The innovation process can essentially be broken down into these stages: idea generation, concept testing, product testing, and packaging and branding. Research should be used in every one of these important stages. Here’s how:
Phase 1: Idea Generation
Exploratory research at the idea generation stage of the innovation process establishes a deep understanding of target market sentiment, needs, or problems. It gives insights into the state of the market, and where you might be able to seize an opportunity or avoid risks. Here are possible questions to ask in exploratory research:
- What kind of customers are most interested in a new product: who are they, and where are they? How do customer preferences change between markets?
- What choices, decisions, or paths might a potential customer take when considering buying from you?
- Is there a need for something brand new, or could existing products be improved to serve consumers better?
- Who knows about you and your products? Are you top-of-mind for anyone? Who is your competition?
Phase 2: Concept Testing
Assuming the ideation stage bears fruit, the next stage is to test the concept with potential customers quantitatively. This usually goes through several iterations before the final product is defined, and products with higher complexity tend to require more of these cycles. Concept testing should evaluate these areas: pricing, distribution, the priority of key features, user experience, and marketing strategy and communications.
Phase 3: Product Testing
After a winning concept is identified, product testing (also called consumer testing or comparative testing) is the process of measuring the properties or likely performance of products with a target audience. By asking for audience feedback on your products before launch, you can ensure you commit money and resources to the optimal projects.
Product testing gives you confidence in the specific features and configurations that are most useful and desirable to the target audience. Additionally, it can help you get buy-in on your product concept as testing proves which products resonate most with your target audience, so you can convince other stakeholders to get behind those choices.
Phase 3: Packaging and Branding
Once the product is finalized, packaging and branding research puts the bow on the package. Before you launch the product, make sure that the packaging, branding, marketing elements, and strategy all work together to support the launch, attract trial, and, eventually, build product adoption and loyalty.
As American businessman and author C. William Pollard said:
“Learning and Innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” The heart of any innovation’s success is the consumer, and good Innovation research gets you closer to the customer and their needs. Market research can add value to practically every aspect of the innovation lifecycle.