Dumb ways to kill innovation

Those involved in new product development often find themselves having to defend ideas that are hardly ground-breaking or inspiring, but they are being progressed because they “tested well in research”. Alternatively they may find themselves desperately trying to find a way to pursue an idea that didn’t pass a single metric ‘go/no go’ hurdle.

The end result of this struggle can be that companies end up relying too much on close-in innovations, which may only serve existing customers. To achieve a greater return on investment in the longer term, these close-in innovations need to be supplemented with a few transformational innovations which can expand the customer base.

One of the reasons for the reliance on core initiatives is that core innovations tend to score better in most consumer research approaches.  As a consumer, I am far more likely to say I will buy something that sounds very similar to what I currently buy (and, therefore, am comfortable with), than something that is less familiar.

Below I have identified five dumb ways for the research process to kill innovation –

Relying too much on a single score, such as purchase intent

We know that consumers can’t directly tell us what is really innovative – so relying on one measure to capture consumer response is too simplistic.

To illustrate this point, in our own R&D research, prior to the launch of the Apple TV and the Apple iPad, both products scored very similarly in terms of the single measure of ‘Purchase Intent’.  However, the Apple TV was did not perform so well in market and the iPad is an obvious success.  Many great innovations we see in the market today, such as the Kindle, Dyson and Netflix, were all weak in research on a general interest measure like purchase intent, but the signals of success were all there when we looked at the pattern of consumer feedback across a whole range of measures (such as liking, need fulfilment, differentiation etc).

Not casting the consumer research net wide enough

Here we challenge our clients to try to think beyond their target market.  In testing innovations, we should always start by asking ourselves, who is the potential universe for this product?  Your core target group, or core customer group, might love the innovation, but are they going to yield the return required?  What are the innovations that really have the potential to grow our core customer base?

Not evaluating the results based on the type of innovation (the one size fits all approach)

Is the innovation a breakthrough innovation?  Is a ‘me too’ innovation good enough for what the business is aiming to achieve?  Are several niche innovations more in line with the business strategy than achieving one mass market innovation?  There may be a range of reasons why a concept should be developed so we shouldn’t just focus on those with obvious mass appeal.

We use the archetypes classification to help clients identify types of innovation and, most importantly, develop a go-to-market plan in line with that archetype of innovation.

  1. Ignoring the market context

Is the market you are entering highly cluttered and fragmented?  If so, achieving differentiation and shelf standout is likely to be a challenge.  If the goal is to grow the category, what can you do to break out of the category norms?  This doesn’t have to be product formulation led.  Often the easiest way to achieve differentiation and shelf stand out is to start with the packaging (particularly the functionality of the pack).  By combining the market context with an understanding of the type of innovation (core, adjacent, breakthrough etc), research can be used to guide the decision of whether to progress the new idea.

Not testing how the innovation stacks up against competition

As consumers, when we consider whether or not we will buy a new product at shelf, we will be thinking about how relevant and appealing this product is compared to what we typically buy. That is, unless of course it is so breakthrough that it is very difficult to be able to make that comparison (which is rarely the case). Therefore, in research, we should be replicating this consumer process.

When researching consumer packaged goods, we compare the innovation to the consumer’s usual product (their most often purchased product). Outside of consumer packaged goods, where the concept of a ‘usual’ product may not be so relevant, we analyse how the research results compare to similar products we have tested.

Innovation research should act as an enabler of innovation, not a barrier. If it is contributing only to holding you back, then I urge you to reconsider what metrics you are using, and, most importantly, how you are using them.

Gillian O'Sullivan
BY Gillian O'Sullivan ON 11 November 2013
Gillian O’Sullivan is the managing director of Ipsos Marketing and has 20 years experience in consumer research and marketing. She began her career in brand marketing in consumer healthcare. Having a keen interest in what makes consumers tick, she moved into the consumer research field. Gillian was previously the executive director of consumer research at Nielsen and was also a specialist in services research at AMR. She holds a Bachelor of Economics (Honours) and a Masters of Business (Marketing).