Archive for June 19th, 2008

Broadening your consumer palette

June 19th, 2008 | Category: Consumer centred,Innovation tools

We’re all being told to get closer to our consumers, to listen to our consumers, to get under our consumers skin, but is this enough to generate truly breakthrough ideas and future product concepts. Sometimes, you will strike it lucky but I believe if you really want to expose your self to strong innovation directions you need to go far broader. Say you’ve done your market analysis and you’ve got a target group of consumers. Standard industry practice says you should use tools such as storytelling, observation and focus groups with this target group. I say you should still do this but you should also cast your innovation net far wider. Here is a useful model to help you broaden your search for innovative concepts:


Step 1. Go ahead and research your target customer group, which can be done using standard tools such as 1 to 1 interviews, focus groups and basic observation. More sophisiticated tools such as story-telling where you get customers to prepare a story related to the subject matter you wish to research can pull out further insights. Other powerful approaches are accompanied shopping or direct observation. Allow maybe 40-50% of your total research time for this activity.

Step 2. Indentify stakeholders who are likely to observe and interact with your target customers as they use the product and interview them about how they see your customers behave. Potential candidates as stakeholders could be service engineers for users of office equipment, doctors in the case of patients in hospital or catering managers or shop keepers for snack consumers. Allow maybe 10-20% of your research time for this step.

Step 3. Put yourself in the shoes of your consumers, in short, be your consumer. Spend a day in the life of your consumer. If you are an engineer working on a new family car design, spend a day using the car with your family. Notice the things which are frustrating and the things which you like as a customer and user would. I understand Nissan used this approach when they asked their engineers, 5 at a time, to sit, with writing pads at the ready, in the Nissan Micra for 30 minutes collecting insights about their experience. Allow 10% of your research time for this.

Step 4. When I say deep users, what I mean here are extreme, passionate users of your product. So if you want to research coffee, talk to the consumers who prepare their own coffee blend, maybe even roasting it themselves. These consumers are likely to value product elements which can help you identify true stand-out products of the future, Purple Cow products, you might say. Allow 10-20% of your time here.

Step 5. Study parallel indutries and markets. Many powerful insights can be derived from practices which may well be common in other industries. Tools such as TRIZ can play a role during this stage to help identify suitable candidate industries. An interesting cross over industry that immediately comes to mind is human food and pet food, where trends in the first industry quickly transition into the second. Another example is the transition of ideas from pharmaceutical to food in the area of functional food. Allow 10% of your time here.

This process can help you get deeper insights which can help you create real breakthrough concepts


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How a new interface technology could transform your brand communication

I’ve just come across the latest on an emerging technology which I think has great potential to deliver major¬†improvements to the user experience for a broad range of products and usage situations. The technology in question is Multi-Touch Screens. If you have seen the movie, Minority Report or used an iPod Touch you will already have some insight about the new way this technology might engage your senses in future.

One company, Perceptive Pixel Inc. has seriously researched the way light interacts with with the users fingers when they touch an acrylic screen and can use this information to identify finger position and even detect different pressures exerted onto the screen.

To create a signal, LEDs bounce light through the acrylic sheet. No light escapes. But if a finger is placed against the face (below), light will scatter off it toward the sensors. Also, a pressure-sensitive coating flexes when pressed firmly or lightly, making the scattered fingertip signal appear slightly brighter or dimmer, which the computer interprets as more or less pressure.

This¬†technology is now being used by early adopters in information and interaction intensive activities such as intellence gathering and processing for the CIA and by news anchors at¬†CNN news to help explain detailed information on the Presidential primaries. Looking ahead, the¬†technology is expected to find a home in graphically intense businesses such as energy trading and medical imaging. Perceptive Pixel don’t seem to talk about price at this stage, which means the technology is currently still quite niche. Here is a demo video of the system in use. It does seem to be quite cool.

On the other hand, there is Microsoft Surface, a kind of interactive table. This system is being used in hotels and bar complexes to create in Microsoft’s words “uniquely personalized and engaging social experiences”. Their most ambitious is “flirt” which is all about¬†basically flirting and chatting up semi-remotely.¬†There are other applications, such as interactive games and a mixology package which helps you to design your own coctails. Customers will be able to order food and drink by using the interactive display. Other retail applications will allow customers in T-Mobile USA‚Äôs retail stores to compare different cell phone models by simply placing the phone¬†on top of¬†a surface screen; tags on the undersides of the phones will cue the system to display price, feature and phone plan details. Other Microsoft software will allow a wireless-enabled digital camera, when placed on a surface computer, to upload its photographic content to the computer without a cable.

First-generation surface systems are priced from $5,000 to $10,000. As with most electronic items, the company expects the price to decline as production volume increases. Microsoft says Surface computers should be available at consumer prices in three to five years. This means this sort of technology could be making regular appearances in people’s homes by then.

This is where things start to get interesting, as the price comes down, application and use of the system will inevitably become more widespread, in my view allowing consumers and users easy access to far more information than is possible now. This could have a profound impact on the retail and point of delivery experience for consumers and will really open up the way that brands communicate and interact.

This means that if your business has anything to do with creating consumer experiences, you need to start considering the impact this technology might have on your future business. Although in some ways this technology seems still to be a solution seeking a problem, I can already think of a number ways it could be used to enhance brand communication and I would seriously recommend prototyping potential applications now rather than later.

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