Innovation isn’t easy.
That said, I am continually frustrated by the high levels of in-market failure. Driven by a determination to help
companies improve the way they do their NPD, I’ve created an Innovation Checklist based on six powerful questions that
promote an entirely different way of thinking. I haven’t met a client yet who can satisfactorily answer all six questions
about the way they go about innovation.
Balancing safe and breakthrough innovation.
From recent discussions, very few people involved in the industry feel they have the right balance in their
innovation pipeline between safe and ‘breakthrough’ innovation. I’m going to concentrate on one question:
‘Are you frightened of failure?’
My concern is that in many companies innovation has become too safe because they are frightened of failure. This
fear manifests itself in two ways. First, a corporate fear, based on the watchful eye of the City on the innovation
pipeline. In this climate of scrutiny, it’s more common to see tweaks to the existingmarketplace rather than real
product innovation. In a recent analysis of new product introductions in the US, only 5% were deemed to be truly
Following on from this, there’s the inevitable human fear factor: do I want to be seen as a manager of innovations that
do not make it to market? Some companies reward their people on the number of products launched, rather than the actual
success of the products, so it isn’t surprising they end up with lots of safe innovation.
Looking for more sophisticated research
In NPD, most companies follow a tried and tested process. The popular ‘stagegate’ approach puts up a set of
criteria that any new product has to meet to get through each gate, stage by stage. And market research often provides
the information at each gate that allows it through. So success in innovation is heavily dependent on how you research it.
Are we sticking slavishly with old ways or are we in tune with contemporary issues, embracing how the purchasing dynamic has changed?
In concept screening, I know that clients are worried about killing ideas, where research reveals that the product shows
a high level of uniqueness but purchasing intention is low. They worry that tomorrow’s great ideas will be canned because today’s audience didn’t understand them. And they are right to be wary, because current testing systems are not sympathetic to many of these ideas.
Asking the right people the right questions
To overcome this shortcoming, clients need more sophisticated research that cuts to the chase. We’re too democratic in the
NPD arena. In evaluative research we take everybody’s views and just aggregate the data. This is going to have to change. It’s something we’ve taken on board at TNS by identifying category-specific ‘Future Shapers’, those leading consumers who drive change in markets and future business growth. These people are deeply involved in the category.
They’ll ask a lot of questions, but they’ll recommend the brand. Advocates. Ambassadors. As such they are far more
relevant than ‘early adopters’.
Listening to the Future Shapers
By giving a disproportionate weight to the views of these leading consumers, we can help you weave along a tricky path.
A classic example is seen in the development of a new soft drink brand in Australasia. In trying to enter the highly competitive market place, our client deliberately avoided the trap of mimicking the long-time category leader and instead consulted Future
Shapers in a co-creation exercise to identify a more disruptive approach. This led to the idea of an ‘adults only’ soft drink which was developed and tested. It fell short of normal action standards in a quantitative test but was saved by its obvious appeal to those at the leading edge of the market. It was subsequently launched and achieved an almost instant ‘cult’ status before finding its way into the repertoire of mainstream consumers and carving out a very worthwhile share of the market.
So don’t allow fear of failure to drive you towards safe innovation. Use a tool which is sensitive to breakthrough innovation and you may have your hands on the next big thing. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with my favourite Woody Allen quote:
If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.