Thursday, March 11, 2010

Marketing Strategy : How to Create Consumer Centric Innovations

How to Create Consumer Centric Innovations

Originally Published here at

What can you do with a boring product like a dishwash bar? Can you bring excitement into it? Is it possible to make innovations to a product like dishwash bar? A look at Vim, the market leader in the dishwash bar category, will give valuable insights on making innovations which are meaningful for a consumer. Vim have a plastic coating which prevents the bar from getting soggy because of its constant contact with water. This simple coating gives the product long life and thus adding more value to the product.

Innovation is considered to be a key factor that will ensure the future of a company. Companies like Gillette (now a part of P&G), 3 M, Google, and Apple have their entire organization focused on innovation. Successful firms have developed a culture of innovation which becomes the part of the DNA of the entire organisation.

In future, India is believed to have potential to lead the world in product innovations. The fact that many global IT firms have their product development centres in India is a proof of the growing stature of India as a global innovation hub.

Indian marketers are also not far behind. Indian companies have been able to provide breakthrough marketing practices that acts as a model for emulation for their western counterparts. Notable in these innovations are the e-chaupal (ITC) and Project Shakthi (HUL), GCMMF etc.

Although we have seen a significant rise of product innovations in India, we are yet to create an innovation culture in Organizations. The level of investment in research and development in Indian companies are yet to reach global standards. The fact that we don’t have an Indian equivalent of a 3M or a Google is a reminder of the enormous task before us.

In this era of global competition, marketers cannot afford to be complacent. This is a market where categories are becoming irrelevant. Mobile phones are competing with cameras and computers. Two wheelers are competing with cars and airplanes competing with railways. Marketers cannot afford to be myopic to competition. Now firms have to run faster in order to survive.

When markets become too fluid, organizations should be investing in creating products for the future. Organizations need to understand the changing consumer mindset and also the changes that are happening across various markets.

There are three approaches to innovation. One approach is to strive for a pure innovation which results in an entirely new product. The second approach is to innovate incrementally and continuously. The third approach is to innovate on building efficiency in operations. What HUL did for VIM was an innovation which was an incremental innovation. The company created a new method of tapping rural market through Project Shakthi which was a process innovation.

Innovation doesn’t always means that the company should come out with an entirely new feature or a product. Innovation also can be in the form of imitation. Professor Theodore Levitt calls it Innovative Imitation. Innovative imitation is where the firm tries to bring in innovations that are happening in other industries to their field. Vim recently relaunched itself with anti-bacterial property which was an innovative imitation of its nearest competitor.

Continuous and constant innovation strategy is going to be the key for organisational success in future. But in order to succeed, these innovations should be customer centric.

Innovations should be visible and should be authentic for a consumer. The period where a marketer can get away with “New and Improved “label is over. The challenge for the marketer is to make the process of improving their offerings continuously.

The best way for getting new ideas is from the consumer. A consumer may not be able to give a list of new product ideas. But by observing his life, the marketer can get lot of ideas for improving the product and also new products.

Have a plan for innovation

The first step in creating an innovative culture is to have a plan for innovation. Large or small, firms need to have a plan of innovation. There has to be people who should be responsible for innovation and most importantly there has to be a budget for innovations.

Celebrate Failures

While Google, 3M and Apple are celebrated for their innovations, the long lists of the failures encountered by these companies are often forgotten. Not every new product ideas are well received by consumers. When encountered by failures, firms must not penalise the innovator but should be doing a thorough analysis of reasons for failure.

Make the customer the centre of innovation process

In the highly insightful book “The Game Changer”, the authors Ram Charan and A.G.Lafley describes how P&G made their innovations customer- centric. In the book, the authors narrates an example where the product development team for a new heart-burn medicine created a life sized cardboard cut-out of a consumer which they named Joanne. They put this cut-out in a chair in their conference room. In all the meetings discussing the new product’s launch, there will be the presence of this hypothetical customer. The team used this hypothetical customer to focus their discussions on those ideas that will have a meaningful impact on the consumer.

By looking at how a customer uses the products and how the product impacts his life gives valuable inputs for future innovations.

Brands can innovate in product form by launching the product in new shapes and sizes. The shampoo category witnessed explosive growth after the product being introduced in sachets. The simple innovation in packaging made the product category affordable to millions of Indian consumers.

Products also innovates itself by making it easier for consumers to use the product. For example TVS recently provided balancing side-tyres to its Scooty which enables the users (Girls) to learn to ride scooter on their own.

Brands can innovate by making it easier for consumers to store the product .Bru recently added a flavour lock ( plastic clip) which kept the coffee powder fresh and eliminated the need to transfer it to a container.

Products also can innovate by satisfying problems faced by consumers. Asian paints launched samplers which helped the consumer to test the colours before purchasing it. Nightingale popularised un-dated diaries which gave this product an unlimited shelf-life.

Whether big or small, innovations will be successful only if it made some impact on consumer’s life. The most important decision that a marketer should do is to make customer the centre of his innovation strategy.