Innovate How You Get Consumer Insights

Blog Post Innovation that Creates New Value

If you want new customer insights, change how you ask questions.

Many enterprises rely on focus groups. For a better perspective of what propels customers to buy or seek out a product or service, ask the targeted customers if you can visit them at their home or office. Finding new ways to tap into your customers’ world will offer a new perspective into their buying habits and routines.

A consumer goods company could learn plenty by checking out a customer’s home supply of cleaning products. Why does she have 45 different cleaners? What does she need? If the answer is one cleaner that does the job of four, then you have a new idea for a product.

Harvard professor Clayton Christensen is an expert on “disruptive innovation.” He suggests the best innovations come from asking: What is the job that you want that product to do for you? A thick-textured fast-food shake, for example, might be a great thing for a commuter with a long daily trip. It lasts longer and is more satisfying. But asking a family that same question might yield different answers. Maybe the shake is a child’s reward for a good grade. The family wants a quick reward without too much sugar.

Sometimes customers have a hard time telling us or articulating what they need because they don’t know all the possibilities. Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Most people couldn’t imagine a car with four wheels or a communication device they could carry around in their pockets. We couldn’t articulate those needs, but we sure do appreciate them now.

Here are some other ideas for listening with a different ear:

Hire a psychologist, anthropologist or other seasoned pro that’s good at observing consumer behavior. Let them talk to your customers and see if they clue in to behavioral traits that stand out from the crowd.

Consider doing customer research in another country. See how international consumers use your product category. The cultural differences may inspire new possibilities and likely another set of insights.

Use social media as another vehicle for consumers to express themselves. Frito-Lay asks customers to create their own product commercials, which contribute to brand strength. BMW has no problem getting customers to talk passionately about their cars on social networks.

Talk to people who don’t use your product. They can shed light on why they don’t, including reasons such as pricing, awkward packaging, and distribution issues.

There’s a clear distinction between insights and market research surveys. We collect insights as possibilities, but not all of them will blossom into reality. Only one person out of 100 might say something different, but that one comment could lead to a breakthrough idea.

Remember, there’s more than one way to gather customer insights. Enterprises that focus on innovating how they stay in touch with their consumer will reap the rewards of their efforts.

What consumer insight made the difference for your company’s innovation last year?