Published on Tuesday, 29 May 2012 18:38
By: Lidija Davidson
I’ve seen a disconcerting trend lately.
When I first started my marketing career, consumer strategy drove innovation efforts. Working for an organization that launched a new consumer product every five weeks, we needed enough inspiration to generate at least 10 new products a year. We found that inspiration by combing through our target consumers’ lives and unrelentingly seeking white space opportunities, then using these inputs to fuel our new product machine.
We always kept the consumer front and center. And we were very, very successful.
Lately, though, “design” has taken the innovation world by storm. Nearly daily, articles espousing the virtues of design as the primary means to sustainable and successful innovation flood my inbox and grace my web browser. Companies famed for their design capabilities are held up as the innovative ideal.
I have nothing against design. I bought the first iPad within the first week of its launch, back when no one really knew
how they were going to use an iPad and why they really needed one anyway. And, I am eagerly awaiting the next iPhone, although my current one still works.
But, I am personally not sold on the notion of design as the primary impetus for innovation.
I think design is a critical part of the innovation process and should be used to establish and maintain competitive advantage and develop innovative new products. But not all design-based innovation is grounded enough in the consumer to be successful. Take the Dyson Air Multiplier – an expensive ($300+) and innovative-looking “bladeless fan” meant to reduce air choppiness or buffeting created by regular table or floor fans. Smoother cooling is nice, but not many consumers thought it “cool” enough to replace their chintzy $15 plastic table fans that do a much better job at cooling, buffeting and lack of “cool” factor notwithstanding.
Customers are going to be the ultimate determinant of a product’s success or failure, so leaving them out of the innovation process entirely is a mistake. Don’t make the other mistake, however, of over-relying on their feedback on new products. Most people are resistant to change and don’t generally like new things and can easily squash revolutionary new product ideas. So, tread lightly if testing new products with your target market.
Instead, a better way to incorporate your customers into your innovation efforts is by uncovering (generally via ethnographic-type research) problems or latent needs and using these as impetus for ideation and innovation.
Innovation inspired by design may be pretty, but innovation founded upon real consumer inputs coupled with cutting-edge design can be breakthrough. If consumers are going to be the ultimate measure of your success, put them first.
About the Author:
Lidija Davidson loves to discover what drives and motivates consumers. She has launched over 30 successful new products by uncovering deep seated consumer insights and using them to spur innovation while working at companies such as Taco Bell, Mattel, KFC UK, Activision, and currently through the marketing firm she founded, Sift, Cipher and Bloom