You’ve heard the sayings, “Innovation creates leaders,” “Innovation is the lifeblood of a company,” or “Innovate or die.”

Businesses are experiencing tremendous change – whether that is from competitors or consumers – we know innovation is necessary to respond to these changes. However, successful innovation is not easy, especially since today’s consumer is in charge. Consumers are more demanding than ever before and seek innovation to quickly meet their perceived wants and needs in the marketplace. This need for quick market response has forced companies to rethink how they uncover insights and develop solutions. Generating deeper insights, incorporating more agile experimentation, generating more resilient solutions and accelerating decision-making is at the heart of the changes that must be made along the innovation journey.

-- Learn more from the authors as they present at CRC, October 8-10 in Orlando. --

Currently, consumers have increasing power to influence brands. Through their voices, purchasing power and ability to organize around shared values, consumers are aggressively influencing attitudes towards brands. This new consumer power is driving the development of new brands, the re-invention of existing ones, as well as the abandonment of others, rather than brands driving trends.

The most successful companies are winning because they listen and empathize with consumers and build solutions that meet their needs.  They have shifted from a traditional step-by-step stage gate innovation process, which relies on large quantitative research methodologies—to one that partners with its consumers to transform into purpose-driven brands. These brands have more loyal followers who believe and trust in the brand based on the shared values of its users. Companies have to adopt innovation mindsets and behaviors. Today, consumers more or less own brands, and it is critical that they are intimately involved in brand transformation and creation using rapid iterative approaches. 

Generating prototypes also is critical in that it allows the visualizing, creating, and refining of ideas by building products and/or packaging that represent various combinations of desirable sensory cues. Generating prototypes early and often is an effective way of learning. The prototype provides a physical representation of the idea (stimuli) that is easier to analyze and continually refine.

Most importantly, by integrating design thinking, a systematic approach to problem solving, and rapid iterative prototyping, we can generate greater point of differentiation for the brand in the market driving breakthrough product innovation. This acceleration of innovation in marketing research also means thinking more behaviorally—iteratively extending your knowledge about how consumers react to new ideas, concepts, and prototypes within the context of how they will integrate them into their lives.

A recent series of studies using these cutting-edge iterative behavioral research methods to accelerate product and package innovation have uncovered three focal areas critical to innovation success.

  1. Identify “whitespace” both behavioral and sensorial.  Behavioral whitespace opportunities allow for unique moments of use to be identified and where they are the highest for the brand. For example, identifying moments where people are always choosing different products and are never satisfied with the ones they choose means trial of new brands will be easy and creating a distinct advantage over competition takes less effort to accomplish. Similarly, identifying sensory cues/characteristics that align with the brand benefits through immersive qualitative research will allow for the discovery of differentiated sensory experiences that improve consumer perception of the brand.
  1. Taking learnings on sensory cues and category whitespace begin to ideate on the development of new product ideas and concepts through facilitated creative sessions referred to as co-creation. Using co-creation with your target consumers, instead of using one-way surveys to gauge consumer interest, is the key to identifying ideas that address the moments of opportunity discovered as behavioral whitespace. To be successful here you must be willing to be highly iterative of the concept and any stimuli you are using. The stimuli can be the development of prototypes that provide a range of ways to deliver the most important sensory cues. It is common for ideas that would never pass a concept test or idea screen to be honed and massaged into highly successful opportunities. For example, in nutritional beverages, every product must provide good nutrition, that is a given, a cost of entry – it will not differentiate your brand. It must be something else, the moment it is positioned to be used in, the sensory properties, the package or some other aspect of the product.  
  1. Iterate with consumers to refine prototypes based on the most important sensory cues using a rapid iterative learning sprint known as co-design.  Using learning sprints through a model of creative problem-solving assists in taking these ideas to market quickly. Rather than preparing a series of large studies, focus in on the sensorial cues that communicate a core market advantage and differentiate you from other products used in that moment. Conduct quick, iterative co-design sprints where you learn-modify, learn-modify until you create the right balance of product and positioning. Do not rely on acceptability scores as a strong indicator of success; rather focus on delivering those sensorial cues, which signal the core motivation for using the product. These cues create the emotionally intuitive connection between the product, brand and messaging, which will drive repeat use and product success. Provide a sensory descriptive map of each newly developed prototype that helps in the quantification of key sensory characteristics for further prototype refinement.

To be successful in innovation today you need to move rapidly and iteratively, quickly targeting behavioral and sensorial whitespace, designing, and developing for rapid market response. By using rapid, iterative approaches to delve into the whitespace for opportunities, to co-create with consumers for ideation, and to uncover sensory cues and emotions as well as using iterative learning sprints for evaluation—you gain the knowledge needed to develop unique differentiated products, ensuring greater consumer interest and desire, which drives desirable habitual behaviors.  Ultimately, brands stay relevant and keep demanding consumers happy by understanding what they want in more effective and efficient ways.