It’s a situation we’ve all seen. Concept screening that comes back with lots of green boxes ticked across core metrics – yet one big consistent red: Incremental volume. A concept that people like…but ultimately falls down because it doesn’t offer consumers a genuinely better alternative to their current solution.

Whilst this problem is most acute in FMCG, it is prevalent in almost all well-developed categories, where there is significant consumer choice and generally high levels of consumer satisfaction – or rather low levels of consumer dissatisfaction.

And when innovations are not achieving incrementalism, the temptation too often is to think that the answer lies in the unimagined:

We need to make it more differentiated”
“We need to come up with something that no-one has ever seen before”
“We need to think completely differently

And whilst this is right for generating inspiring and broad opportunity areas, when it comes to product ideation, there is a danger that this tips into novelty. And novelty doesn’t change consumer behaviour in a meaningful (profitable) way.

Human beings are wedded to our established behaviours. It is difficult to shift us to do something different. As brand owners, we may wish that the quality of a product would speak for itself and prompt an immediate change in behaviour…but that isn’t how it works in the real world.

To change consumer’s behaviour, we must truly understand 2 things:

#1. A forensic understanding of what they are doing currently: What are they using? Why? When?

#2. Total clarity on their level of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with that behaviour. Your innovation could well be better than what they are currently doing – but if they are happy with their existing behaviour, then why should they care? 

So many of the answers to these questions will already reside in your business. It doesn’t require commissioning some big and extravagant piece of research – but it does often require a change in mindset.

Too much emphasis is often placed on the insight that will unlock the concept. A singular insight – the opening of your concept statement. Get this right and everything else will follow goes the thinking. But this ignores the reality that the whole concept is insight. Insight into the product execution. Insight into the benefits. Insight into the RTB….

It is imperative that insight is as prevalent in the ideation stage as it is in the earlier opportunity scoping stage. Insight at ideation stage gives you the 2 building blocks that will help us genuinely change behaviour:

#1. Points of Parity to get you in to the consideration set:

There will be reasons why consumers are behaving as they are. Most obviously, because it works (and in crowded categories, it probably works pretty well). So learn from that. There will be a reason why people are using the leading brands/products/variants – because they are giving them what they want in that moment or situation

Steal shamelessly. Steal proudly. But steal. If something is working, then you’d be a fool to throw it out

Image couresy of  Village9991

Image couresy of Village9991

#2. Points of Difference to get you to standout & displace existing behaviours:

In even the most crowded category, there will be things that could be better. Volume will be lost to other categories. New entrants will be making waves. Learn from that. What are they doing that the core category isn’t? What do they attest to that people are looking for? What are the stated and derived points of dissatisfaction? What are the areas of useful improvement?

Once we have these 2 building blocks, we can then use them to develop concept blueprints about how we can change behaviour. To steal some Unilever language, these are designed to get clarity on “The Idea to Buy Into”. They are a summary of multiple insights that help us understand the meaningful role we want to play in people’s lives. There is a big focus here on the points of parity and the points of difference:

“This is a product with all of the taste associated with the category leaders, but with added natural goodness”
Image courtesy of John Preus

Image courtesy of John Preus

This blueprint sets out your strategic ambition for the innovation concept – with the focus on what will genuinely help to change consumer behaviour. And, perhaps most importantly it doesn’t yet focus on the actual execution of the idea itself.

Why do we do this? Because it takes out subjectivity. The concept blueprint give you an objective yardstick to measure against – helping you make decisions based on the current and desired consumer behaviour. 

Once we have clarity on this, creating the product brief is much more straightforward. And like all good briefs, it helps your R&D and manufacturing colleagues understand what you want the product to achieve (not just what you want the product to be). This means that as you get into the inevitable horse trading that comes with trying to commercialise any product, you have a clear consistent brief that everyone is working to.

If innovation isn’t incremental, then genuinely, why bother? With the investment required, the fact that your innovation is probably margin dilutive (at least at first) and the often frighteningly low returns that most innovation provide, if it isn’t incremental to your business, then keep your cash in your pocket and your time on your side.

But innovation can be incremental. Our approach is rigorous, commercial and pragmatic, ensuring that innovation is rooted in changing behaviour and driving incrementalism. Having kept insight at the forefront whilst creating opportunity platforms, don’t fall into the trap of abandoning it as you transition into ideation, in favour of wacky creative techniques and hope. Insight matters and will create innovation that changes behaviour.

Drop us a line if you’d like to discuss how we can help you and your team drive powerful incremental innovation.


With thanks to Robert Holmes for the image

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