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May 9th, 2017

How to Spot and Use Insights for Product Design and Innovation

In a previous blog I discussed how cost-effective research methods can provide consumer “insights” to the Product Innovation process. So, exactly what are these insights we so fervently seek? And how do we explain them in ways others can actually use?

The most valuable insights reveal human behavior and the motivation behind it. These insights not only teach us what consumers do, but also more importantly, how and why they do it. They allow us to gain empathy with our audience and understand the deeply held values, perceptions, and ideals that influence their actions and beliefs. Sometimes the insights are right in front of us but we don’t see them. We don’t recognize them as insights.

Carol Phillips at the University of Notre Dame created an excellent list on this subject. Before rejecting a potential insight, she suggests we first ask five questions:

  1. Does it reveal something about the consumer (not just about the product or service)?
  2. Does it capture how consumers want to feel (not just what they think)?
  3. Does it relate to the drivers of the category (not just a particular brand)?
  4. Does it speak to an enduring value (not just to what’s new)?
  5. Does it challenge the company or brand to act in new ways (not just maintain the status quo)?

Of course, the ability to recognize insights comes first. But, once identified, how do you assemble those insights so they’re useful in developing solutions for your customer and your company? What can you do to prevent research insights from collecting dust on the shelf, or worse, from being held in disdain? Here are four ideas to consider:

  1. Make sure your research team is multi-functional. We recently conducted a nationwide ethnographic user study on portable generators (the kind so crucial to the people in the wake of a hurricane). In addition to our research team, we were joined by marketing, engineering, and design personnel from the manufacturer. Through their first-hand participation in the research each of these departments gained deeper empathy with their end users than if they’d merely viewed the final videos and reports. And a sense of ownership in the research insights was shared across all company’s departments that needed to act on those insights.
  2. Present findings and insights through the human stories you’ve encountered. Use video, user scenarios, photographs, and user “personas” to engage your executive audience. Our research presentation for a manufacturer of three-ring binders fell on deaf ears until we played the video showing story after story of the users’ personal situations and lifestyles related to our client’s products.
  3. Employ creative teams who are good at making connections by juxtaposing seemingly unrelated pieces of information to formulate novel ideas. This “creative intelligence” fosters connections between insights, trends, brands, technologies, and core competencies. Where possible, show your preliminary product ideas based on new insights as part of your executive research presentation.
  4. Make sure you have top management support from the outset. Do so by explaining the strategic nature of the research and its importance to the company’s product innovation process. If the research effort resides only in Marketing or Engineering or Design, then the insights gained might be tagged as insights for only that department.

In the end, insights aid product innovation only if you first recognize them and then act on them. If you spend the time and money to conduct research, make sure you have executive support, cross functional participation, an engaging way to present the insights, and a creative team to transform the insights into new ideas.

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