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CMB Conference Recap: Uncovering Innovation - the Clay Street Project at P&G

Posted by Ed Loessi

Mon, May 23, 2016

Light_bulb_with_plant.jpgThis month, I had the opportunity to attend the Front End of Innovation conference here in Boston. One of the most exciting keynote addresses was provided by Karen Hershenson, Leader of the Clay Street Project at Procter & Gamble (P&G) and was titled Innovation from the Inside-Out. The idea of innovation from the inside-out is especially intriguing to me, because CMB has committed to extensive efforts in product development and innovation. We’ve formed an innovation group within the company—drawing participation from people all across the organization. Having been involved in innovation programs for the better part of 10 years, I've learned innovation is not a one-size fit all proposition and that it’s essential to learn from other leaders and companies about how they harness innovation within their organizations. Karen’s story and ideas did not disappoint.

5 Key Lessons from the Clay Street Project:

Karen leads a team of designers, educators, and marketers that solve innovation challenges for P&G brands and noncompetitive Fortune 500 companies. The group—the Clay Street Project—was formed in 2004 and has been instrumental in building innovation teams, individual innovation and creative skills, and impacting many P&G brands. The group is often tasked to solve problems that keep their leaders up at night, addressing cross-business-unit challenges, and looking at entirely new products, or processes that have hit roadblocks.

Karen highlighted some of the key things that drive the delivery of innovation for Clay Street and P&G including:

  • Use a defining question – “How might we?”: I found this to be an excellent question because it's entirely open-ended, it doesn’t pre-suppose or seek to direct a particular path, it just asks “how” and lets the person take that first step.
  • Create the conditions, innovation from the inside out: This is essential. Innovation is not something that can be mandated. Innovation is something you seed, water, nurture, and see what happens, course correcting along the way. On their website, Clay Street notes that innovation is a by-product of work, team, and systems and that many organizations make the mistake of focusing on only one of those, which kills the entire process.
  • “All practitioners of innovation have a process, and we're no different”: I, in particular, liked this idea. I could clearly see the team has a process, but it’s an open process. The process of starting with the right question and creating conditions, which seems a bit fluid, are in fact a process. It’s just that the process doesn’t dictate how you work, nor does it say that your challenge can be solved using this templated idea. By letting the team figure these things out on their own, it’s more likely they’ll learn the lessons and that knowledge will stay with them as they move out into the organization.
  • Help teams deliver better long-term value: Ultimately, this is the mission of the Clay Street Project. Innovation impacts so many areas within a company, and there are many individual measures along the way, but in the end, it’s about better long-term value.
  • Understand your environment: As a global company, P&G requires deep consumer insight and long product pipelines filled with solutions for many different types of customers. The types of innovation that P&G need are different from other companies. There are many innovation methods and philosophies to embrace, but you must choose the ones that match your company’s culture and customer environment.

I saw many things within Clay Street’s guiding principles that are relevant to CMB. In particular, the need to create the conditions for innovation. As a company, CMB has been innovating for three+ decades; we may not have always called it innovation, but we have now put a stake in the ground, and we are calling it out, putting resources towards harnessing innovation as a defining principle. We are clear in our minds that innovation is how we are going to create long-term value for our clients and the company. Finally, we understand our environment, which is part of a rapidly changing service and information industry. Market research is being impacted by technology, changing service models, big data, and client competition. Our need for innovation has its drivers, but I could see that it has many of the same requirements as those of a larger multi-national company like P&G.

Ed is the Director of Product Development and Innovation at CMB. He thinks there is a game changing product or idea within everyone and it’s his job to dig it out. You can share ideas with him @edloessi

Topics: product development, consumer insights, conference recap, growth and innovation

Dear Dr. Jay: Discrete Choice—How Many Is Too Many Features?

Posted by Dr. Jay Weiner

Wed, Mar 23, 2016

Dear Dr. Jay,

I’m interested in testing a large number of features for inclusion in the next version of my product. My team is suggesting that we need to cull the list down to a smaller set of items to run a choice model. Are there ways to test a large set of attributes in a choice model?

-Nick


 DRJAY.pngHi Nick –

There are a number of ways to test a large set of attributes in choice modeling. Most of the time, when we test a large number of features, many are simply binary attributes (included/not included). While this makes the experimental design larger, it’s not quite as bad as having ten six-level attributes. If the description is short enough, you might go ahead and just include all of them. If you’re concerned about how much reading a respondent will need to do—or you really wouldn’t offer a respondent 12 additional perks for choosing your credit card—you could put a cap on the number of additional features any specific offer includes. For example, you could test 15 new features in a single model, but respondents would only get up to 5 at any single time. This is actually better than using a partial profile design as all respondents would see all offers. 

Another option is to do some sort of bridging study where you test all of the features using a max diff task. You can include a subset of the factors in a DCM and then use the max diff utilities to compute the utility for the full list of features in the DCM. This allows you to include the full set of features in your simulation tool.

Dr. Jay loves designing really big, complex choice models.  With over 20 years of DCM experience, he’s never met a design challenge he couldn’t solve. 

Topics: advanced analytics, product development, Dear Dr. Jay

Are You a Wingman to Your CMO?

Posted by Julie Kurd

Mon, Oct 19, 2015

CMB conference recap, market research conferences, corporate researchers conferenceThe traditional military definition of a "wingman" is the second pilot who flies behind and off the right wing of the lead aircraft. The wingman protects the lead by watching his/her back. As I reflected on this year’s MRA Corporate Researchers Conference (CRC) in St. Louis, I thought about my experiences with the wingmen and wingwomen of Chief Marketing Officers at Fortune 500 companies. 

Here’s what separates wingmen and wingwomen from the rest of the pack:

  • They test new stuff ALL THE TIME. Jeffrey Henning moderated a panel with Samsung’s Manvir Kalsi, Chico’s Ivy Boehm, and Lowe’s Celia Van Wickel, asking them to talk about techniques that have disappointed them. They primarily talked about emerging technologies, specifically about vendors who overpromised with facial coding in neuroscience and thematic roll ups that “create themselves” in text analytics. They discussed their “lead pilots” and their companies’ “formation” not having enough time for overly “mathy” insights. They also talked about how they’ve brought dynamic deliverables to their organizations in an attempt to reduce the PowerPoint clutter. Chico’s Ivy Boehm mentioned her quest to shift from 60 page “boring PowerPoints” (her words) to just 20 solid slides through combining information and drawing deeper conclusions. Manvir, Ivy, and Celia also discussed the challenges each of them faces as they make trade-offs in an effort to try new things—even though they know that sometimes all they need are some well-moderated traditional focus groups and a straight up, well-written quantitative survey. This panel proved that no matter the challenge, wingmen are always improving their game.  
  • They play around with working at Mach speed and at a normal pace. Microsoft’s Barry Jennings talked about the company’s Rapid Deployment Programs, which elicit feedback from customers at the later stages of the product development cycle. Successful wingmen are able to adjust and change course quickly—they can’t just head for the horizon. This is the key challenge: knowing when and where to get insights quickly at a lesser cost. At Microsoft, the process is clearly defined: ideation, iteration, validation, repeat. This process helps some concepts fail faster and helps others go to market more quickly. While Microsoft does loads of very methodical research, it’s also pushing itself to be fast and impactful vs perfect. Their program integrates activities, social and independent, moving from ideation to quant to qual and back. They collect feedback across any device and operating system, and they launch research in a day, share results, integrate historic data, and iterate. 
  • They begin with the end in mind and quantify their impact. Terrific researchers understand the business impacts of their research. Roxanne Gray, VP of Research for Wells Fargo, described the diverse household research that supports their “together, we’ll go far” promise. Customer insights played prominently for Wells Fargo as it launched its most recent campaign about the company’s commitment to helping diverse households talk about their finances. Grab a box of tissues, and see more about how Wells Fargo illustrated its 25-year commitment to people with diverse backgrounds. The impact? Roxanne’s research supported confident decision-making that quadrupled earned media. She was energized by the research itself, the executive decisions her stakeholders would make from the research, and the easy-to-digest delivery of insights that she presented as a story, and it showed. 
  • They love what they do, and they stay curious. Wingmen and wingwomen venture out to conferences to present, network, and listen to others. This deep passion for research, learning, and sharing is what keeps us sharp and focused at our organizations. At the best conferences, such as MRA’s CRC, the sheer number of wingmen and the quality of presentations (not to mention the bacon at breakfast) is incredible. If your position as a wingman isn’t rewarded with an adequate budget for this type of travel, have no fear. . . you can check out your local MRA chapter, attend online webinars, talk and listen with your global research peers face-to-face, and connect on Twitter and LinkedIn. 

Let’s keep a line of sight on our lead pilots, the horizon, our formation, and let’s go!

Julie blogs for GreenBook, ResearchAccess, and CMB. She’s an inspired participant, amplifier, socializer, and spotter in the twitter #mrx community, so talk research with her @julie1research.

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Topics: product development, storytelling, business decisions, conference recap

Dear Dr. Jay: How Long Will My Segmentation Last?

Posted by Jay Weiner, PhD

Tue, Sep 29, 2015

Hi Dr. Jay,

How many segments should we have in an optimal solution, and how long can I expect my segmentation solution to last?

-Katie M.


Hi Katie,

Dear Dr. Jay, CMB, SegmentationYou’re not the only one who’s been asking about segmentation lately. Here’s my philosophy: you should always have at least one more segment than you intend to target. Why? An extra segment gives you the chance to identify an opportunity that you left in the market for your competitors. The car industry is a good example. If you’re old (like me), you remember GM’s product line in the 70s and 80s: “gas-guzzling land yachts.” Had GM bothered to segment the market, it might have identified a growing segment of consumers that were interested in more fuel efficient cars. Remember: just because you have a segment, doesn’t mean you have to target that segment. GM probably didn’t see this particular segment as viable until Toyota, Datsun (now Nissan), and Honda shipped small economy cars in greater numbers to the U.S. market. By that time, GM had shown up too late to the party with a competitive response.

As for how long a segmentation solution lasts? Segmentation schemes typically last as long as there are no major changes in the market. Why? Because segmentation requires strategic research that affects the full spectrum of marketing activities, including all 4 P’s of marketing (product, price, promotion, and place/distribution). One of the greatest catalysts for change comes from technological innovations. In the case of the car industry, those innovations include hybrid, electric, and driverless cars, as well as new competitors, like Tesla and Google. Tesla stands to change the market around distribution because its distribution strategy is unlike any other auto manufacturer. Many of its locations are in or near major shopping malls—not along the traditional auto mile where most dealers compete. While we often see other manufacturers display vehicles in the mall, potential customers would still have to go to a dealer’s lot to actually make a purchase, but Tesla removes this obstacle. This makes Telsa visible to potential customers who are not necessarily looking to purchase a car—a segment many traditional companies ignore.

Remember, segmentations are powerful tools—they can help your product development team generate products that appeal to your target segments, allow you to create stronger demand, and charge higher prices—but they won’t last forever.

Dr. Jay Weiner is CMB’s senior methodologist and VP of Advanced Analytics. Jay earned his Ph.D. in Marketing/Research from the University of Texas at Arlington and regularly publishes and presents on topics including conjoint, choice, and pricing.

Got a burning research question? You can send your questions to DearDrJay@cmbinfo.com or submit anonymously here.

Want to learn more about segmentation?

Learn About Our Approach 

Topics: product development, Dear Dr. Jay, market strategy and segmentation

Dear Dr. Jay: Mining Big Data

Posted by Dr. Jay Weiner

Tue, Mar 17, 2015

Dear Dr. Jay,

We’ve been testing new concepts for years. The magic score to move forward in the new product development process is a 40% top 2 box score to purchase intent on a 5 point scale. How do I know if 40% is still a good benchmark? Are there any other measures that might be useful in predicting success?

-Normatively Challenged

 

DrJay Thinking withGoateeDear Norm,

I have some good news—you may have a big data mining challenge. Situations like yours are why I always ask our clients two questions: (1) what do you already know about this problem, and (2) what information do you have in-house that might shed some light on a solution? You say you’ve been testing concepts for years.  Do you have a database of concepts already set up? If not, can you easily get access to your concept scores?

Look back on all of the concepts you have ever tested, and try to understand what makes for a successful idea. In addition to all the traditional concept test measures like purchase intent, believability, and uniqueness, you can also append marketing spend, distribution measures, and perhaps even social media trend data. You might even want to include economic condition information like the rate of inflation, the prime rate of interest, and the average DOW stock index. While many of these appended variables might be outside of your control, they may serve to help you understand what might happen if you launch a new product under various market conditions.

Take heart Norm, you are most definitely not alone. In fact, I recently attended a presentation on Big Data hosted by the Association of Management Consulting Firms. There, Steve Sashihara, CEO of Princeton Consultants, suggested there are four key stages for integrating big data into practice. The first stage is to monitor the market. At CMB, we typically rely on dashboards to show what is happening. The second stage is to analyze the data. Are you improving, getting worse, or just holding your own? However, only going this far with the data doesn’t really provide any insight into what to do. To take it to the next level, you need enter the third stage: building predictive models that forecast what might happen if you make changes to any of the factors that impact the results. The true value to your organization is really in the fourth stage of the process—recommending action. The tools that build models have become increasingly powerful in the past few years. The computing power now permits you to model millions of combinations to determine the optimal outcomes from all possible executions.

In my experience, there are usually many attributes that can be improved to optimize your key performance measure. In modeling, you’re looking for the attributes with the largest impact and the cost associated with implementing those changes to your offer. It’s possible that the second best improvement plan might only cost a small percentage of the best option. If you’re in the business of providing cellular device coverage, why build more towers if fixing your customer service would improve your retention almost as much?

Got a burning research question? You can send your questions to DearDrJay@cmbinfo.com or submit anonymously here.

Dr. Jay Weiner is CMB’s senior methodologist and VP of Advanced Analytics. Jay earned his Ph.D. in Marketing/Research from the University of Texas at Arlington and regularly publishes and presents on topics, including conjoint, choice, and pricing.

Topics: advanced analytics, product development, big data, Dear Dr. Jay

Looking for Innovation? Consider "Brand-Storming"

Posted by Mark Carr

Thu, Feb 06, 2014

Originally posted in the SMEI blog

South Street Strategy and CMBAt some point all business leaders are challenged to “innovate” in order to grow their company’s bottom line.

Done right, innovation creates value for both the company and the customer through new-to –the-world solutions to needs. It’s logical that products and services are where companies start their innovation efforts because, after all, these are very tangible sources of value. However, brand and marketing can also be powerful drivers of value and differentiation and should not be overlooked as potential anchors for innovation.Many innovation initiatives begin with a brainstorming session in which a bunch of internal folks sit around and try to generate new ideas for products or services they think customers want. For a fresh take on this process, consider “brand-storming” as the starting point for inspiration.

What is a “brand-storming” session, exactly? Well, in marketing speak, it’s generating innovative ideas for brand extensions, leveraging brand equity (a very valuable asset) to push into adjacent or even totally new product areas.

Start a successful brand-storm with  a clear articulation of your brand strategy, brand attributes and positioning. Then do creativity exercises that apply key brand attributes to new markets or to new solutions to existing customers.

Need to get the juices flowing? Look for examples in the marketplace:

  • Consumer products are the easiest place to start. For example, consider Arm & Hammer Baking Soda’s extension to toothpaste (“clean” and “white”) or Duracell’s introduction of the PowerMat to recharge phones and other devices (e.g. “long lasting power”).

  • Virgin is probably the poster child for brand-centered innovation, using its well-defined and unique positioning to extend into everything from airlines to cell phones.

All of this is not to say that brand should be the only source of invention. But brand-storming brings a new part of the company to the innovation table and adds another angle for sparking new, powerful ideas for growth. 

In our upcoming webinar we will look at some of the common pitfalls of innovation initiatives and explore how to use “brand” and “brand attributes” as well as innovative go-to-market strategies to unlock growth opportunities in new, unexpected directions. Hope to see you there!

Posted by J. Mark Carr, Mark is co-founder and managing partner of South Street Strategy Group.

Topics: South Street Strategy Group, strategy consulting, product development, marketing strategy, webinar, brand health and positioning, growth and innovation

Tackling the Innovation Challenge in Large Organizations

Posted by Abe Vinjamuri

Tue, Jan 14, 2014

Innovation challengesYou might not know it from the constant attention lavished on startups, but some of the most established and largest companies in the world are amongst the most innovative—they routinely out-innovate their smaller peers. Where they falter is in failing to bring these game-changers to the marketplace without diluting, complicating, or killing them.If you have doubts about what I just said, here are two of my favorite examples that illustrate the issue really well.

Ever wonder why despite inventing the concept of cellular phones and having a virtual monopoly on telephones, AT&T had to acquire McCaw Cellular Communications in 1993-94 for $11.5 billion? OR better, despite coming up with filmless photography in 1976 which dominates the world today (think of cellphone cameras, selfies, instagrams, Snapchat, Google Maps) Kodak today is a bankrupt company (the hyperlink is a great read by the way).

It’s not the lack of ideas that hurts large organizations the most. It’s not even the lack of awareness of implementation hurdles. It’s the inability to forge consensus, a constant focus on responding to immediate pressures and meeting short-term goals (both organizational goals and employee goals) and lack of sufficient communication across autonomous business units that play spoilsport. You could describe it as a lack of push to the “Strategic Intent”; a phrase popularized by the late C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel in 1989 (strategic intent is an ambitious and compelling dream that energizes, providing the emotional and intellectual energy for the journey to the future. It has 3 components: Direction, Discovery and Destiny). I call it a lack of push and not a lack of intent because these organizations have these 3 D's, at least on paper.

Being a strategy groupie, I've spent a lot of my time specifically focused on innovation (both because the sheer volume of content that's been published on the topic recently, and the nature of my current assignments), I’ve decided to put down some of my thoughts on paper starting with a short list of questions (by no means exhaustive) that will help people think holistically about innovation and avoid some of the pitfalls:

  • Does your organization have innovation goals? What percentage of your organization’s revenue comes from breakthrough innovation, what percentage comes from incremental innovation and what percentage from existing products? How is success measured?

  • How do we define problems the market faces? (Note that I consciously use the word” market” and not customer)

  • How are target customers defined?

  • How is the innovation execution process handled?

Innovation is hard. It takes a lot of effort and patience and failure can be costly and even catastrophic, but the upside can be rewarding beyond expectations. In the coming weeks, I will attempt to expand on each of these questions with examples and my views on why it has or has not worked for specific large companies.

Abe is a Senior Project Manager, strategy junkie, and CrossFit enthusiast. He's recently taken up snowboarding so watch out if you're headed to the slopes.

Topics: strategy consulting, product development, growth and innovation

Taking Product Development to Infinity and Beyond

Posted by Athena Rodriguez

Tue, Nov 19, 2013

CMB New Product DevelopmentI recently came across an article focused on defunct exhibits at Disney parks. I’m a native Floridan so I flipped through the accompanying slide show with fond memories. And there it was...my all-time childhood favorite—Horizons at Epcot Center. From the robot butler to the holographic telephone, Horizons revealed a future full of promise, excitement, and funky monotone jumpsuits. 

It’s been 30 years, the future is now the present, and I don’t have a robot butler. Disappointing yes, but on the other hand, we do have the Roomba and I will argue Apple’s FaceTime is likely better than a hologram. So I think we can agree many companies have made serious innovations in the last few decades—they’ve understood that incremental change means incremental growth, and they’ve pushed the limits. Although product development is critical for companies to compete and grow, it also carries high risks, because it represents a big investment into new and unfamiliar territory—it’s crucial to get it right.

While we aren’t all Imagineers, there are strategies for new product and service development that have proven successful in a rapidly changing market—these strategies form the basis of our Best Practices in New Product Development. Two of these Best Practices are below:

  1. Use advanced techniques that emulate real world trade-offs: In real life, people don’t evaluate the importance of individual features or attributes. They make choices between/among products. The more closely research emulates this process, the more accurate the findings will be. What people say they prefer, and what they actually choose, are often not the same thing. That’s why we use trade-off techniques (e.g., discrete choice) that let us derive the most important and relevant preferences as well as sophisticated data mining techniques that help us to create more accurate predictive models.

  2. Build flexibility into the research: If you’re using trade-off techniques, channel Walt Disney himself (“if we can dream it, we can do it”) by including features that fall outside of current capabilities. This lets you mimic the current market and simulate a future market where these feature become available. So while you might not be ready to “do it,” if you’ve dreamed it, you can test it! That’s why, when appropriate, we build a user-friendly simulator. These simulators allow design decision-makers to run “what if” scenarios, providing additional insight when changes occur (e.g., a competitor responds with a new product, prices change, or when the technology to realize your stretch features catches up with your dreams).

We can’t promise your product development research will live as long as Horizons (16 magic filled years) but we can help ensure it’s useful for both the short and longer-term (at least until we all get our robot butlers). Check out the video below to learn how we help our make sure their new product development efforts are a success:

CMB New Product and Service Development from CMBinfo on Vimeo.

Athena is a Project Director at CMB, she looks awesome in a jumpsuit and is patiently waiting for her favorite Disney character, Donald Duck, to make a comeback.

 

Topics: advanced analytics, product development, research design, growth and innovation

Craft Brewers Pop the Top on Beer Can Innovation

Posted by Sam Steiner

Wed, Nov 13, 2013

beer cansLast week my Facebook feed was filled with tragic news. The Alchemist Brewery, in Waterbury, Vermont (where I happen to live), is closing its retail store—no more dropping in to taste their beloved Heady Topper. Luckily, my fellow craft beer lovers can find some solace in the fact that while the retail space will close, the brewery will turn their focus to canning the delicious brew. But not too long ago the only canned beers you could get were decidedly not craft—they were mostly watery domestic lagers without a hop in sight. However, if you’ve been to a liquor store in the past few years you’ve probably noticed nearly every style of beer can be found in cans. In fact, a number of domestic standards have also changed the look and feel of their cans—there are bow-tie shaped cans, wide mouth cans, and cans that change color as the beer gets cold. It’s a canned beer revolution!A decade spent in the Market Research industry changes the way you look at everyday things, like these changes to the beer market, so I decided to do a bit of secondary research. First, I wanted to understand what motivates people to purchase canned beer. The results of my highly unscientific online search are here:

  • Beer cans work better with outdoor lifestyles (hiking, boating, etc.)

  • Cans keep beer fresher

  • Canned beer weighs less/is easier to carry

  • It saves money on packaging and shipping

  • Cans block light which is destructive to all the things that make beer so tasty

  • Cans are sturdier (won’t break in your cooler during your road trips)

  • Cans chill faster and keep beer colder

  • Cans are easier to recycle

  • Their favorite retail beer store closes (n=1)

So canning is great idea, right? In 2002 just one craft brewery canned their beer, now there are roughly 330 different craft breweries canning a little over 1,000 different brews. But, when I asked many of my fellow Vermonters whether they’d drink their craft beer from a can, I was told “no, that ruins the taste.”  

Ah, the taste…which is the reason aficionados buy craft beer in the first place. Luckily, the brewers of Sam Adams have been relentlessly pursuing beer can innovation, breaking down the key barrier that is that metallic taste. Just this summer, they debuted the SamCan:

“the result of two years of ergonomic and sensory research and testing…the new can design aims to provide a drinking experience that is a little closer to the taste and comfort of drinking beer from a glass. What you’ll notice: The larger, wider lid helps open your mouth allowing for more air flow during the drinking experience. The can opening is located slightly farther away from the edge of the lid, placing it closer to the drinker’s nose to help accentuate the hop aromas. The hourglass ridge creates turbulence (like our patented Perfect Pint glass) which “pushes flavor out of the beer” and the extended lip places the beer at the front of your palate to maximize enjoyment of the sweetness from the malt.”

The amazing thing is, that despite their research investment, Jim Koch, the co-founder and chairman of the Boston Beer Company, the producers of Samuel Adams, announced that they plan to "make the patent-pending design available, without any royalty or license fee, to all craft brewers who would like to use this can."

That’s great news for this Vermonter, who will continue to buy my craft brews in a can because let’s face it, it’s much easier to hike with backpack filled with canned beer than it is to carry a bottle.

Sam is a Data Manager at CMB, she loves hiking the green mountains of Vermont with or without a tasty brew.

CMB MovemberCMB is observing #Movember with some awesome mustachery. Check out the hairy competition here.

Topics: product development, retail research

Innovation at Marvel Comics

Posted by Jennifer von Briesen

Thu, Oct 24, 2013

Originally posted on the South Street Strategy Group Blog

marvel avengers logoKristin Vincent, VP, Product at Marvel Entertainment, has been helping the 70-year old company re-define itself in the digital age. Not knowing much about comics when she joined the company in 2011, she quickly gained credibility and influence with her fresh perspective, insights and actions related to the company’s “Re-Evolution” digital strategy, which officially launched in March 2012.At a recent conference, she shared the principles Marvel has used to evolve its comics business so that fans continue to love their experience with comics, while traditional print and new digital formats and channels co-exist and thrive at the same time:

  1. Proclaim your intentions – Declare what you want to do and communicate this publicly. This not only creates anticipation and excitement, but it builds internal commitment and accountability.

  2. Develop new products with connections to existing products – This approach helps to minimize cannibalization, reassures existing customers and channel partners, and adds excitement to established products. Marvel gave everyone who bought a print comic a free digital version, and created an augmented reality application to be used with the print version to get additional behind-the-scenes information.

  3. Challenge the most basic assumptions you have about your products – For Marvel, this meant re-thinking what a comic is, beyond traditional attributes such as paper booklets, panels, and pages, to seeing it as serialized graphic storytelling with excellent graphics, opening up new “Infinite” comic possibilities that rethink what a comic page means

  4. Partner with users – Marvel used listening labs and usability testing to understand how fans experience comics. It brought fans in and used flip video cameras to record them in real world scenarios using comics and computers to understand pain points. Marvel also got fans to register to become Marvel Advisors to test products and provide input to their development pre-launch. Kristin says that as soon as the executive team watched a one-hour video highlighting all of the user issues and opportunities, it made a huge difference in helping to change the culture and continuing the effort to innovate

  5. Develop a roadmap that starts small and builds – Marvel started with one comic in a plastic polybag with a code inside for the digital download. Now users get a free digital download with all $3.99 comics in print

  6. Balance user requests with bold new ideas – Marvel re-launched Marvel Unlimited (a subscription program that gives users unlimited access to over 13,000 digital comics) but also sourced and introduced “Project Gamma,” an innovative new adaptive audio technology. It will be a cool new way to experience digital comics where the sound will change as you move through the story.

  7. Fail fast and pivot – Marvel had to take a promotion down on the first day when demand for free downloads was so great that the third-party servers it was using crashed and fans couldn’t buy digital versions for two days. They corrected course and used this failure as an opportunity to show customers they cared by being honest and transparent.

  8. Re-evolve –Marvel enhanced its print products with digital, and is using new formats.

In 2012, the innovations helped Marvel achieve triple digit growth in its digital business while keeping its core B2B brick-and-mortar store channel partners happy. The digital and print products complement each other, satisfying existing fans while opening up a whole new fan and user base.

Jennifer is a Director at  South Street Strategy Group. She recently received the 2013 “Member of the Year” award by the Association for Strategic Planning (ASP), the preeminent professional association for those engaged in strategic thinking, planning and action.

South Street Strategy Group, an independent sister company of Chadwick Martin Bailey, integrates the best of strategy consulting and marketing science to develop better growth and value delivery strategies. Read South Street's Strategy Group's blog here.

Topics: South Street Strategy Group, strategy consulting, product development, conference recap, customer experience and loyalty, growth and innovation