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 & 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

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, Strategic Consulting, Product Development, Customer Experience & Loyalty, Growth & Innovation, Conference Insights

South Street Strategy Guest Blog: Co-creation at LEGO with Friends

Posted by Jennifer von Briesen

Thu, Aug 15, 2013

LEGO Friends Olivias WorkshopJust over a year ago, leading toy maker the LEGO Group launched its new line of blocks and figures for girls called LEGO Friends in key global markets in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. It is one of the most successful launches in the company’s history and has already generated twice as much business as expected.The story of Friends started long before the 2012 launch, and deserves a full-length case study; for now I’m excited to share a little of what I learned from meeting and listening to Laura Post, Senior Director, Strategic Planning and Insights, for LEGO in the U.S., when she talked about LEGO Friends at the IE Group’s Women in Strategy Summit in New York City a few months ago.

Laura attributed much of the success of the launch to a shift to a customer co-creation approach, and a willingness to really observe and listen to customers and to engage them in co-design of the products. The LEGO Group had tried for over two decades to expand its appeal with girls with little success. Barriers included lack of company focus and support, core products geared to boys ages 5-9, and products designed with strict adherence to internal ‘sacred cow’ beliefs about what mini figures should be and look like. LEGO was also in serious turnaround mode in 2003-2004 after straying too far from its core.

One of the things that LEGO executives realized needed to change was that employees needed to be empowered to make customer-focused decisions. Consumer insights are now core to LEGO’s strategy. As evidence of this shift, according to Laura, the company spent four years and conducted 13 major studies researching customer needs and wants related to Friends. It directly tested products with 3,500 girls and moms, and once a month, girls were brought in to co-create products with LEGO’s designers and researchers.

It was through this focused effort and investment that LEGO learned that the majority of young girls around the world prefer to play with building toys and figures that look very realistic, have vivid colors (especially pink and purple), and that have different personalities that increase the emotional connection. The traditional old mini figures with generic facial expressions just wouldn’t do. As a result, LEGO invented the Friends mini-dolls, each with their own names, interests, and favorite things and places (see Olivia and her invention workshop graphic).

This co-creation story is only one example of what the LEGO Group is doing in this space. There are many, many more examples of how co-creation is changing business for the better. As a big fan of the co-creation approach, I hope to tell more stories on the use of this customer centric methodology at Lego and elsewhere. Watch this space.

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. 

Join Tauck's Jeremy Palmer, CMB's Judy Melanson and South Street Strategy Group's Mark Carr on September 12th at noon for a webinar: Focused Innovation: Creating New Value for a Legacy Brand Focused Innovation: Creating New Value for a Legacy Brand

Topics: South Street Strategy Group, Strategic Consulting, Product Development, Growth & Innovation

Innovating Inside the Box

Posted by Rachel Corn

Tue, Jul 02, 2013

thinking outside the boxDrew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg want you to Think Inside the Box.

Their recent article in the Wall Street Journal encapsulates the increasingly jaded perceptions of innovation in the corporate world—where “brainstorm has become a byword for tedium and frustration,” and innovators are told to “go wild making analogies to things that have nothing to do with your product or business.”Ouch.

But it’s true. Innovation has suffered from a bad reputation of unfocused creative sessions that, in the end, provide little value to solving a real business problem. The answer? We at South Street have long believed that efficient and effective innovation requires focus. Focus on solving a pressing problem which a business owner experiences…focus on how to get to an underserved but attractive customer segment… focus on ways to extract complexities out of the system.

It may sound counterintuitive, but in our work we advocate that constraints are a necessary element to fuel innovation and creativity.

So what techniques does focused innovation employ? Here are a few that we’ve found applicable across industries and clients.

  • Lightening up. Boyd and Goldberg call it “subtraction.” GE called it “de-featuring.” Regardless of the name, the strategy involves removing essential elements in order to get a new offering. Think: an exercise bike is a bike with one wheel removed. It’s a simple solution, but it opened up a new market of users. And it’s an idea that’s applicable in both product and service industries. For instance, we’ve worked with a top health insurance company to take a complex product offering that had become “richer” over time, and we created an affordable stripped-down model. The rich version has a place, but some segments may prefer the light version.

  • Merging together. In this case, rather than taking features out, seemingly unrelated features are offered in an all-in-one package. For example, the CAPTCHA system not only helps thwart hackers and fraudsters; the text you enter is actually contributing to transcribing old text that’s hard to decipher. At South Street, we worked with a client to merge several disparate products and services to serve a unique segment—one that could not have afforded or had access to the products à la carte.

  • Segmenting out. In our opinion, any innovation needs be rooted in a strong understanding of your target segment. Without this, techniques that define a new offering (such as lightening and merging) are taking shots in the dark as to what your customers really want or need. Look at a customer group that has strong financial potential for you. What are their highest-level goals and needs, and are you (or your competitors) currently satisfying these needs? What techniques can you use to pull from what you are already offering and customize it for this segment?

Innovation should be all about solving specific business problems. By doggedly sticking to this focus, innovation need not be a buzzword at your company.

Rachel Corn is a Director at  South Street Strategy Group, she specializes in finding growth opportunities in new market segments, new products and businesses and innovative business models.

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

Topics: South Street Strategy Group, Strategic Consulting, Product Development, Growth & Innovation