Strategic discussions between retailers and suppliers of “consumer packaged goods” (CPGs) often include conversations about the importance of product innovation. While these companies realize they need innovation to remain relevant, their management may hesitate to implement the necessary change, especially if they have been conditioned to think more like “operators” than innovators. On the other hand, inventors are naturals at visualizing new products but often not so good at imagining how they will fit into the market or fare against competing products. The notion that innovation requires invention is a myth that may keep you busy talking about your concept without ever implementing it.
Innovation starts with creativity. But, creativity has two parts to it. We all know it involves the development of a new idea. What many may miss is that this new idea must also be more useful than the alternative method or competing product. We must see innovation not as creating a new product but as…
creating new and better experiences for the consumer.
So, where do these new and useful product ideas come from? Ultimately from the people who benefit from using them. The consumer will tell us how to make better products if we will only listen to what they have to say. However, BEWARE. Consumers think not in terms of product features, but in terms of experiences. My wife cannot tell me about voice recognition and search technologies, but she will often say with great anticipation, “let’s ask Siri.”
One of the greatest mistakes in the history of the CPG industry was the reformulation of Coca-Cola (New Coke). For a brief period in 1985, some otherwise very smart CPG professionals thought “winning” was only about product features, until their loyal consumer-base revolted against the new, but NOT better “experience”.
Listening to consumers starts with busting the next myth, “Retail markets are about selling products.”
Steve Caldwell, author of "Winning in a Hostile Environment: The Double Bottom Line Mandate" holds a PhD in management of human behavior from Georgia Institute of Technology. He has taught courses at the undergraduate and MBA level in subjects such as Business Strategy, Organizational Behavior, Human Resource Management, Principles of Management, and Consumer Behavior. Prior to obtaining his doctorate in management, Dr Caldwell spent 28 years in the business world, sixteen as an executive in the Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola bottling networks. Dr Caldwell has provided professional coaching and management consulting services in a variety of organizations in the US and abroad. He was Founding President of Data Ventures, LLC, a data mining company providing advanced analytics to the consumer products industry. Dr Caldwell has extensive experience implementing strategic change in organizations and is well published on research topics of change in behavioral journals such as Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Journal of Change Management, and Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. Dr Caldwell is currently CEO of DBL Insights LLC providing business consulting and coaching services to business professionals on topics associated with principles of successful living.