NEWS17 March 2015

Fresh approaches to predicting new product success

News UK

The current era of risk and opportunity requires researchers and clients to take a fresh approach to new product development, meeting volatility and complexity with a willingness to trial new techniques and abandon those that aren’t working, the Impact 2015 conference heard today.


While clients are keen to experiment when they are seeing incremental innovation, when it comes to longer term or larger scale innovation, they are often wedded to tried and tested ways of developing and testing ideas – event those that they often don’t believe really work any more.

Speaking in London today, Sam Gomez, head of client strategy at Flamingo, said we were now working in a “VUCA” world, characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

“Disruption is the new normal,” she said. “Using the past to predict the future is becoming harder and harder.”

Consumers are increasingly side-stepping the mainstream through movements such as the sharing economy, and are using non-traditional distribution streams, yet many clients have been slow to react. The natural pet food market, for instance, Gomez said, was now worth one billion euros and is due to double by 2020, but it has been on few mainstream producers’ radar because they have failed to monitor non-traditional behaviour or look beyond their category for signs of change.

“Rather than seeking stability through doing things in the same way … stability comes from looking at the brand purpose and mission,” she said. That brand purpose could be a rallying point for both internal and external clients.

Philip Graves, founder of Shift Consultancy, said the elephant in the room was that people were hopeless at predicting their own behaviour. “You’d be as well to ask them for next week’s lottery numbers than whether they’re likely to buy your products or which concept they like best,” he said.

Yet for many businesses, the established “stage gates” to the development of a new product are difficult to walk away from.

Olivia Taylor, consumer insights manager at Innocent Drinks, said psychology was an increasing important tool in the consumer insights kit, and one that had been instrumental in the successful launch last year of new fruit-and-vegetable drinks.

The packaging of the new Easy Greens drinks was designed with psychologists’ help to provide the reassurance that consumers needed about taste and the combination of ingredients, she said. But getting internal buy-in for a new approach to product development was an ongoing challenge. “I’m taking a lot of people on a journey, doing a lot of PR and championing this way of thinking,” Taylor said.

Kristen Hickey is founding partner at ruby cha cha, which has conducted research among global clients on their approach to innovation. She gave five key take-aways on how researchers could help their client partners negotiate the new VUCA world:

  1. Play the role of change manager and guide clients towards new techniques and ways of thinking over time.
  2. Understand that no one size fits all in innovation; different businesses have different appetites for risk and different needs.
  3. Be bold when discussing incremental or “horizon one” innovation, because clients are keen to try new approaches.
  4. When looking at longer-term opportunities, look not just to identify the white space that clients can exploit, but explain how they can do it.
  5. Think about how researchers can develop tools that allow consumers to suspend disbelief about the future when they’re considering their own future behaviour.