AUTHOR’S NOTE: Gongos is hosting a two-day, hands-on training “Human-Centered Design & the Customer-Centric Organization” on Tuesday, June 15 &  Wednesday, June 16, 2021. See registration details here.

In an exponentially evolving society, innovation is an imperative—and at an increasing clip. But as with anything, you get out what you put in.

At Gongos, we’ve seen a few commonalities across organizations of all shapes and sizes: R&D might develop assets without a thorough sense of the people and problems for which they’re solving; marketing creates messaging with similar gaps; and insights struggles to effectively look outside their category for understanding and inspiration. Yet, simultaneously, there can exist a reliance on popular processes such as design thinking, human-centered design, and jobs-to-be-done.

However, an innovation process that bears fruit is not siloed nor standardized.  One that is successful doesn’t operate in isolation or in a linear fashion. Instead, a process that adopts a common language, aligns stakeholders across functional areas and fosters collaboration will encourage agility and creativity.

Finding your sweet spot of innovation requires a bit of reflection to ensure deeper thinking at the onset, anchor ideas in every dimension that counts, and fuel on-target solutions. Below are four such reflection points:

Audience Influencers: Develop Deeper Empathy

Most organizations understand the importance of building empathy for their audience. Yet many stop short of getting to know them at the deepest level. The tendency is to explore explicit over implicit needs, which paints a picture of where they are today but misses where they might be in the future.

Digging into implicit needs means deepening our understanding of emotional factors that provide clues to the future.  And uncovering even deeper aspirational needs means uncovering what consumers have yet to articulate. These in-depth insights will take you beyond incremental innovation, to breakthrough ideas and even disruptive ones. Getting to them requires immersing in the lives of your consumers. To do this, effective research methodologies include projective ethnographies, day-in-the-life diaries, segmentations, and studying trends that impact their situation. 

Ensuring stakeholders internalize this deeper understanding comes next. Only then can their ideas and collaboration be empathy-inspired. This requires knowing their languages of learning and carefully curating insights to resonate with them. A few ways to help colleagues step into the shoes of the consumer include variations of experiential learning, humanization portals, personas, and video stories.

Outside Influencers: Explore Beyond the Usual Boundaries

Innovation is human-centered but not human only. Consumers live in a global marketplace influenced by a myriad of factors. Thus, bringing the outside in means more than understanding their current needs. It requires placing those insights within the broader world context.

Through macro-force and trend analysis, in addition to market spending and forecasting data, assessing market performance and societal shifts, from political to environmental to cultural, is necessary. Doing so helps drive understanding of potential whitespace through future unarticulated needs.

When conducting  a market assessment it is important to look beyond your own category.  How consumers engage with other categories and the benefits they deliver can open the door to new opportunities for you.  Look not only to what is used with or as a substitute but categories that meet a similar functional or emotional need  and don’t forget disruptive categories.  The messaging is familiar to consumers and can help bridge to unarticulated future needs that are whitespace in your category. 

Inside Influencers: Assess Organizational Priorities and Capabilities

Innovation is as much inside-out as outside-in. You can identify the greatest opportunities in your category, but if your organization doesn’t have the capability or your brand lacks substantial equity, the opportunity isn’t a fit.

You must assess how an innovation fits within the organization by considering:

  • How does the opportunity suit your organization’s overall strategy?
  • Does it meet financial metrics?
  • Do you have the internal capabilities to support it?
  • What is the investment required?
  • Does your brand have equity here?
  • Is repositioning necessary, or the creation of an entirely new brand?

Complete Context: Bring it All Together

Innovation’s sweet spot is where consumer, market, and business intersect. And that’s where strategic growth territories come in. They bring all three together in a structured, digestible format. These roadmaps inspire the appropriate path forward so the right solutions are introduced at the right time.  

Strategic growth territories should reflect the elements that make the whitespace identified ownable: key consumer insights, understanding of the target audience, trends and macro forces that influence and inspire the opportunity, the benefits it is intended to deliver (needs that will be fulfilled), and the brand’s unique equity. A catalyst for effective ideation, they should provide enough information to inspire creative thinking without being overly prescriptive.

Territories should be prioritized against findings from all three influencers: What are the current unmet and potential future needs of consumers? Where is the market going—what macro forces and trends will steer it? And, how does each territory fit within the strategy of the organization?  

Context is key to creating the optimal innovation process because impactful solutions are rooted in consumer desirability, market viability, and business feasibility. If you weren’t already framing your innovation initiatives in these priorities, start now and make it an ongoing exercise. Revisiting each area of exploration regularly will ensure your organization maintains a strong grasp on reality to consistently transform it into opportunity and create new value—and maximize the ROI on every innovation investment. Click here to learn more about scaling your human-centered innovation strategies.