These days, innovation is both the biggest opportunity and the greatest challenge to business. Companies are under increasing pressure to come up with the next big idea and get it to a rapidly changing market faster than ever.

Marketers are constantly looking at new ways to increase their innovation success rates. Often stakeholders are under a lot of pressure and they turn to short-term solutions that are sub-optimal. Even if the objective is to come up with ‘quick wins’, staying true to the innovation process will increase your success rate.

Here are some thoughts for early stage innovation success:

  • Set a clear direction for each step in the process;
  • Inspire and inject your multi-disciplinary team with creativity;
  • Establish a team champion;
  • Look outside and involve the right consumers/outside experts;
  • Reward people for creativity.

Set a clear direction through consumer insights

Objectives need to be defined for each step in the innovation process. I believe the process needs to be driven by the right consumer insights. A true insight is a deeper understanding of the consumer that provides an opportunity for the company.

A potential insight is defined by a fact about consumers’ behaviour and usage of the category, the underlying needs of this behaviour and a related friction or frustration. The friction is related to consumers’ experience of using the product, or a fundamental unmet need.

Any small frustration in the usage experience of the product/ brand might become a springboard for innovation. That is why we need to explore every step in how consumers use a certain product.

Take the insight “I frequently enjoy eating ice cream to indulge myself; however, I do not like the taste of most chocolate ice cream.” This insight statement will generate new, more enjoyable flavours of ice cream, but it won’t address a deeper fundamental need. The insight statement should be single minded around the fundamental deeper need and the friction related to the need or behaviour of the consumers, not the product.

A deeper understanding is gained if the insight statement touches the consumer psyche, as it summarises the true friction and paradox they face everyday. For example: “I drink 1.5 liters of water a day because it’s good for my health, but it’s difficult to keep up.”

This is why one should ‘check’ the insight by asking two essential questions:

  1. Does it help to understand consumers’ behaviors/needs better
  2. Does it describe a sub-optimal situation that demands resolution?

The insight should get to the heart of people’s behaviours and needs, providing inspiration to grow your business. This principle will ensure that new ideas are relevant and exciting to consumers.

Set a clear direction through business criteria

The direction of the innovation project should also be defined and determined by the business. Usually the business criteria are worked around:

  • Time to market;
  • Fit to the brand;
  • Feasibility of the ideas from an R&D stand-point.

The narrower the business criteria, the less differentiating the ideas. If the ‘rules’ are defined by ‘fits existing brand values, technology is available and easy to introduce this year,’ the ideas created based on any consumer insight will be renovations. This means the ideas will be less exciting to consumers, because it is concepts with both a relevant and differentiating benefit that are most exciting.

Gone are the days of launching a product and then seeing if there is demand for it. You need to discover, build and adjust/refine an idea until it meets the consumer need. Gone also are the days of taking an overseas product and introducing it locally. Global strategies need to be localised, and the innovation process will help in the localisation of the experience.

Multidisciplinary team, led by one champion

With your innovation project, you need to include individuals from different divisions such as market research, marketing, R&D and finance. They will provide different perspectives on project objectives. The more perspectives the better: often the best ideas come from the ‘front line’ of distributors, salespeople and junior-level team members.

Most importantly, innovation project participants, especially in ideation sessions, need to be positive, inspired and committed to make the session successful. Avoid any cynicism or criticism that might jeopardize the outcome. Personalities are more important to the session’s success than job titles or egos.

Ownership by participants will lead to stronger ideas. Participation of the stakeholders, especially at the ideation stage, will accelerate the innovation process later on. They have created the ideas so they will drive them with vigor.

If you don’t reward people for their creativity, you risk dampening their motivation to generate ideas. Reward people who challenge the status quo by ensuring their ideas see the light of day.

While there are many benefits to having cross-functional teams, these teams can often end up paralysed if no one takes ownership of the project. So, it is important to assign a single ‘champion’ who can maintain the positive energy needed to reach the objectives of each step of the innovation process.

Look outside

At any step in the process involve outside experts, like your target audience. Don’t just talk with your own customers: connect with consumers in other categories and competitive brands. Clients that create winning ideas take as many opportunities as possible to seek outside input. For example:

  • Ask suppliers for detailed input, opportunities and ideas;
  • Seek input from people in your company, but outside your team;
  • Engage with consumers of competitive brands to see how competitors work.

Many marketers believe that consumers should be kept well away from the creative process. While consumers can be suspicious of new ideas and exposing an ordinary consumer to a breakthrough idea too early will often guarantee its death, I believe that working with the right consumers, the right way at the right time can produce inspiring ideas.

Innovation that doesn’t put consumers at its heart is likely to produce ideas that do not properly address consumer needs. That’s why we like to use ‘creative’ consumers to generate ideas. But it only works if you use the right consumers in the right way – involving consumers with a natural creative streak, using both their visual and verbal creativity.

As in marketing, we ask creative consumers to come up with solutions. They are the ones with the unmet needs, dissatisfaction or frustration, so who better to ask and involve in the ideation process?

Generating ideas is more than planning, organising and facilitating. It’s the ability to inspire others and create experiences that enable your creative consumers and outside experts to come up with new ideas. Fun, collaborative ideation sessions and creative thinking will generate the best ideas.

Every ideation session should be designed to probe a specific consumer insight and the business objectives, and build on the creative skill-set of the participants, both inside and outside the company. Good luck!