I’ve been involved in both the upfront and the testing phases of innovation and have seen and heard from clients what works and what doesn’t. The first step in marketing innovation is to gather your best ideas in one place. Before brainstorming, it helps to understand the needs and wants of your market. What’s the best way to do this? Ask them.
Here are 7 tips for getting a productive start on the innovation process:
1. Start with the voice of the consumer.
While it’s true that consumers don’t always have your next great idea (see Quirky’s bankruptcy notice for an example of this in action), they do know what they like. Send them on a shopping expedition and follow along, or talk to a group of them about their visit to your competition.
Listen for the need states underneath their preferences and for themes that emerge across people and groups. If possible, have your ideating groups watch as well, or show them some nicely edited video that communicates the voice of your consumer. We all like to help, so show your professionals the faces of those who might use their new product ideas.
Now that you know who and why your buyers might want new ideas, it’s time to develop them. We’ll continue on with some tips for successful ideation sessions:
2. Have fun!
Albert Einstein said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Sometimes the fun gets left out of the marketing innovation process, and everyone involved feels so much pressure to perform that they overthink. Allow for spontaneity in your creative ideation sessions. Be fully present to the activity at hand and open to each other’s ideas and your own.
3. But don’t forget the intelligence.
Play doesn’t mean you throw your goals out the window. Add too many children’s toys, sugar and caffeine and you may have lack of focus problems. If your colleagues, consultants and agency seem stuck on sheer goofiness, actual expertise in the room may get ignored. Involve people from hands-on as well as concept-heavy job descriptions and you’ll benefit from a dose of their experienced, concrete knowledge.
4. Include some of the flavor of crowdsourcing.
While you may not want to open up your business needs to an Internet-based crowd, don’t micromanage those you do bring together. Choose an experienced point person to set up innovation exercises and to cross-pollinate ideas from the various groups. But instruct them to stay out of the way of the work. This person does not have to interact with each and every idea as it happens. Give your subgroups the opportunity to bond and the power to develop their own processes.
5. Encourage ownership of ideas.
When subgroups take ownership of their ideas they work on them as a team and invite improvement. Provide mechanisms that enable these owners, or groups of owners, to winnow down their ideas into those they think are close in and obvious, and those that might take a bit more work but are possibly bigger ideas.
6. Hone, test, hone, test. Repeat.
Now that you have the best ideas, get some guidance on where to focus your energies. Testing can take many forms. Groups of people, in person or online, or individuals who get paid or volunteer to try new products, even employees can give you their opinions. Informal feedback may be a good place to start, and is certainly the least expensive in time and money. Keep in mind, however, that people who know and like you are more likely to like your ideas, too. Find some people who don’t know you and encourage them to be honest. Then listen. You may need to hire a professional researcher to manage the process, design and conduct the research and share findings and recommendations.
7. Keep working.
Big light bulb moments usually happen after careful study, hands on experience, and iterative adjustment of concepts. Most big innovations have tons of small ones that came before them. An idea that in retrospect seems to be a turning point may not even seem to be that big of a deal at the time it starts, and often must go through tons of tedious revisions.
So keep at it, and have intelligent fun along the way.
Jennifer Cooper, President of BuyerSynthesis, helps established and emerging brands grow revenues through better understanding their buyers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.