Innovate or die, we’re fond of saying, because although dramatic, it’s true that those who fail to remain inventive, industrious, and interesting to consumers inevitably fade into irrelevance. But, agree as we may on this point, the process of creating that “next-big product” that consumers pine for and purchase en masse is as elusive as getting your painting hung at the MoMA.
Occasionally, we see truly radical innovation that changes our paradigm for a product category, or creates a new category unto itself. But more often we see incremental innovations, and many of them do exactly what companies intend: they increase share of wallet and/or win over new customers. Research can play a role with both radical and incremental innovation, but is especially suited to guide companies as they make smaller-scale adjustments to their products and services, in the name of customer love and profit.
Here are three suggestions to help you best identify safely-daring, incremental innovations that will preserve your loyalists and attract new audiences:
1. Ready, Aim, Target
Start with a market segmentation to identify specific segments with great economic potential and receptivity to your brand. Once segments are defined and prioritized, take aim at understanding their unmet needs and wants. Then direct your product development activities to target these core needs and other hypothesized areas of potential.
2. Take an Anthropological Approach to Find Opportunities
A “Habits and Practices” or “A&U” survey can help you understand how consumers presently interact with your category. What’s going well? What seems to be creating frustration?
Couple this with anthropological qualitative explorations to go deeper. Respondent blogs, diaries and ethnographies give people time to really think about the product and category in the context of their real lives. You can hear their pain points, discover interesting and unconventional product uses, and learn what changes and improvements they would make.
3. Understand Where You Have “Permission” to Go
Your brand’s current image and equities create a framing for consumers. The further you extend your brand from the core space it occupies today, the more likely you are to create confusion about what your brand represents. Consequently, we suggest looking beyond explicit fit measures and including an assessment of indirect fit. Sometimes you need a step-by-step process of innovation to guide consumers, as you build fresh equities together and head toward a new space they will accept.
Searching (and spending) to see the David in the marble may not be a wise use of staff or research resources. But these directed approaches will point you toward consumers’ actual wish lists and pain points, allowing you to innovate your way to another day.