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Innovation Requires Truly Understanding the Customer's Needs

Posted by Julia Walker on Thu, Dec 01, 2016

business-561387_1280.jpg“Innovation” has enjoyed a long reign as king of the business buzzwords—you’d be hard-pressed to attend an insights or marketing conference without hearing it.  But beyond the buzz, organizations pursue innovation for a number of reasons: to differentiate themselves from other brands, establish themselves as an industry leader, or to avoid producing stale products, services, ad campaigns or content.  Smart brands know that complacency is not an option and recognize they must adapt to accommodate the ever-changing consumer landscape. 

Innovation is a significant investment—the stakes are high for these new ideas to deliver meaningful results, whether by boosting the brand, successfully introducing a new product, growing the customer base, or adding to bottom line profitability. No matter how disruptive a product, service, or idea is, at the core there must be a deep understanding of customer needs. (Tweet this!) Let’s take a look at two very different attempts at innovation, and where they stumbled:

 The Case of Google Glass

For any new product (innovative or otherwise), organizations need to answer “yes” to two questions: (1) Is there a market? (2) Does it solve a legitimate problem?

No matter how revolutionary the product may be, it won’t succeed unless there’s a market for it. It's possible that a product can be too forward-thinking, leaving customers confused or unwilling to try it. Take the case of Google Glass:  though the product itself was revolutionary and consumers were intrigued, it was unclear why consumers needed Google Glass and what problem it was designed to solve.   Google Glass ended up generating low demand since there wasn’t an easily identifiable need for it. 

The key here would’ve been to first identify what customers need and then develop a product aimed to satisfy that need.  Here’s where market research can help with innovation. As market researchers we can help brands get into the mind of consumers and identify the gaps between what they are currently receiving and what they want to receive. By identifying these gaps, we can shed light on where there’s a need to be met.

 The Febreze Scentstories Flop

Other innovation flops in recent years have proven that beyond identifying customer/prospect needs, it’s also important to test how messages play to real consumers prior to launch.  

A lesson illustrated by the failure of P&G’s “Febreze Scentstories”. In 2005, the company caused confusion because they failed to educate customers properly about what the product actually was. Febreze Scentstories resembled a disc player that emitted different scents every 30 minutes (they looked an awful lot like CDs). The ads told consumers with Febreze Scentstories they could "play scents like you play music."  And while P&G partnered with superstar Shania Twain to drum up excitement, its advertising campaign confused consumers by making them think the product actually involved music.  Clearer messaging that would’ve helped prevent this misunderstanding.

Advanced analytical techniques along with strategic qualitative methodologies are a boon to brands. There has never been so much information available nor computing power capable of parsing and modeling it. But as two very different product innovations demonstrate, that sheer volume of data is not enough. What is needed for successful innovation are insights grounded in a truly consumer-centric approach. After all, only the consumer knows what the consumer wants (and needs).

Julia Walker is a Senior Associate Researcher at CMB who enjoys being innovative in her everyday life.  For instance, she loves to find creative ways to eat healthy without sacrificing taste. 

Topics: consumer insights, customer experience and loyalty, growth and innovation