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Bruce Burton

SmartCompany /

How will you know for sure that your innovation will make a real connect with customers? Ask.

Your new product – a star or a statistic?

Have you noticed anything strange about wine packaging recently? I have!

In my all-too-frequent visits to the bottle shop, I’ve noticed not only glass bottles with square bottoms but see that the Cheviot Bridge wine label Long Flat has just released a semillon sauvignon blanc in a new “paper box” — basically a retake on the Tetra Pak. And in an article in Epicure a couple of weeks ago, Ben Canaider points out there are numerous “innovative” new wine packaging concepts on the way.

Great! But to be quite honest I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the wine bottle … or the humble cork for that matter.

Is putting wine in new containers really customer-focused innovation — something customers want and will buy? Or is it just a way of cutting costs in the cut-throat game of cheap wine?

I wonder if this is just another technology “push” into a market that doesn’t exist? I doubt whether the creators of these cute new packaging concepts have identified large enough segments of consumers so crazy about environmentally friendly manufacturing, reducing waste, wine quality or integrity that they are willing to change their purchasing and consumption behaviour.

Any approach to launching new products and services benefits significantly from an explicit understanding of:

  • What is important to your customers, and
  • Where they are under-served by your products and those of your competitors.

Sadly, much of the 80% failure rate of new products can be attributed to this one simple oversight.

So what’s required?

Rather than starting the innovation journey spending valuable time with face paints and crayons in brainstorming, producing hundreds of half-baked ideas, start without preconceptions and try understanding what customers want.

There are numerous approaches to gathering customer inputs, from depth interviews, focus groups and observations, but the most important criterion is to ensure that you capture the right type of information.

Sadly, we see too many organisations that gather oblique information that makes it almost impossible for product designers and marketers to use.

Rather than accepting customer inputs like “reliable” and “convenient”, or worse asking them for solutions or product features, you need to dig deeply below the surface to uncover what they are trying to achieve when using your product or service and understand how they measure value.

Using an input such as “reducing the amount of toxic pollutants created when the package is manufactured” is more specific and easier to work with than simply “environmentally friendly”.

Once you’ve created an exhaustive list of your customers’ requirements, go and ask enough of them how important each one is and how well your product or service, and those of your competitors, satisfy those needs.

You need to be able to prioritise the inputs uncovered during the qualitative research, which means asking enough people to have some statistical validity.

Conducting never-ending focus groups across the country is manifestly inadequate.

There is no substitute for old-fashioned quantitative research with lots of people. And in our experience, when conducting research for innovation, you don’t need to be exhaustive and exact. Surveying 300 to 500 people in an online panel is not only cheap research, but it’s normally a valid sample size for most Australian markets.

And, if you find that 80% of the population say that reducing toxic pollutants in manufacturing is important but only 30% are happy with what they are currently using, then you have a real opportunity for innovation.

So will the new Long Flat box connect with enough consumers to be a winner? It depends how well the researchers and product developers have done their homework. But from this consumer’s perspective, I wonder if there is anything here that has significant potential?

If Long Flat really wanted to be innovative and shake things up, then perhaps it should be thinking about a completely different business model instead of incremental and possibly marginal packaging innovations. Maybe it could completely disrupt the wine industry by giving the wine away and instead selling advertising on the side of the boxes … now that’s something I’d “buy”!

Will your new products and services become a star or a statistic?

  1. When thinking about new products and services, does your organisation start with brainstorming ideas or with insightful customer research?
  2. If you do research, do you do quantitative studies to test the hypotheses formed in the qualitative stage, or do you just rely on a whole lot of focus groups?
  3. Does your research capture information that can easily be interpreted and actioned by your development teams, or does it capture woolly needs, specifications or benefits?

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