June 16, 2010
Yes, another cartoon. Kindly indulge me. This one pokes fun at the frustration some teams face with their internal brainstorming efforts. Often, teams struggle to manage their own creative energy, and to generate output that is focused, on-strategy and actionable.
Here’s why I think ideation activities can fail:
- Teams have an abundance of creative talent, but they may not have the tools to organize and focus it.
- Consumer insights aren’t properly framed up to inspire and guide brainstorming.
- Teams remain committed to the edict that “there are no bad ideas”. See a previous post on this fallacy.
- There’s no consensus on what a good idea is, or a coherent process for evaluating them.
- Too much time is spent generating ideas, and not nearly enough on screening, integrating and recasting them.
But I think the biggest barrier is a more fundamental one. Teams typically assume that the appropriate outcome of an ideation session is a small set of fully-fashioned, cohesive concepts that perform some combination of desired utility. This may sound right, but in cases where the team is charged with inventing the truly new, it’s asking too much to walk out of the room with compelling, optimized solutions.
Instead, what if your ideation sessions focused on surfacing the best ways to deliver on a range of desired utilities? The goal should be to originate well-defined feature or attribute sets that deliver on a strong consumer promise. These may look like concepts–in pictures and/or words–but they represent the “what” rather than the “how” of typical concepts that try to do everything, but do nothing particularly well.
Here’s an example. In my case study on crayon packaging, research showed that kids are enthralled by an initial spectacular array of color upon opening the package, but then quickly dig in to find their favorite colors. I’ll bet there are a hundred ways in which a crayon package concept could present an array of color to visually inspire and excite kids. Why not focus on that in isolation for a while? And, there are another hundred ways that a package could assist kids in storing and finding their favorite colors. Show me some!
Then, the evaluation process becomes one of assessing which attributes do the best job of delivering on the recognized needs. The next step is to integrate the most compelling attributes into cohesive concepts. So more time is spent building, testing and integrating ideas instead of spilling out scads of concepts on the odd chance that one will do it all, and do it right.
I call this Attribute-Oriented Innovation (AOI). It’s an approach I devised as another way to look at ideation, concept development and screening. It’s not always the right way to go, but when it is, it works. Ask me about Precision Ideation–my way to incorporate AOI in ideation sessions that will:
- Translate consumer insights into inspiring and actionable drivers of innovation.
- Articulate compelling features and attributes brought to life real-time in words and pictures.
- Focus creative energy to build the most promising early-stage concepts, with clear direction for development.
You can read more about Precision Ideation under the Tools section of this site. And, you can see more cartoons right here, too!
April 9, 2010
Along with my work in design strategy and research, I’m occasionally asked to work on new product positioning and communications. Sometimes a new product is not performing to expectations, or there’s evidence that consumers are not receiving key messages or using a product as intended. Consumers just aren’t “getting it”.
I’ve found that there are often two possible reasons why a great product can fall on deaf ears:
1. The strategic process by which communications are developed is faulty, and messages become weak and muddled.
2. Language used to translate positioning intent into communications is misleading, not relevant or just boring.
Here, I’d like to address the first issue, as there’s more to chew on and it’s closer to my own process-driven heart. Sad, I know.
As you might expect, each consumer products marketer has their own unique definitions for process deliverables such as “concept”, “positioning”, “reason-to-believe” and “claim”. And their own order in developing them. But the reason for doing so should always be the same: To find a role in the marketplace for the product and a way of talking to consumers about it that will drive communications across channels.
Often, I find that marketers want to jump right from a concept statement to formulating a positioning. But many times, because both are often phrased in consumer-friendly language, they can sound the same. I could argue that a positioning statement may be worth devising, but is not the most vital link in the communications strategy chain. Allow me to introduce the idea of a Consumer Promise. More on that later.
I’d like to propose a set of terms and definitions, as well as a process for using them that seems to work. In order of investigation:
CONCEPT: The concept defines the key consumer problem/insight/opportunity, and then proposes a product-driven solution. It’s supported by product features and attributes. It’s written for internal use, not in consumer lingo. Its role is to state the what of the product and achieve a common understanding among team members as to what the product delivers. Then, each function can do its job. From formulation development to package design, a clear concept is key.
TERRITORY: Defined as the “room to roam” for the product. It addresses the relationship between the product and other in-house brands, as well as competitive brands and substitutes. It specifies a usage occasion and a consumer target—demographically or psychographically. In essence, it finds a place in the category for the new product. So, its role is to define the where of the product.
CONSUMER PROMISE: This might be a new idea for some, but it’s the lynchpin of the process—perhaps the critical driver of a successful communications strategy. And the element most often neglected. The Consumer Promise translates the concept into a compelling, persuasive and relevant argument for consumers. It starts with a problem statement in language a consumer might use. It then proposes a solution in product terms that addresses purpose, occasion, frequency, and most important, outcome. Then, followed by a single, all-encompassing REASON-TO-BUY, the Consumer Promise offers the why of the product. Why should I believe that it works? Why should I buy it? The RTB supports the Consumer Promise solution by convincing the consumer that the product performs as it says it does.
One concept can and should spawn several potential Consumer Promise statements. Each might characterize a given consumer problem in different ways, or direct itself at distinct insights. As well, the proposed solutions might differ somewhat. But the RTB will remain the same. That’s why the product works. It’s the foundation for performance credibility and the Claims to come. The role of the Consumer Promise is to identify with the consumer. It’s the first time the consumer can react to your offering (or promise, really) and you can best get a fix on how to talk about it. There are ways to test alternative Consumer Promises, but we won’t go there now. Feel free to ask me.
CLAIMS: These are tricky, because they can sound a lot like RTBs or benefits if you’re not careful. But they’re not. Claims are the how of the product offering. How does the product deliver on the RTB? How does it deliver on the Promise? There are typically multiple Claims statements, each providing a performance characteristic in credible fashion. Claims may demonstrate how the product is proven to work. Or the impact or outcome the consumer can expect. The key is credibility and tangible performance. The role of Claims are to support various communications channels with flexible language templates that can be tailored to the needs of packaging, advertising and other media.
POSITIONING: Why did I leave this to last? Because it’s a by-product of the above real work, and serves little communications purpose. That’s right…I said it. Its role is to galvanize the team by bringing together the Territory, Concept and Promise in one place for internal review and agency direction. It’s efficient, but it’s not a driver of communications strategy or language. Positioning is how we talk to each other in shorthand about the product. Not how we talk to consumers. So, write it whenever you want. Or don’t, if it doesn’t serve the team. Scandalous, I know.
Why bother using these tools to build a communications strategy? Because the discipline outlined here does several important things:
· It ensures the team concurs on product benefits and the consumer needs they are addressing.
· It allows for meaningful testing intervals with consumers to validate consumer problems, insights and solutions.
· It grounds the communications team in what they must convey to consumers and how to bring it to life in words and visuals.
· It makes sure the product is aligned with others in the company’s portfolio, and has a role in maximizing share and penetration for the brand.
So, the next time you think a product is in need of “repositioning”, consider first whether it is making a strong promise and keeping it. After all, consumers buy a product for its compelling promise, not its position on a brand map.
February 2, 2010
All of a sudden, several companies have asked me about new ways to screen concepts with consumers. When I ask them why this has become an immediate concern, they cite one or more of the following:
- Project timelines have shortened and brand owners need to make better decisions in less time, and with fewer steps.
- With more experience launching and evaluating new products in the marketplace, brand owners realize that their research tools aren’t helping them to pick winners as often as they should.
- The cost of producing models or prototypes for review doesn’t align with today’s budgets. Brand owners need valid, early-stage assessment of multiple concepts without development cost.
- Consumers have become more astute, coached and practiced at providing feedback. Their intent isn’t malicious, but it stems from a desire to please recruiters and the corporate deep pockets that are paying them and weighing their words.
Today’s marketers need to get an early bead on the perceptual, emotional and functional variables at work in a concept set. It’s no longer a matter of flashing some concept sketches and getting visceral feedback. Focus group discussions just can’t dissect concepts into what’s truly working, what isn’t and why. Instead, they provide a murky, unfocused and less actionable reaction that is often limited to “I like it” or “I don’t like it”.
Volumetric and conjoint tools are useful, but too little, too late. At that point, you’ve whittled 30 concepts down to 3. But have you chosen the right ones? And more to the point, what if the right solution was a hybrid of attributes not found in one cohesive concept? By picking a few, you have by definition sub-optimized the screening process. While the “winner” will be relatively more attractive than the others, who knows what you’ve left behind? Or what combination of attributes might have been a stronger absolute performer?
So what do you do? First, abandon your notion of what “concept screening” means. The evaluation of individual, fully integrated product concepts at an early stage is inherently flawed in execution. Every comparison is a mixed bag of feature apples and oranges. Some overlap in the concepts and some don’t. Each offers a different way to interact on shelf and in use. Or, it doesn’t. Asking consumers which of 20 concepts they like in the midst of all these moving parts is an exercise designed to fail.
What’s the better way? First, let’s come at the problem from another direction. Redefine concept screening as “attribute” screening. In the early stages of concept development, concepts are too immature for valid independent screening. They are comprised of different, rather raw ways of delivering certain valued utilities. You can’t even call these “features” yet. So the right question is not “which concept does the consumer prefer”, but “which set of attributes across concepts delivers the most consumer value?”
Am I talking about an early conjoint test? Not really, because this approach answers both the “whats” and the “whys” in vivid perceptual and functional terms. And if presented properly, the answers are not constrained by invalid verbal response or feature interpretations that may miss the mark. Once attributes are properly explored and valued, they can be recast in an optimized product configuration or, at the very least, a given concept can be chosen that does the best job of delivering on captured consumer expectations.
Are there any research tools that can provide a solid, early stage concept (er…attribute) assessment to help narrow the field and guide development? As you might expect, I’ve invented a few, and have been using them successfully for some time. They are grounded in qualitative methods, yet have “qual / quant” benefits. You can find out more about them on this site in the Tools section. Or, just get in touch with me.
July 14, 2009
When I first wrote and published this cartoon, some were offended. Thankfully, both sides took me to task. But while the depiction might be stereotypical in equal opportunity fashion, I think the point is valid. At least the less obvious point. The most obvious point is that marketers and designers solve problems differently. Newsbreaking, I know.
Less apparent may be the idea that in spite of different ways of viewing the world, marketers and designers desperately need each other. And not because we expect creative and analytical minds to sit in separate corners performing the discrete tasks to which they are best suited. But because when they work together on the very same task, the results are better.
Why? Think about the engine and transmission of a car. One generates unbridled horsepower. The other makes that power more efficient and purposeful, delivering it to the road. Some would argue that the transmission can choke off and constrain the engine. Instead, I think it harnesses and distributes the power as needed and helps the engine react to road conditions.
In the same way, the analytical mind can focus and guide the creative mind in very deliberate fashion to put the horsepower against the project parameters that matter most. Not to elaborate here, but that’s what my KMG Innovation Methodology is basically all about.
So, the next time you see marketers and designers on a collision course, try working through the gears together.
July 7, 2009
Recently, I was preparing for some Immersion work for a client that involved witnessing some consumer shopping occasions. I contacted a recruiter that I hadn’t used before, but had been recommended. I was looking to recruit grocery store shoppers along specific category, attitudinal, demographic and behavioral criteria. No big deal.
Until the recruiter asked me for a few details: What should the scheduled interview times look like each day? At what specific stores in the area would I like to meet the respondents? Do I want to meet them before they shop or after? Those of you who have been involved in ethnographic research can plainly see the danger signs in this line of questioning. And those of you who haven’t might certainly smell something fishy. When I asked the recruiter why she was asking me for this information, she said: “It’s easier for all of us that way”. Oh, well–if it’s easier…
I told the recruiter that I wasn’t too concerned about “easy”, and that I wanted to do the sessions when, where and how the consumer typically shops. Silence on the other end, as she thought about how this little wrinkle would impact her day. As if no one ever demanded this before. Suffice it to say that we did it my way, which in my mind is the only worthwhile way to do it.
Contrived ethnography is a contradiction in terms, as well it should be. Whether in homes, stores or anywhere else, Immersion is not simply an interview in context. The user experience cannot be “scheduled”. Insight into shopping behavior cannot be gleaned in an unfamiliar store or a forced in-store routine. True Immersion doesn’t involve more time in a sit-down Q&A than in observation. And, it does not involve scads of note-takers, videographers and observers.
So, the next time you are asked by your ethnographer when and where you would like to do the “in-home interviews”, run. Or, better yet, say “whenever and wherever the consumer wants”.
June 29, 2009
After catching the end of “Thelma and Louise” again on TV, I was inspired. Here, the poignant last line in the film is borrowed to suggest the fate of concept ideation without some thoughtful pre-work. My apologies to Geena Davis.
May 22, 2009
I thought up the idea for this cartoon to exaggerate a point about the ways consumers are mis-used in concept screening. In a forced-choice scenario like this, the best a consumer can do is choose the best of the worst. Or, the one everyone else likes. Or, the one they think you like. Or, the prettiest one. Or….you get the point. The $75 you’re paying them makes them eager to please. But not easy to read.