWhen I was learning to fly, my instructor never stopped reminding me that the pre-flight checks were vital to do thoroughly. He reminded me that once you’re in the air, it’s too late! The same goes for meetings, events and conferences once they’ve started. Make and use checklists, like pilots do, and complete that final check thoroughly and completely.

5. Accept defeat and mistakes. We all make mistakes sometimes and get defeated occasionally. We’re human after all. However, those mistakes and defeats are great teachers. If we learn and grow from them, then the pain involved should be short-lived, as we move on to bigger and better things.

6. Honesty is always the best policy. Somehow honesty is rarely discussed these days and yet we all know that trust is one of the main reasons people do business with companies. Trust built over the long term will enable companies to be forgiven for any occasional mishap that may occur.

Trust built over the long term will enable companies to be forgiven for any occasional mishap that may occur. #Trust #Failure #Mistakes Click To Tweet

7. Business isn’t only about millenials. Everyone is speaking about the Millenials these days. While Millenials may be trendy, there are other groups which are arguably just as important to consider for a successful business. For example, there are now more Baby Boomers that Millenials in the US!

Great leaders are aware of these seven points, are you? If not, then read the full article for further details. Leaders don't know it all but they do know how to learn from failure. Never give up on your plans, just adapt them when needed.

 

How the Best Marketers are getting Deeper Insights

Observe and listen for deeper insightsBe honest! Everyone struggles to develop true insights about their customers. Most times we accept summary information or facts about the marketplace and call them insights. But we alll know that insight development is difficult. So hard to get to that "aha" moment when what we have said about our customers is so obvious we can't understand how we - or anyone else for that matter - never realised it before.

If you are struggling to develop insights that truly resonate with your consumers or customers, I suggest you follow these 8 tips.

#1. Turn business objectives into customer-centric ones. Identify what you want to change in terms of your customers’ behaviour or attitudes. This way you will be thinking about your customers’ objectives rather than (just) your own.

#2. Insight generation should start with customer connections. When was the last time you personally spoke with your customers? If it wasn’t in the last week, you’re not getting out enough!

Insight generation should start with customer connections #Insights #MRX Click To Tweet

#3. Have regular contact with all other departments. It is impossible to really understand the business if your contact with other groups is limited to meetings and presentations. Make a habit of taking a coffee or lunch with people from other spheres of the company and share your latest ideas and learnings. You will both discover a lot!

#4. Get MRI (Market Research & Insight) to share their nuggets of information regularly. Market research and insight teams learn new things about the business every day, so why not ask them to share more? Don't wait for a formal presentation of the results of the latest piece of research. Get them to share findings and analyses with you on a regular, (at least) monthly basis.

#5. Get into the habit of speaking with consumers at every chance you can. Suggest to join in when research projects are being run. Listen in to call centre conversations, speak to demonstrators and merchandisers, or even talk to shoppers at retail.

#6. Ask MRI to analyse more than market research information alone. They are the best synthesisers you have and can manage multiple data sets from all available sources. Ask them to integrate more information and you will both be happier.

#7. Remember that insight development takes energy and time. It usually takes days, if not weeks or even months to refine, group and synthesise information down to an actionable insight

#8. Insight development should involve more than the insight team, which is why it is important for them to build relationships with other departments.

Following these 8 ideas will make your business one of the most successful in insight development. How would that feel? Read the full article HERE. Insight development may be difficult, but it's not impossible. Never give up!

And if you want to improve even faster in any areas of learning from failure, you can invite us to give a 1-Day training that will catalyse your team in record time. Download the summary brochure of all our current training courses HERE.

These are some ideas and processes for avoiding failure or even more importantly, learning (a lot) from them. Whether it is in business management, innovation or customer understanding, you can learn from the best, so you don't have to make the same mistakes. I hope you appreciate it!

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How to Innovate Successfully (What You’re Still Getting Wrong!)

I’ve written a number of posts on innovation and yet I still get client requests to further help them innovate successfully!

One of the favourite articles here on C3Centricity about the topic is “Improving Ideation, Insight & Innovation: How to Prevent Further Costly Failures.” 

Despite all the great ideas and tips it includes, I believe there is still more I can share. That’s why I am adding to last week’s post on marketing in general, with a post specifically about improving your innovation. In particular, I wanted to help those of you who may be unable to complete all the “best-practice” actions I recommend, through a lack of resources, be it time, money or people.

Not every organisation has access to large market research or marketing departments and extensive budgets. In fact, in many companies these roles are being handled by one and the same person with very few resources; is that your case? If so then you will definitely find this post of interest. But even if you’re one of the luckier ones with a good size team and plentiful budget, I’m sure you will still find value from the ideas shared.

Let’s start by taking a look at some of the reasons why new products fail. And then we’ll identify some creative ways to completely eliminate them from your next launch. Sounds good? Then read on.

Why your innovations fail

Did you know that the proportion of product launches which fail every year is generally “guesstimated” to be somewhere between 74% and 95%?

Why CEOs accept such abysmal levels and accept their organisations’ continued use of the same old innovation process is beyond me!

Book on innovating successfully

In this article in HBR, Saul Kaplan, author of “The Business Model Innovation Factory” shared five important reasons that explain why companies fail at business model innovation:

  1. CEOs don’t really want a new business model.
  2. Product is king. Nothing else matters.
  3. Cannibalization is off the table.
  4. ROI hurdles are too aggressive for fledgeling models.
  5. Rogues and renegades get no respect.

I find these five reasons spot-on. They are all based on fear of getting outside the organisation’s comfort zone. If you can identify yourself with even one of these, it might explain why your innovations are not as successful as you would like them to be.

Successful innovation involves change, and human beings don’t like being out of their comfort zone. It may involve challenging accepted ideas and ways of working too. No wonder so many innovations fail.

And with such odds, I think it is incredibly courageous to start a whole company based around just one new product idea, but that seems to be the norm for startups in many areas today.

Taking the organisational reasons mentioned above, I’d like to detail ten more ideas I have found in my work with clients as to why innovations fail:

#1 The process itself: Innovation is by definition a creative process, but many organisations use a well-worn, restrictive and uncreative process to develop their new products. As David Gluckman says:

“Committees are the death of innovation.”

As mentioned earlier, we don’t like things that shake up our comfortable beliefs and actions. Committees are unlikely to come up with groundbreaking innovations, just because they’re a group. In such teams, you tend to go with the least disruptive idea that everyone can accept.

#2 Meeting company quotas: It is surprising that with such miserable success rates, so many companies – and which shockingly include many of the largest CPGs around – continue to fix quotas on the number of annual new product launches.

How crazy is that?! It just encourages too many new products to be launched too early, and almost guarantees their failure!

#3 Lack of customer understanding: This is most likely one of, if not the most important reason for new product launch failures. And I don’t mean that you should ask the customer what he wants; he doesn’t know until you make it available to him in many industries. Successful innovators know their target customers better than they know themselves!

#4 Lack of category understanding: This follows on from customer understanding, in that you need to identify how the customer is currently working around or compensating for their need today. Don’t assume you are competing in a certain category until you have identified what the customer is currently doing or using. That is the way to identify your true competitors.

#5 Not living up to your promises: If you promise a better, cheaper or more enjoyable experience, then customers deserve to be able to confirm this when they buy. Especially in today’s connected world, if you disappoint by not meeting customers’ expectations, your product will fail even more quickly than in the past. Early-adopters will Tweet or leave comments on Facebook, Blogs or other social media platforms for all to see.

#6 Not being sufficiently differentiated: Following on from living up to your promises, customers need a reason to change their behaviours. Depending upon the category this can be costly, whether in time, money or effort.

Many customers prefer to continue buying an inferior product or service than making the effort to change. Just think about industries such as Telecom, Banking, Hotels, Air travel or Insurance. These businesses are in a constant battle to differentiate themselves and provide a real advantage to attract new customers. Luckily for them, at least until recently, the effort of leaving was perceived as greater than the pain of staying.

#7 Being too different: Whilst not being sufficiently differentiated can be a certain cause of failure, being too new can also meet with no success. The reason for this is that if customers are totally unfamiliar with the new product or service offering, you will need to spend considerable resources to educate them. If you are unable or unwilling to invest the time and money in doing this, then you will undoubtedly fail. Attracting more than just a few customers who are willing to spend time understanding what you are offering takes resources.

If you are unable or unwilling to invest the time and money in doing this, then you will undoubtedly fail. Attracting more than just a few customers who are willing to spend time understanding what you are offering takes resources.

#8 Pricing yourself out of the market: I’m not just speaking about pricing your product too high; being too low can also negatively impact your likely success. Part of a customer’s perceived value of a new product, especially before buying, comes from the price and expected usefulness to them of the promise you make.

Part of a customer’s perceived value of a new product, especially before buying, comes from the price and expected usefulness to them of the promise you make.

#9 Inappropriate distribution: This can be the consequence of an incomplete understanding of your customer and is also linked to differentiation. Whilst you can just follow near competitors into their own distribution channels, why ignore the possibility of being available exactly where and when your customers might just be ready to buy it the most?

#10 Being too far ahead of the customer: There are many examples of great products that were ahead of their time. Gillette brought out 2–in–1 shampoos with conditioner and shampoo combined in the early 70’s. They were a dramatic flop! Ten years later most personal care manufacturers offered these products, and were met with huge success.

Following trends is a great way to understand how your customers are changing, but you need to also understand their speed of change to get your timing right.

It took Nespresso almost twenty years to become profitable for Nestle and Philip Morris has needed similar levels of patience in certain markets, before their most infamous of brands, namely Marlboro, took off.

How to innovate successfully

The ten reasons for innovation failure which I have mentioned, each have a number of solutions which you can use. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

New process to innovate successfully

 

#1 The process: Introduce some creativity into the process. Use a virtuous circle as shown on the right, rather than the usual linear or funnel approach.

All innovation processes should start with a deep understanding of the potential customer segment and then insight development.

#2 Meeting company quotas: Instead of company quotas on the number or proportion of new product launches, a better target is a percentage of sales. This should eliminate all but the very best ideas, which are expected to increase sales rather than merely replace current products.

I also believe that it would be much better to seriously limit the acceptance level of new product ideas proposed in any year. This would be a case for quality over quantity and only the very best would get through the approval process.

This would also mean that brand managers would have to be assessed on sales performance and growth, rather than on the number of new products they launch.

#3 Lack of customer understanding: Steve Jobs is often quoted as saying

“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

The best way to innovate successfully is to start by looking at the target customer’s lifestyle and seeing how you can make it easier and more enjoyable for them. If you already have a new product idea, then consider how it would make the customer’s life better. If it doesn’t, then you perhaps need to reassess its market appeal as it’s probably just a renovation.

Watching and listening to your customers with an open mind, rather than with your hypotheses in your head, will also enable you to identify pain points. The customer may even be unaware that they are compensating for something that they would change. What an incredibly valuable opportunity to offer a solution to them.

#4 Lack of category understanding: Never assume you are competing in a certain category until you have identified how your customers are choosing and what they are currently using. That is the way to identify your true competition.

I suggest using either a zooming in or zooming out technique from the current category, which I explain in our “I3 – Improved Ideation & Innovation” 1-Day Catalyst training sessions.

#5 Not living up to your promises: In today’s connected world, false or exaggerated promises are quickly identified and shared on social media. However, speaking about possible pain points you have identified and sharing your solution, will avoid your having to make any such misleading claims.

#6 Not being sufficiently differentiated: With such an abundance of information available to everyone, comparisons are easy to make. In fact, there are many websites which make a good living out of doing just that and then sharing their results.

Categories with little differentiation rapidly see that competing becomes largely price based. As a result, the products quickly become mere commodities. Better therefore to understand the category in which you are competing and its customers, so you can offer a point of differentiation. Solution based offers will always be able to charge more than product based ones. It’s up to you to decide which you want to do.

Solution based offers will always be able to charge more than product based ones. It’s up to you to decide which you want to be.

#7 Being too different: There are many startups today which offer only a few products or services. The successful ones have identified one or more pain points which the “big guys” have not, and take full advantage of them. In this case, their being different is a plus, because they offer the customer a solution.

However, for most brands, their problem is not being different enough, as mentioned above. It takes more than a new colour, aroma or packaging to be perceived as positively better than others. Identifying a sub-category of users with a precise need and then meeting that need better than anyone else is the more successful way to differentiate.

#8 Pricing yourself out of the market: Understand how much potential customers value your offer is essential to the success of any product. Getting it wrong can result in lost revenue or worse a promotional spiral leading to brand hell or commoditization. (read more about this in “Are you on the way to brand heaven or hell“)

#9 Inappropriate distribution: Appropriate distribution means being available where and when your customer is ready to buy. It also means reducing the effort needed for them to change their habits and buy your new offer. Trial will only come if you make it easy for customers to purchase.

This doesn’t mean being in stock everywhere at the lowest price. But it does mean being in the retail outlets that your target customers visit more often. Forget the exaggerated 100% distribution claims you used to get your new product line approaved; be selective in where you distribute, to attract your target customers first. The other customers will be your second priority as you get wider availability.

#10 Being too far ahead of the customer:  If you can’t afford to wait for your customers to catch up with your new product or service idea, then you should certainly reconsider your launch decision. Keep the concept in your “back drawer” and follow the societal changes of your customers, so you will be ready when they are.

Most organisations are working on multiple new concepts at the same time, each at a different level of preparedness. Trend following will allow you to identify when the customer is ready for each offer. This will avoid too early, as well as tardy launches.

Identifying relevant trends to follow will also enable you to plan a multi-national roll-out in a more solid foundation than mere geography.

These are ten of the most common reasons for new product launch failure and a few ideas on how to resolve each of them. Which do you think is most prevalent in your business? 

What are you going to change to increase the success of your future new product launches? Is it some other reason altogether, that I’ve missed? Let me know and share your thoughts below. 

I will be sharing more tips on innovation excellence in future blog posts, but in the meantime feel free to send me any questions you still have. I’m always ready to have a short Skype or phone call to assist you with your own brand building challenges.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please recommend and share it, to help others find it! Thanks.

C3Centricity used images from Wiley, C3Centricity online and “Winning Customer Centricity” in this post; it has been updated from the original first published in 2014.

A Customer-First Approach to Successful Innovation (and 3 Secrets Shared)

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Whether you believe that 60% of new product launches fail, or the number is 80% or 95%+, the truth is that successful innovation is rare. Why is this? Read on for my own ideas of the reasons and propositions for some simple solutions.

Last year I wrote a highly popular post on “Improving Ideation, Insight & Innovation: How to Prevent Further Costly Failures.” In it, I spoke about the importance of starting the innovation process with customers. I also mentioned that it should be a virtuous circle rather than the funnel that most organisations still use today. 

This time, I want to examine the role of the customer in successful innovation. And why they should actually have a prominent position throughout the process.

 

Start with the Category rather than (just) the Customer

Every customer-centric organisation should start their processes with a review of the customers they are looking to please. But to do this, the first step to both insight development and successful innovation is to identify the category in which you are, or want to compete. Especially when looking to innovate, it is vital to identify what business you are in.

Now you probably can immediately answer that question but would you be right?

A recent client of mine was looking to launch a juice flavoured soft drink. They naturally (?) thought they would be in competition to juices. When we dug deeper, using our “Home or Away™” decision tool, we found they were actually competing with energy drinks for athletes!

Another practice I use is to zoom in or out when looking at a category, in order to identify new opportunities. Today’s technological world is forcing many organisations to take another look at their complete business models – whether they like it or not!

  • Telecoms have become geolocalization data providers to other industries.
  • Pharmaceuticals are being forced (?) to move from treating illness to maintaining wellness.
  • Food companies are moving into nutraceuticals, concentrating the health benefits of certain foods. (have they really only recently understood that our health comes primarily from the food we eat?!)
  • Tobacco companies are reinventing personal pleasure systems with e-cigarettes and other tobacco replacement products. In fact, André Calantzopoulos, Philip Morris International’s CEO recently predicted a “phase-out period” for cigarettes.
  • Alcohol providers are turning more and more to lower and non-alcoholic drinks trying to keep up with the interest in wellness. They have understood that whereas drinking is a social behaviour, most people no longer include getting drunk with that sociability.

From these examples, it is clear that most companies could benefit from a re-evaluation of their assumed category, to see whether it has or will change in the near or longer-term future.

Once the category is defined, it becomes much easier to identify the correct customer segment to target. Of course, you still need to get to know them through customer connection sessions. And then complete both a customer persona and journey map for them. (You do have these don’t you?)

 

Your business is or will change - fast - so don't depend on your skills alone

One of the problems I see when I first start working with a new client is that they start their innovation process from their strengths, their technical and product skills. While this may deliver quicker introductions, it is more likely to produce renovations and certainly not ground-breaking innovations.

This is such a standard "no-brainer" way of innovating that many companies find themselves out of business as a result.

  • Kodak thought it was in the photo business and not in the memory and souvenir business. They consequently lost out to digital, despite having the technology
  • Borders thought they were in the print book business rather than the storytelling business. As a result, they lost out to Kindle, despite a late reaction with the launch of Kobo. For now, Barnes & Nobles have managed to join the race with their Nook, but for how long? It will be interesting to see whether Amazon's quiet expansion of its physical bookstores will support or sound the death knell for other outlets.
  • Blockbuster video rental lost their dominance of the home entertainment industry to streaming options like RedBox and Netflix.

These are a few examples of businesses that have changed, leaving the category leaders high and dry with no-one to blame but themselves for their lack of scenario planning. (This won't happen to you, will it?)

Music trends on and offlineAnd what about AI and VR and their impact on TV,  gaming, music today?

Speaking of which, look at the graph on the right which shows the incredibly fast change from offline to online music. In less than ten years online passed offline and all but annihilated it!

This is how fast and well prepared all businesses need to be today.

Many industries have been cloned into totally new businesses as a result of technology and new customer priorities.

As already mentioned, Telecom companies now make more money selling geolocalization data than they do selling phones and lines.

So what about some other industries that are being impacted by changes in customer behaviour and preferences?

As just one example of this, Food companies must now adapt to delivering family time, not just ready-made meals. There has therefore been an explosion in meal kits because families want to eat better and even prepare together.

 

The future of the future

But enough about the past and present, how can you prepare for the future and have successful innovations? What new areas are some of the larger online companies buying into today and why?

Google has gone from Internet-related products and services to hardware such as Pixel smartphones and Google Home, an Amazon Echo-like device. It has also expanded into a multitude of other industries, through partnerships and investments. These include energy, AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality) and eye-tracking. It's clear that they intend to stay up-to-date if not ahead of fast-moving trends and be ready to take advantage of them. Read more on Wikipedia.

Perhaps in preparation, in the last year or so Google has reorganised its various interests into a conglomerate called Alphabet. Google remains the umbrella company for Alphabet's Internet interests, but this restructuring no doubt announces more to come.

Virgin has gone from airlines, media and entertainment, to travel, health and aerospace. You can read about all their industries and investments on Wikipedia.

Amazon has gone from an online bookstore to the general retail of a vast selection of products. Today it is testing bricks and mortar stores for both books and general groceries. You can again read more about this on Wikipedia.

Facebook started as a social media and networking service. One year ago, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed his ten-year vision, centred around artificial intelligence, global connectivity, VR and AR. Read more on Wikipedia.

Tesla started in the automotive industry but has since moved into energy storage and residential solar panels. Today it is advancing into underground high-speed transport and space travel.

All these examples show the importance of being ready to adapt to fast changes impacting many industries at lightning speed. We no longer have the luxury of time to wait, watch and learn as we once did. Future scenario planning is the only way to be ready for all eventualities and to be able to quickly jump into any new opportunities before our competitors do.

 

Your next steps to future-proofing your innovation

Some of my clients understand that they are not as well-prepared as they need to be for successful innovation. In my training course I propose many different ideas; here are just a few of them:

#1. Working with new innovation levers

As already mentioned, most organisations start innovating from their past successes and current skills. While this is certainly quick, it is unlikely to lead to successful innovations. Why not challenge yourself to look at your business from a new perspective? 

Challenge yourself to look at your business from a new perspective. #innovation #Business Click To Tweetsuccessful innovations come from using multiple levers

The diagram on the right is a simplified example of the innovation wheel that I use in brainstorming sessions with clients who are tired of thinking within their boxes.

A personally adapted and developed wheel is a powerful tool to get people to think differently about their brand, category or offer. The brand expansion it encourages has seen brands like:

  • Gerber and Purina move into insurance.
  • Nespresso move into china and chocolate.
  • Mars move into ice cream.
  • Vicks (P&G) move from various cold remedies into a sleep-aid.

What all these examples have in common is a deep understanding of both their customers and their own brand image.

 

When one or both of these are missing, you get epic failures like the examples below:

Coca-Cola Clothing: while it may work for sponsorships and promotions, clothing didn't work for them - this time around?

Coca-Cola clothing nor successful innovation
Image source: eBay

Zippo perfume for women: Zippos got it spectacularly wrong with this offer on many fronts. Smoking and especially Zippo lighters have very masculine images. Replacing the wonderfully exotic and luxury glass bottles of perfume by this was never going to work!

Zippos perfume not successful innovation
Image source: Fragrantica

 

Colgate frozen food: The only thing that frozen entrees and toothpaste have in common is that after the first you need the second! From that to expecting consumers to make the jump from minty mouths to chicken was just too much!

Colage entrees not successful innovation
Image source: Marketing Directo, Madrid

 

 

#2. Zooming out for brands and categories

When you are successful in one category, it can be tempting to extend into others. However, this needs to be done after careful thought. Go too far from the parent brand, as the above examples did and you'll be doomed to failure. Stay too close and you'll not benefit from anything more than a mere renovation.

Will BabyNew be a successful innovation?
Image source: BabyNes

Companies which expand successfully are those that build on their strengths, whether image, position or technical know-how. One example I like to share of a successful innovation using this idea comes from Nespresso's owner Nestle.

They expanded from capsules for coffee (Nespresso) into capsules for both hot and cold drinks (Dolce Gusto).

Nestle then expanded their systems into BabyNes, a capsule system for bottle feeding.

I can imagine they will be looking to extend their system even further in the future. Perhaps they will consider adding minerals, vitamins and supplements to food and drinks, or targeting specific groups of consumers such as seniors or athletes. It will be interesting to see what comes next.

 

#3. Zooming into a category niche

It is possible to innovate by zooming in rather than out of the category in which you are in. There are again many examples of this since, in theory at least, it is simpler to do. You already know the category customers and can segment to appeal more strongly to certain groups of them.

Food manufacturers use this strategy a lot. They often extend into low calorie or low fat, and more recently into gluten-free, OMG-free or lactose-free offerings.

Online marketers depend a lot upon finding the right niche for their product or service offer. They have the advantage over bricks-and-mortar stores of collecting a wealth of personalised information. Together with machine learning, they can quickly develop algorithms to precisely target each person with relevant offers. Offline retail will never catch up, however long they collect data - unless they have an online sales strategy too, of course.

 

Conclusion

So there you have some ideas on how you can improve the frequency of launching successful innovations. Whether working with scenarios, innovation levers, zooming in or out, the one element every strategy has in common is customer understanding. You wouldn't expect anything less from me, would you? Going forward just remember:

  • It's important to know and understand your customers intimately today but also how they are likely to change tomorrow.
  • It's important to understand the category you really are competing in and what customers think about it.
  • It's important to understand your brand's image and ensure it's aligned with any future innovations you consider.

 

What new ways are you looking to successfully innovate in this fast-paced, constantly changing and challenging world? Please share your ideas and thoughts about the above ideas or add new ones below. Thanks.

Improving Ideation, Insight & Innovation: How to Prevent Further Costly Failures.

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As you know, I am a global customer centricity champion. My passion is helping organisations to grow faster by putting customers at the heart of their business. One of the most frequent requests I get is to help in improving ideation and innovation.

This is by far the most common area that my clients struggle with. Is it a challenge for you too?

Many companies create great new products and services – from their perspective – but they fail! They then ask if I can help them to identify to whom they should be selling. Of course, I do help them, but I also suggest that next time it would be better if they called me before they started innovating! In a failure situation, it is almost always due to an outdated innovation process in which the customer has not been involved.

I know it can be difficult to innovate in this new age of technology, but it remains vital for growth. This is why I was recently invited to run two workshops on improving ideation and innovation, as well as to speak about it at three different universities in Beijing and Shanghai.

China is an Innovation Hot-House

China joined the top 25 most innovative countries in the WIPO global innovation index for the first time this year. This is because they no longer rely on cost-effective manufacturing alone. They also applied for more patents than the next two countries, the United States and Japan, combined! This clearly shows that China is improving ideation as well as their innovation. But they know they must do even more. To become a truly competitive nation, they have to better understand their customers, especially their growing middle and higher-income residents, who continue to prefer primarily imported Western brands.

Let me share with you a few of the ideas that I spoke about during my visit. They may just save you too from more costly failures.

Innovation is Essential

Switzerland continues to lead the world in innovation according to the latest WIPO GII study. It was, therefore, a privilege for me to by invited to help China corporations and academics by proposing a new way to innovate.

Most companies innovate from a technical and skills-based foundation. It doesn’t usually work very well, if at all. In fact, according to Nielsen, IRI, Fortune and many others, it is estimated that between 85% and 95% of new consumer products in the US fail. In Europe, it’s just as bad, with only 25% of new consumer products still on the shelf just twelve months after launch! And less than half that number by the end of the second year.

With such disastrous results, you might wonder why companies continue to innovate. Well there are three main reasons why they do:

  1. It keeps brands fresh. Brands which innovate have something new to share with current and potential clients. We have come to expect it. What excites today, is normal tomorrow and then just boring after that. We have gotten accustomed to regular updates and constant new choices.
  2. It encourages switching. If brands and options remain the same, people would only switch if they became dissatisfied and the cost of switching was low. Since product performances are so similar in many categories today, new variants and offers suggest differentiation. The brand appears more vibrant and people like that.
  3. It revives brands through excitement and buzz. In today’s connected world, this is vital. People learn about brands as much from friends and family as through advertising. And they trust the former more than the latter, even if some of these “friends” are virtual ones they’ve never met. According to Nielsen’s report ” Global Trust in Advertising” more than eight-in-10 global respondents (83%) say they trust the recommendations of friends and family, and two-thirds (66%) others’ opinions posted online.

 

NPD Funnel copyRenovate your Innovation Process

It still surprises me that companies continue to use their same innovation process when their failure rate is so high. It often looks something like the diagram on the right. Is that what yours looks like? In fact, is your process a funnel? If so, then you are facing at least two problems:

1. That it is a funnel. This process is linear, with a beginning and an end. It assumes that there is only one “winner” from all the ideation and brainstorming. And it also supposes that only one concept developed from that “winning” idea will succeed.

But what if all your ideas are great? You would be throwing away all but one of them! Or suppose that they are all “losers” and you launch the least “awful” amongst them? There must be a better way, no?

Even IDEO’s iterative process still assumes “winners”, because they quickly move from brainstorming to prototyping and testing with customers. At least they do suggest co-creating with customers which is a positive element of their process and it is great fun to do – from my own experiences.

 

2. That it doesn’t include the customer. How can you have any chance of innovating for your customers if you don’t include them? You are relying on your own perspective to make choices. Are you the typical consumer for whom you are innovating? Probably not. In which case, why are you taking decisions based on your opinion? It’s pretty irrelevant!

Virtuous circle of better innovationThe second diagram on the right is the type of NPD process that I encourage my clients to use. It is, of course, adapted to their specific needs, based upon their current process. By doing this, it makes adoption of the new process much easier, by quickly getting everyone to support the needed changes.

The major difference from most current innovation processes is that it is a virtuous circle. It starts and ends with opportunity identification, in other words with the customer and insight. This, of course, means that we must know and understand our customers deeply.

Know your Target Audience Intimately

We all think we know our customers, but this is often not totally true. Not deeply enough anyway. One of the quickest roads to improving ideation and innovation is to know for whom you are innovating. (>>Tweet this<<)

The first thing I ask my clients to complete is the 4W™ Template of the “who”, “what”, where” and “why” of their target audience. Often times they struggle with the last “w”. If you want to try it yourself, check our post “How well do you know your customers?”

Even with the template filled, you still have to go further. Optimal understanding comes from regular connection. Our customers are changing – fast, so we need to keep our finger on the pulse of the market. Yesterday’s information is no use to manage today’s brands or innovate for tomorrow.

During my talk at Shanghai’s ECUST, someone asked how we can be better prepared for the future. I loved the question, as it enabled me to speak about another of my passions, that of scenario planning.

Change happens, and especially rapidly in China. My recommendation to the student was to not rely on trends alone. They are uncompetitive. To gain an advantage over the competition, you need to develop them into plausible future scenarios. If you are interested in learning more, then do check out our post “10 Steps & 5 Success Factors to Ensure your Business is Ready for Anything“.

Knowing why your customers do what they do, buy what they buy and consume what they consume, and then watching and listening to them, will put you in the best possible position for improving ideation and innovation. But there’s still more you can do.

Increase your External Partnerships

As mentioned above, many companies still rely on their own technology and skills to innovate. However, while technology can certainly help deliver improved benefits, it is unusual to be sufficient. In many areas, companies need to collaborate with others who are more specialised in certain areas.

Joint ventures and partnerships are useful for developing new products and services more quickly. You don’t need to build the needed skills internally and you can rely on the immediate support of external experts. Whether you team up with another corporation or a university is up to you, as long as you recognise the support you need. If you rely totally on your internal knowledge for improving ideation and innovation, you are unlikely to find those breakthrough ideas most companies are searching for.

There are many examples of large consumer goods companies partnering with external experts. The Laboratoires Innéov was a joint venture in nutritional cosmetics between L’Oréal and Nestlé, although the relationship ended in 2015. Nestle also created  Cereal Partners Worldwide as a joint venture with General Mills and Beverage Partners Worldwide with Coca-Cola.

Procter & Gamble and >Teva Pharmaceutical Industries announced the creation of a joint venture in consumer healthcare in 2011. The newly named PGT Healthcare partnership with president Tom Finn has since negotiated tens of JV’s, partnerships and strategic alliances.

Expand your Business Model

Another external lever from which more and more companies are benefitting today is a change in their business model. Take the food industry. It is moving more into health and wellness and could become a direct competitor to the pharmaceutical industry as it develops more nutraceuticals.

Pharma, on the other hand, is moving from sickness to wellness, from treatments to prevention.

Or what about telecoms? They now make almost as much money selling geo-localisation data as they do from providing communication services.

Or how about Google moving into cars, solar panels and most recently travel with its Trips App? Through the analysis of their customers’ searches, Google can identify those of us who are looking to travel, those interested in buying a new car or in using taxi services. Google knows more about us today than we know ourselves. And that is both exciting and frightening.

Work with Emotional Benefits, not just Functional Ones

Companies which succeed at innovation know that it is the emotional benefits of their product or service that matters, often more so than the functional ones. (>>Tweet this<<)

Apple used to be a great innovator. In the past few years, I feel they have been relying too much on their technical expertise. The recent launch of the iPhone 7 and the new Mac Book Pro were both less successful than their previous launches. While neither are true flops, they failed to ignite excitement in their potential customers.

There have been numerous posts on why Apple is failing at innovating today. One article in the HBR by Steve Blank stated that both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates “… suggested execution executives as their successors. They confused world-class execution with the passion for product and customers, and market insight. Yet history has shown us that these two talents are not the same. For long-term survival in markets that change rapidly, one is far more important than the other.”

Another article in Business Insider by Julie Bort concludes by saying “Microsoft is now officially more innovative than Apple” based upon Tweets of the events. But Microsoft too failed when Bill Gates handed the company leadership over to Steve Ballmer. For 14 years Ballmer successfully ran the business from a financial perspective. He tripled sales and doubled profits. But he didn’t set the company up for long-term survival. In early 2014, Satya Nadella took over and made some radical changes which focused the company on mobile and the cloud (Azure). This freed Microsoft to become more innovative again and the result is already showing.

You can never go wrong if you start from your customers’ perspective and connect emotionally with them. (>>Tweet this<<)

Develop Insight as a Company; Don’t Leave it to Market Research Alone

Some managers think that insight is just another word for market research. They’re wrong, but perhaps you too see it in this way?

Market research is a great source of information, but for insight, you have to integrate multiple sources of information. It is rare for a single project to provide a deep insight. This comes from truly understanding the customer and that takes time. It takes data and information, turned into knowledge and then understanding.

Insight ProcessKnowing is also insufficient unless you understand what it all means to the customer.

The full development process, such as the example given on the right, takes time and people, ideally with differing perspectives. It takes a detailed understanding of the target audience, their needs and desires so that you can resonate emotionally with them.

Many organisations work with human truths to help in identifying a concept that will resonate emotionally. These are usually based on basic human needs, which cut across cultures. This makes them particularly useful for regional and global brands.

During my different talks, I gave many examples, but one which my audiences found particularly fascinating was the insight both Unilever’s Omo and Nestle’s Nido are using. The insight is based on the human truth that “All parents want their children to grow up happy and healthy”. The insight they then developed, which is relevant for both washing powder and infant formula is “I want my child to experience everything life has to offer, even if it means getting dirty”. What is particularly interesting in this example is that both companies have been able to use the same human truth and insight but make it relevant for each of their categories.

My recommendation, therefore, if you are struggling to develop insight, is to analyse your competitors or the brands targeting a similar audience. If you can identify on what human truth and insight their message is based, you may be able to use it too.

Conclusions

These are just a few of the many ideas which I shared with enthusiastic audiences wherever I went in China. It is clear that both entrepreneurs and corporate executives in the country are keen to improve their innovation. They are also thirsty for support in further improving their ideation. For this reason, I believe they will continue to top the nations in patent applications for many years to come. Therefore, it is vital that we supposed ” developed” nations support our entrepreneurs and creative executives to stay in the race. Unless we do so, we could see China dominate new products and services as they have dominated manufacturing in the past.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts on the race for innovation. 

The New Way to Innovate You Must Start Using Today!

When I get several requests in the same week on exactly the same topic, I know something is happening in the marketplace. This week was one such occasion.

A Pharma company wants a presentation on it; a CPG company asked me to give a half-day workshop about the topic; a conference requested a keynote speech about it; a major US business school wants a guest lecture covering the idea  and a consumer goods company wants an article for their newsletter. What’s the topic? The new ways to innovate, that’s what.

With all this interest, and despite having written some popular posts in the past on best-practice innovation, such as “ How to innovate more creatively”, “How to get R&D as excited about consumer innovation as you are”  and “Never succeed at innovation: 10 mistakes even great companies make”, I thought I would summarise the latest trends around how to innovate more successfully today. So here are some ideas to get you thinking about the changes you might want to bring to your own innovation processes.

Customers react to new innovation1. Start with the customer in mind – always

So many organisations still have an innovation process that starts with R&D or operations. It’s time to reverse your innovation funnel and start with the customer. (>>Tweet this<<) What are their problems with current products and services; what do they dream of having? How are they compensating or compromising?

 

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” Henry Ford

“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them” Steve Jobs

However, as Henry Ford and Steve Jobs remind us, customers don’t usually know what they want. They are usually very clear about what they don’t like, but they also often know the solution they are looking for – even if they don’t express it as such. It is our job to interpret what they are saying into what they need. Therefore, identify the result they want but not how they want to achieve it, otherwise you will be looking for that “faster horse”!

2. Stage-gate innovation is essential for a successful business

Today’s world is fast paced and customers never stay satisfied for long. What surprises and delights today, is ordinary and normal, if not tomorrow, at best in a couple of weeks or months. That’s why it’s vital to work on new product and service developments even before you launch your latest offering.

NEW INNOVATION STAGE-GATESMany companies today work with generation pipelines, with three, four or five stages of innovation preparation. This ensures that they are already working on the replacement of each product they launch, whether or not it’s a success.

3. Line extensions can only do so much

Innovations risks opportunities

According to the McKinsey article “ Reinventing Innovation in CPG“, real growth comes from ground-breaking innovations, not simplistic renovations. However, line extensions do provide the time for organisations to prepare their true innovations, while responding to today’s customers incessant desire for novelty.

They are also easier to develop and launch, which means they are less dem anding on resources. Companies which are satisfied with only incremental innovations are unlikely to see significant growth in the long-term. For this reason successful br ands need to do both. (>>Tweet this<<)

4. Launch before you’re finished

Many tech companies use this approach, by involving customers as beta testers. In this way, they get their customers help – for free – to improve and mould the final offer. It also allows them to launch more quickly and gain the positive image associations of being first to market.

If you are concerned about confidentiality or competitive speed to respond, then work with customers through co-creation. (>>Tweet this<<) Involve them at every stage of the development process from ideation to launch preparation. If your management are  concerned about the risks of sharing innovative ideas outside the company, involve employees instead, perhaps from other divisions so they are less biassed.

5. Review the category in which you’re playing

Are you sure that your customers see your br and in the same light as you do? Many times I have heard a customer correct an interviewer in a research project, when asked about br ands in a category. “That br and isn’t in that segment, category A” they say; “It’s not a competitor of X, but of Y and Z, the main br ands in category B”. Some examples include dried soups which today compete with sauce mixes, carbonated soft drinks with fruit juices and body gels with shampoos.

Another advantage of underst anding the category in which your customers place your br and is that this can provide you with new ideas for expansion.

Mars ice creamMany confectionary br ands have moved into ice cream and desserts. They have understood that they are being seen as more of a “treat” than merely “just” a chocolate bar. When your customers choose between products from several different categories when deciding what to eat or buy, it is a clear indication that you are not (only) competing in the category you first thought you were. (>>Tweet this<<)

In conclusion, there are many reasons why innovations fail:

  • A short-term mindset where success is dem anded in weeks or months rather than years.
  • Top management instils a fear of failure, so no-one will defend ideas that are unpopular.
  • The innovation process itself is biassed towards current knowledge and skills.
  • A lack of deep customer underst anding.

These five ideas will help you to reinvent your innovation and also make it more customer-centric. After all isn’t that what all best practices should do today, involve the customer? If you have other – better? – ideas, then why not share them below?

Winning Customer Centricity BookThis post includes concepts  and images from Denyse’s book  Winning Customer Centricity. You can buy it in Hardback, Paperback or EBook format in the members area, where you will also find downloadable templates and usually a discount code too.

The book is also available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBook and in all good bookstores. If you prefer an Audiobook version, or even integrated with Kindle using Amazon’s new Whispersync service, you’ll have to be patient just a little longer – but it’s coming soon!

 

 

How to Innovate More Creatively

I was recently on a trip to the US; a transatlantic flight on a Boeing 747, my favourite airplane – apart from the Seneca II that I used to own. Anyway, the reason I love long-distance flights is because they cut us off from everyday life, although unfortunately no longer the phone nor web these days.

They therefore provide us with a very rare commodity; some precious thinking time. How do we ever get that otherwise? Speaking personally, my brain seems to be constantly under pressure from the challenges of work, family, friends – in a word, living – so I love it when I need to get on a flight, the longer the better.

I watched Transcendence on this flight; it’s about the moment when the human brain and technology become one. I love science fiction (SciFi), because it frees the mind to dream and to be far more creative than the “normal” working environment ever allows.

After the film and lunch were over, my mind turned – of course – to business and how I could set my past, current and future clients free too; how to make them more creative as well as more customer centric. So this is what I came up with, far above the clouds and worries of my everyday world.

The future is in our h ands

We are all wise after the event, but how do we become wise before it? In my opinion, by setting free our thoughts about the future and our creativity. Many companies have an innovation group, but rarely do they set them free, to think big, to think out of the box.

In fact in many cases, they are literally put in their own boxes, separated from the business for which they are supposed to be innovating. Whilst the intention of this separation may be laudable – it is claimed that it provides increased freedom  – it generally doesn’t work, because the group’s creativity is not grounded.

Despite their incredible creativity, even science fiction writers are grounded; their stories are based on facts, a progression from current actualities to future possibilities. I am not suggesting that innovation be limited to the mere renovation of today’s products and services, but rather that they be based upon a realistic progression of today’s realities, rather than pure hypothesis. In particular, they should be developed out of current sociatal trends, behaviors and needs.

Trend following isn’t creative

Are you following trends? Are you happy with the information you are getting from your supplier? We all love to look at new inventions and products from around the world, but just think about what useful and actionable information you are really getting.

I’m sorry to break the news to you, but you are almost certainly getting exactly the same suggestions as the tens, if not hundreds of other clients your supplier has. Reports aren’t generally personalized, or only minimally, so whatever ideas their reports might spark, are likely to be sparking in every one of your competitors minds too!

So if trend following won’t help your innovation, what will? My answer would be many things; isn’t that good to know?

Develop your trends into future scenarios

Trends do not provide you with a competitive advantage, especially for innovation, so you need to first turn them into future scenarios. There are (at least) two ways to do this.

Firstly you can combine the trends and form what are often referred to as axes of uncertainty. When crossed, these form four (or more) new worlds for you to then define, describe and develop. Your possible actions in each of these scenarios can then be identified, so your business is prepared for all major possible risks and opportunities.

“We must never be afraid to go too far, for truth lies beyond” Marcel Proust (>>Tweet this<<)

The second way is by identifying the major trends that may impact your business and then letting a Science Fiction writer describe the world that could develop. It is not so much a matter of being right as being provocative, the more the better. That’s why SciFi writers are amongst the best people to stretch our thinking. They have the creativity to go far beyond what most of us would think about, even when stretching our thinking. After all, the point of future scenarios is to prepare business for the future, not to predict it (>>Tweet this<<)

Visualise the future

Once you have developed your scenario – or two – you should visualise them to increases buy-in and sharing. This can be through a simple presentation, descriptive profiles or more exciting animations and videos.

Lowe’s has been one of the companies at the forefront of such visual development, using virtual reality to develop The Holoroom to show what SciFutures‘ science-fiction writers had developed. The room puts consumers into a new world where they can see their own new world, at least of their home after their planned renovation.

Other industries that are quickly developing new virtual worlds for customers include car and plane manufacturers showing future travel options. Car purchasers can also experience their new cars before actually buying them and can help in the development of cars that more perfectly meet their desires and needs.

Innovating outside the box

In too many cases innovation is built upon reality and a company’s current offers, in other words are renovations not innovations, just a step change from what we have today. New products developed using scenario planning tend to be faster, clearer, more efficient, longer-lasting and overall more attractive.

Technology makes what was even unthinkable just a few months or years ago, a reality today or in the very near future. Everything is moving faster and faster, so businesses must do the same. As this is rarely possible, they must already think the unthinkable today, so that they are prepared when it actually happens tomorrow. (>>Tweet this<<)

Are you ready for the brave new world  that is estimated to be just ten, twenty or at most just thirty years from now? That’s when the point of singularity is estimated to arrive.

If you would like help in improving your own innovation process, or in developing a future scenario for your organisation, please let us know; we would be excited to inspire you.

C3Centricity used an image from Dreamstime in this post.

How to get R&D as Excited about Consumer Innovation as you are

Did you do a double-take when you read this post’s title? I bet you did. R&D is at the heart of innovation for most major manufacturers, so they should be excited by consumer underst anding, shouldn’t they? You would think so, but in reality, their concepts are almost always based on the company’s current technical know-how and skills. If you want to break away from this very predictable process and get them excited so they add some “oomph” to your innovations, then read on.

One of my most loyal CPG clients contacted me recently about the latest problem (opportunity?) he has been asked to address: making R&D more consumer centric. Having faced a similar challenge in one of my previous jobs, I immediately empathised with him. It can really be a daunting task, especially when speaking to people who are usually more interested in numbers than emotions.

I remember speaking about consumer centricity at an annual R&D conference and in the discussion session that followed, the Head of Operations commented “You know Denyse, our R&D group is very consumer centric; we know exactly what consumers need. It’s marketing who don’t know how to explain to consumers why they need what we develop!”

Trying to keep a straight face, I thanked him for his comment and also for having just proven my point. I said that I believed it was time for R&D to become more consumer centric by developing a better underst anding of consumers and their needs. I then went on to suggest some ways they could get closer to current or potential consumers. By the end of my talk I had a queue of volunteers wanting me to organise some of the suggested actions for them. Here’s what I shared:

Observe & Listen to your Consumers

Most people working in a company and certainly those working in R&D, know far more about the category than the average consumer. However, most employees – excluding hopefully the insight team – don’t know what their consumers really think about their products and services.

Observation of consumers as they go about their daily lives, helps us to identify pain points, whilst also stimulating new thinking and concepts. Listening to their complaints and ideas, whether online, through carelines or during a market research project, can provide the consumer perspective and input for new or better solutions.

It’s time for R&D to get out of the factory and into the shops & homes of consumers (>>Tweet this<<)

Involve your Consumers

Ben  and Jerry are great at innovationLast year Ben & Jerry asked residents of five cities in the USA to vote for the names of new ice cream flavors that reflected their locales. The br and’s Scoop Truck toured 11 cities and also served as one of the campaigns’ voting platforms. Once consumers had eaten their free frozen treats, they were asked to use their spoons as “ballots” (they voted by depositing their spoons in one of several recycling boxes marked with various ingredient names). Doesn’t that remind you of another br and which used a similar voting tactic when it was starting out – Innocent?

Great br ands and companies have no problem “stealing with pride” and recognise good ideas when they see them (>>Tweet this<<)

Ben & Jerry’s are by no means the only br and to involve their customers in developing or choosing new products and services. Nespresso have been collaborating with their Club members for years on many aspects of their marketing. Whether choosing the end of their commercials or identifying the next new blend to be launched, Nespresso Club members are made to feel important and privileged.

Involving customers in the development of new product and/or service concepts not only makes them feel valued, it also makes them more loyal and valuable advocates of your br ands too (>>Tweet this<<)

Exp and your Thinking

Innovation leversHow do you come up with ideas and concepts for new products and services today? If you are like most companies, they probably come in a majority from your current portfolio of br ands. Whilst this can meet with a certain level of success, as it is what customers expect, or rather dem and, there is another process that can drive even greater success. This is the use of what are often called innovation levers, or what others refer to as “the s and box”. I love the latter term as it suggests light-hearted play, which is an effective way to get people thinking “outside the box”.

Innovation levers enable thinking to “push the envelope” and to exp and outside the box in which R&D and marketing can sometimes find themselves. Rather than thinking about the next flavour or packaging idea, why not consider a new channel or communications strategy?

Coca Cola takes br and innovation seriouslyLast year, Coke used two of these levers, but combined them, when it launched its “sharing can”. Not only can the can be split in two for sharing, it also enables new potential consumers to consider buying a can, such as those with smaller thirsts or those traveling.

This year they took this winning idea a step further and launched the bottle that could only be opened by another Coke bottle – another way of sharing.

Starting from a different innovation lever than the one you usually use can result in more creative NPD concepts (>>Tweet this<<)

Go Beyond Trend Following

Another challenge when looking to make R&D more customer centric, is in moving them from trend following to scenario planning. R&D people often seem to be more comfortable with trends and “poo poo” future scenarios as improbable forecasts. It is therefore important to explain to them that scenario planning is not forecasting. If they can allow themselves to be open to listening to a story, which exposes imaginary but plausible new worlds to them, they can become inspired by the opportunities.

The innovative ideas that are created from scenario planning, have in my experience been amongst the most ground-breaking ever developed. Isn’t that exactly what we would all like to market, rather than the staple diet of predictable renovations?

These are just four ideas that I shared during that conference a few years ago, to stimulate and excite the R&D department. Hopefully they have inspired you too to have a go at convincing your own operations people to get closer to the customer.

Have you other examples of how you got your own R&D people to think outside their technical box? Then I’d love to hear about them, so please share your thoughts and ideas below.

Need help in taking your innovation outside its box, or in connecting with your customers? Let’s discuss how we can help you catalyze your customer centricity; contact us today.

C³Centricity used images from Microsoft, Ben &Jerry’s and Coke in this post.

This post has been adapted from one first published on C³Centricity in June 2013

Why Most Marketing Plans Fail & 9 Ways to Succeed with Yours

This Monday is Memorial Day in the US, when Americans everywhere think back to those in the US Armed Forces who gave their lives in the line of duty. I too am thinking back, but to all the marketing plans and ideas that have been sacrificed!

The reasons why some plans are accepted and others aren’t are many. Non-alignment with corporate plans is one of the most usual, but lack of clarity, consistency, preparation or budget are also common. And even when accepted, they aren’t always executed as planned. So I thought that it would be useful to take a look back at our own marketing plans that we set earlier this year and review what is and isn’t working. We still have time to make changes and meet our 2014 targets, so which of the following is your current issue?

Declining market share

Firstly, you should be ashamed that you’ve let your br and slide so much that you are actually losing share! Br and equity measures would have given you a clear warning that something was going wrong, months if not years ago! Did you ignore the numbers or were your efforts too small to have the necessary impact? Either way, it’s time to start working out what’s going wrong. Review the 5P’s of marketing for starters and prioritise actions based on what you find.

Stable market share

So your br and’s growth is slowing? This happens in the normal life-cycle of a br and, so no panic, but you do need to take action to renew growth. But don’t think that small tweaks will be enough. Competition is ruthless these days and you will need to create some buzz around your br and. Surprise and delight is the name of the game to win (back) consumers. Start from your strengths and then ramp one or two of them up a couple of levels.

Declining image

As mentioned above, your br and image will start to weaken before market share is affected (>>and%20image%20will%20start%20to%20weaken%20before%20market%20share%20is%20affected%20%20[tweetlink]” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”>Tweet this<<), so in theory you still have time to prevent significant share loss. But you must act now! It is more effective to review your image ratings by experience group, to see what you need to do to recover lapsed users or convert more trialists. In my experience the answers should be clear from a regularly run and thoughtfully analysed br and image study using a well-developed attribute list.

Losing consumer trust

This is a serious issue. (as if the others aren’t!) Trust in companies and br ands is what enables consumers to forgive mistakes or accept higher prices. (>>and%20br ands%20is%20what%20enables%20consumers%20to%20forgive%20mistakes%20or%20accept%20higher%20prices%20%20[tweetlink]” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”>Tweet this<<) And it tips the balance in your favour in product comparability when performances are similar. Trust is a complex principle built out of a number of influencing factors, such as integrity, reliance, confidence, quality and worthiness. Which of these has resulted in your consumers’ loss of trust? Once identified, you will need to review how you can influence it. It will take time – sometimes a lot of time – to change perceptions.

Inconsistent communications

Since most companies have one product manager or group in charge of each br and, this shouldn’t happen and yet it still does. Multiple suppliers with differing interpretations of the br and promise, and annual revamps of simply the previous year’s work, makes for communications that gradually slip from the original positioning and message. Instead of just looking at the latest or planned communications, it is vital to also review the previous five years’ work. It then becomes obvious how messaging has shifted. (>>Tweet this<<)

Inconsistent product performance

As with communications, most product testing compares current to the proposed new product and sometimes also versus the competition. Unfortunately small changes made can be undetectable to consumers even in direct comparison, or are within statistical errors and so are ignored. But over time, consumers are likely to come to realise that the product to which they have been loyal for many, many years, is no longer what it used to be. Therefore it is useful (essential) to compare product ratings to those from previous years, as well as to the current product.

No emotional attachment

This is a dangerous situation to be in, since if consumers have no emotional attachment to your br and, they can switch without too much thought. In fact your br and is no longer a br and, it’s a commodity! It needs to st and for something in the hearts and minds of consumers, so that they will choose you rather than a competitor. Especially in categories where performance differences are minimal, emotional attachment is what keeps consumers loyal. (>>Tweet this<<)Review how your consumers feel about your br and and what you can do to build more emotional attachment. The stimulation of the senses is a great way to do this. (read more here).

Confusing br and hierarchy

Your line extensions are like family members. There should be a well-defined parent br and and each variant should have clear resemblances to it. As mentioned above concerning product and communications consistency, line extensions can drift away from the look and feel of the parent br and, especially in dynamic categories where innovation and renovation are vital. When was the last time you looked at your whole product range – together? Differences in fonts, colours, sub-br and descriptions and design become quickly obvious. Make the changes needed to get the family back in line.

Lack of (the right) social media presence

I couldn’t end this list without including social media and the internet as this is where most consumer product br ands “live” today. (>>and%20the%20internet%20is%20where%20most%20consumer%20product%20br ands%20%E2%80%9Clive%E2%80%9D%20today%20%20[tweetlink]” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”>Tweet this<<)It is not enough to launch a website and Facebook page for every br and and promotion. Living is the operative word here, so it’s much better to have one site that is regularly updated than tens that are visited by twenty people a month ( and yes I’ve found that in many major CPGs in the past). Also make sure that your tone online fits your tone offline and portrays the same personality. Social media is not new media, it’s just another channel, so it must fit into your overall communication’s strategy.

Hopefully this list has given you some food for thought and ideas on which to take action this week. If you are facing a different challenge I’d love to hear about it and possibly offer you some solutions. Just drop me a line here.      

C³Centricity used an image from Kozzi in this post.

The Highly Effective Habits of Truly Innovative Companies

A couple of months ago I shared what I consider to be the Ten Mistakes even Great Companies Make when innovating. Whilst it is useful to have these “watch out” lists, I believe it is also beneficial to take a look at how other companies get it right.

This post was prompted by a new client who is one of those already doing innovation extremely well and yet is still looking to improve their thinking. That for me is the sign of a truly innovative company. So read on for some ideas on how you too can become great at innovating.

Set Stretch Launch Targets

Let me start by saying there is a huge difference between the quantity and quality of innovations in almost all companies. In fact I believe there is an inverse relationship between the two. Those that innovate a lot rarely do it well. I think this is because they have the pressure of meeting objectives of numbers of new launches, rather than numbers of successful launches.

What is a successful launch? For me it is meeting or beating carefully thought through and calculated objectives. Not those wishfully high numbers used to get management buy-in for the launch, nor those ridiculously low targets that everyone knows will be met even before the new product is launched. No, I mean objectives that are stretch targets but achievable with the right plan, actions and effort. In other words SMART.

Be Inspired by your Customers

There are a lot of very clever organisations, especially in the technology area, which develop incredibly innovative products. Apple is (was?) obviously one of these and until recently, was admired for its innovations. Now it has been claimed that Steve Jobs didn’t believe in market research. This is untrue. He did believe in market research, but market research done right. He didn’t ask consumers what they wanted, because he said they didn’t know. Instead he asked them what their problems were, what they dreamt about. He then showed them his answers to these and got their reactions. Even when he got his answers, he didn’t immediately start adapting products to meet these stated needs, but rather worked to underst and what consumers meant by what they asked for. As the infamous Ford quote says

“If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse!”

Jobs didn’t build a faster tape player, or a smaller one, or a lighter one. He made “music on the go” more convenient, more accessible and above all, more fun.

Use a Flexible Approach to Idea Generation

Many companies approach innovation as a strict process. They will use something similar to the below funnel, brainstorming for a multitude of ideas that eventually get whittled down to the one or two new launches that are finally chosen.

St andard funnel used by companies lacking innovative ideas

There are many companies today offering new processes and ways of innovating, but they all come down to a finite number of alternative levers:

  • Start from your strengths and / or weaknesses
  • Start from the strengths and / or weaknesses of your competitors
  • Extend into adjacent categories
  • Extend into new channels
  • Extend into new presentations (packs, prices, communications)

They also use one of three models to reduce their number of possible choices in their selection process:

  • Start large and reduce down (the st andard “funnel” approach shown above)
  • Start small and exp and before selecting (inverse funnel approach)
  • Repeated executions of the combination of the above expansion and contraction of ideas (sometimes referred to as the accordion approach)

Whichever you decide to use, you eventually get to a decision of the one, or few, launch choices, at least in most cases. Truly innovative companies are not limited to one process or tool, and are open to idea generation from however and wherever it might come.

Make Innovation Everyone’s Responsibility

Innovation is for the privileged few in (too) many organisations today. Teams are separated off to concentrate on being “more creative” or to “bond” with R&D. However truly innovative companies use open innovation where everyone can have and share ideas about the company’s process, products and customers. In a great article on this (“ Who blocks innovation?”) Jeffrey Phillips ends with a wonderful short story:

“There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it but Nobody did it.

Somebody got angry with that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realizes that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended that Everybody blamed Somebody then Nobody did what Anybody could have done”

Great companies are often great because they are very innovative. And they are very good at innovating because of three highly effective habits:

  • They set appropriate stretch targets for every new launch; good is never good enough
  • They listen to their customers, but don’t do what they say, but rather what they mean
  • They open idea generation to be inspired by a multitude of different processes, tools and above all people

Would you add another habit? Have I forgotten an important trait? Please let me know what you would add or feel free to react with your comments below.

C³Centricity used images from Dreamstime in this post.

NEVER Succeed at Innovation: 10 Mistakes even Great Companies make

There have been many attempts to dethrone the blond supermodel doll Barbie over her fifty plus years of existence, mostly without much success. The latest endeavour (named Lammilly, after her creator) is different in that Nickolay Lamm is going after co-funding and has already achieved over $350,000 in just a few days according to the website.

This interesting addition to the “Anti-Barbies” story prompted a number of questions in my head:

  • Is it wise to go after a declining segment?
  • What was wrong with Barbie’s customer satisfaction?
  • Who is the target for this new doll? Child, adult, collector?
  • Why now, after so many previous unsuccessful attempts at dethroning Barbie?

Those questions and various discussions on FaceBook then got me thinking more generally about innovation and how companies have adapted their processes (or not) to today’s connected world. So here are my thoughts on how NOT to innovate:

1. Change the colour, perfume or taste of your current product and then charge more.

Pepsi innovation of Crystal PepsiThis is what Pepsi did when launching Pepsi Crystal: it lasted less than a year. Interestingly this is also what Apple just did with its iPhone 5C, except it charged less. Again it is already being discounted at Walmart because of disappointing sales, which might just be a good thing for Apple in the long run. Sales of the 5S remain buoyant and any damage to the corporate image caused by the cheaper 5C should hopefully be significantly reduced.

2. Organise an innovation team and provide them with a separate office, ideally far away from the current business.

If this is how you are set up internally, get the team back into talking distance with the rest of the business. Rather than stimulating creativity as it has been claimed to do, by being separated from everyday business concerns, it actually alienates everyone else to innovation and decreases overall creativity.

3. Make sure R&D heads up innovation so your new products can make use of your technical know-how and skills.

R&D needs to connect with customers for improved innovationWhilst this may result in technically improved products, they are all too often not in line with consumer current needs or future desires. Your research people need to connect with your potential customers regularly so they can be tuned into customers’ wants and current frustrations. Wouldn’t you rather have your R&D developing new products that practically sold themselves? As Peter Drucker said “… know and underst and the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself” (>>Tweet this<<). If R&D are in constant contact with your customers, they will always have them in mind when planning their product development.

 

4. Don’t let people from outside the organisation work on innovation; prefer well-established thinkers from within the organisation, preferably with more than ten to twenty years in the company.

This often happens as the result of a naïve manager lacking the required confidence to accept criticism, to challenge the status quo and to get out of their comfort zone. No person, let alone an organisation, can be an expert in every area. Why not take full advantage of external expertise to catalyse innovation? It’s certainly faster than learning   and training the required new skills internally. Just think about how many major Fortune 500 companies have joint ventures: they know something about reaping the benefits of collaboration for a win-win to grow their businesses.

5. Only move an innovation concept forward when it is finalised and everyone in the company agrees with its potential.

Apple still excels at innovation

If you wait for complete agreement on a new concept, you will never launch any new product. Rather than looking for total buy-in from everyone, accept the proof of a well-documented justification; if it looks and feels right you can learn from in-market measurement once launched to make adjustments. This is the approach often used by many successful hi-tech companies including Apple. Become a beta tester but make sure you fail fast and learn fast (>>Tweet this<<).

 

6. Follow a well-tested established process for concept development. Take time to ensure everything is working perfectly before launching.

St andard innovation funnelRigid processes and creativity rarely go together (>>Tweet this<<). Rather than working step-by-step through a st andardised process every time, accept that your approach can and should be adapted to the concept as well as market needs.

Some argue that the more ideas you have the better the winning concept. I personally think that massive numbers of ideas merely dilute both thinking and action. I recommend working through a few potential “promising concepts” with some target customers, to refine and develop the winner. I have found this approach to lead more consistently to a winning concept that customers would buy, as well as far more quickly than any st andard funnel process of proliferation and elimination.

7.  Never use social media or test amongst consumers who are outside the control of the organisation, so competition doesn’t learn about what you are developing.

As with no. 4 above, this situation often arises from less experienced managers afraid of being found lacking in creativity. In reality, competition often knows far more about an organisation’s innovations than the majority of its employees do. Therefore test and learn, then test and learn some more, whilst of course making reasonable efforts to reduce any confidentiality risks involved.

8.  Never share ideas with anyone outside the innovation team to avoid leaks.

As mentioned in no. 2 above, everyone can be creative and have great, innovative ideas. It therefore makes no sense at all to limit accepted creativity to one team alone. Whilst it is important to have an innovation lead team, all employees should feel encouraged to bring their ideas to the attention of the business. After all, we are all consumers.

9. Only innovate products and services similar to those in which you are already an expert.

This is not innovation, this is renovation. As with no. 1 above, it is unlikely to provide significant growth for a business, but it can satisfy consumer dem ands for novelty until such time as your disruptive innovation is ready. Never accept renovations as a replacement for true innovation. (>>Tweet this<<)

10. Don’t think too far ahead; after all, the world is moving so fast that we don’t know what the future will look like.

Preparing future scenarios can speed innovation

Whilst it’s true that the world is moving forever faster, this actually makes forward thinking vital not impossible. My recommendation is to develop future scenarios to challenge the organisation to think through a number of “what if” scenarios so that the business is prepared for multiple opportunities and risks.

 

These are my ten mistakes that even the best companies make sometimes in innovation. Are you guilty of any of them? Hopefully these ideas will provide you with food for thought as well as possible solutions.

C³Centricity used images from Dreamstime, PepsiCo and Apple in this post.

This is Why your New Products “Crash & Burn”

Last month I invited readers to share some of the problems and challenges they need to address in 2014. I offered a free consultation to one lucky winner who asked the most interesting question, which could also be of interest for me to answer for other readers.

Well, the winner is Jean-Francois (JF) who has just started working with a start-up in the tech and app areas – I feel that’s more and more of us these days, don’t you? His question was:

“I would like to commercialize a new XXX; what would be the right approach to identify the consumer need and then the market potential, considering that the company has very limited financial resources?”

This is a great question and a reminder that not every organisation has access to large market research or marketing departments and extensive budgets. In fact, in many companies these roles are being h andled by one and the same person with very few resources; is that your case? If so then you will definitely find this post of interest, but even if it isn’t, I’m sure you will still find value from the ideas shared.

As I had promised, I gave Jean-Francois a one-on-one consultancy which ended up lasting several hours, as he had planned well for our session together. He also happens to be really passionate about his innovative idea, as well as in finding solutions to all his challenges.

The product JF and his team want to launch doesn’t exist on the market today, although there are some products which are unsuccessfully trying to address the perceived customer need. The proportion of product launches which fail every year is generally “accepted” to be about 95% – although why companies continue to accept such levels is beyond me! With such odds, I think it is incredibly courageous to start a whole company based around just one new product idea, but that seems to be the norm in many areas today.

Let’s start by taking a look at some of the reasons new products fail and identify ways to reduce if not completely eliminate them for your next launch.

  1. New product Process wheelThe process itself: Innovation is by definition a creative process, but many organisations use a well-worn, restrictive and uncreative process to develop their new products. They are at best most likely to come up with renovations than true innovations. The solution is to introduce some creativity into the process, and why not include potential customers in the process too?
  2. Meeting company quotas: It is surprising that with such miserable statistics concerning the likely success rate of new products, that so many companies – and which shockingly include many of the largest CPGs around – fix quotas on the number of annual new product launches. How crazy is that?! It just encourages too many new products to be launched too early, and almost guarantees failure! I believe it would be much better to seriously limit the levels of acceptance amongst all new product ideas proposed in any year, then only the best would get through.
  3. Lack of customer underst anding: This is most likely one of, if not the most important reason for new product launch failures. And I don’t mean that you should ask the customer what he wants, he doesn’t know until you make it available to him in many industries. No, I mean starting by looking at a customer’s lifestyle and seeing how you can make it easier and more enjoyable for them. If you already have a new product idea, which was the case for JF, then consider how it would make the customer’s life easier or better. If it doesn’t, then you perhaps need to reassess its market appeal.
  4. Lack of category underst anding: This follows on from customer underst anding, in that you need to identify how the customer is currently working around or compensating for their need today. Don’t assume you are competing in a certain category until you have identified what the customer is currently doing or using. That is the way to identify your true competition.
  5. Not living up to your promises: If you promise a better, cheaper or more enjoyable experience, then customers deserve to be able to confirm this if they buy. Especially in today’s connected world, if you disappoint by not meeting customers’ expectations, your product will fail even more quickly than in the past, since early-adopters will Tweet or leave comments on Facebook, Blogs or other social media platforms for all to see.
  6. Not being sufficiently differentiated: Following on from living up to your promises, customers need a reason to change behaviours, and depending upon the category this can be costly, whether in time, money or effort. Many customers prefer to continue buying an inferior product or service than making the effort to change – think Telecom, Banking, Hotels, Air travel or Insurance as some of the most typical examples of such industries. These businesses are in a constant battle to differentiate themselves and provide a real advantage to attract new customers.
  7. Being too different: Whilst not being sufficiently differentiated can be a certain cause of failure, being too new can also meet with no success. The reason for this is that if customers are totally unfamiliar with the new product or service offering, you will need to spend considerable resources to educate them. If you are unable or not willing to invest the time and money in doing this, then you will undoubtedly fail to attract more than just a few customers who take the time to underst and what you are offering.
  8. Correct pricing is key to NPD successPricing yourself out of the market: Here I’m not just speaking of pricing your product too high; being too low can also negatively impact your likely success. Underst anding how much potential customers value your offer to essential to the success of any product. Getting it wrong can result in lost revenue or worse a promotional spiral leading to br and hell (read more about this in “Are you on the way to br and heaven or hell“)
  9. Inappropriate distribution: This can be the consequence of an incomplete underst anding of your customer and is also linked to differentiation. Whilst you can just follow near competitors into their own distribution channels, why ignore the possibility of being available where and when your customer might buy it most? By reducing the effort necessary to change their habits and buy, you can attract more potential customers to at least try your new product.
  10. Being too far ahead of the customer: There are many examples of great products that were ahead of their time. Gillette brought out 2–in–1 shampoos with conditioners included in the early 70’s, but they were a dramatic flop. Ten years later most personal care manufacturers offered these products, and were met with huge success, even if such products have gone out of fashion somewhat since then. It took Nespresso almost twenty years to become profitable and Philip Morris has needed similar levels of patience for their most infamous of br ands Marlboro, in many markets. If you can’t afford to wait for your customers to catch up with your new product idea, then you should certainly reconsider your launch decision.

These are ten of the most common reasons for new product launch failure. Which do you think is most prevalent in your own company? What are you going to change to increase the success of your own new products? Is it some other reason altogether, that I’ve missed? Let me know and share your thoughts below. 

Coming back to JF, most of our time together was spent discussing ways to collect information on many of the above points. As he has little budget for extensive market research, it was important for him to find other ways of gathering the much needed information and not to just bypass that stage; perhaps many people don’t bother to search out the information they need to truly assess the likely success of their new product, which would explain the high failure rate mentioned above.

By the end of my session with JF, he had a clear plan of action and I have since heard that he is progressing incredibly fast, so watch this space for an announcement concerning the launch of his new device.

I will be sharing the tips I gave him in a future blog post, but in the meantime feel free to continue sending me your own questions; I’m always ready to have a short Skype or phone call to assist you with your own marketing and innovation challenges.

C³Centricity uses images from  DreamstimeKozzi  and Microsoft

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