Defining the Focus for Winning Innovation

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Our most successful innovation projects start with an objective that not only provides a clear strategic focus, but that also inspires the innovation team with a direction and insights that encourage deeper creative thinking.  Defining an inspiring innovation objective is also the first vital step in our five steps to develop and identify stronger concepts or claims that will drive business growth.  Listed below are six thoughts to consider when defining the objectives for your own innovation project: 

1. The Three Cs for Winning Innovation

Most projects we run don't start with a blank piece of paper.  We are normally working with brands who have existing products and production facilities, together with their inherent market strengths and weaknesses. In these cases, a good place to start is to consider the “three Cs” for winning innovation.  This includes considering the needs and unmet needs of target CONSUMERS; any equity strengths or new pipeline technologies that give your COMPANY or brand a market advantage; and any gaps or weaknesses of your key COMPETITION, including their product innovation strengths and opportunities. 

Looking at these three areas provides a simple framework to develop new ideas and concepts with greater market appeal, while accepting existing reality that many innovation projects are looking for change that will drive incremental growth.   In the end, the selected innovation objective might focus on any one of these three areas.  For example, how Johnson's Baby can deliver even greater levels of baby skin softness; how Unilever's Rexona can deliver superior levels of odor protection; how a leading medical brand can exploit a new technology that is now on licence as an OTC product etc. 

2. Reframe the Problem and Play Games

Another technique is to "reframe the problem" or market challenge that faces your brand or business today.  One nice example is a night optics company who were facing falling sales. They redefined their strategic innovation focus to "how to make new optical products that make the invisible, visible".  This simple reframing of the problem encouraged them to look beyond night optics, to medical opportunities that support of key hole surgery.

Swatch Watches provides another nice example. The brand was created against a problem that most people only buy a new watch every 7-10 years.  Swatch laid down an innovation challenge of how to get people to buy 7-10 watches every year!  With this, they used creative thinking techniques and played different games, including "imagine a watch is a postage stamp"?  In response, "people will stick them on letters", "they will post them to each other", "we will have lots of different designs", and "people will collect them".   Ah Ha....people start collecting 7-10 watches every year!

3. Define "Where To Win" and Relevant Pain Points

Make sure you have a clear understanding of the situations where you most want to win with your brand, and focus your innovation work on the biggest opportunities.  This will also guide deeper and more focused insight gathering activities, that will encourage deeper thinking for new ideas and concepts.

For example, take a sun lotion company that wants to generate new product ideas – where do they start?  Their business is naturally skewed to the Summer and to vacations.  Rather than look at innovation outside this period, the team agreed to focus product innovation on the situation of "how to win on the beach with young adults and their kids”.  The idea of "winning on the beach" provided a much clearer strategic and creative focus than, let's say, new products for the summer.

The focus for product innovation can be further enhanced with different teams focusing on different pain points linked to the situation where you want to win.  What are the specific issues and pain pints that consumers face when using sun lotion on the beach: "they never have it when they need it most"; "they never know when to reapply"; "it gets messed up with sand and irritates my skin when I put it on" etc. 

4. Consumer Profiles and Deeper Insights

A further way of defining a tighter focus for innovation, is to focus on the needs of specific target consumer profiles.  If you have the luxury of working with a larger innovation team, you can split your resources and get different people to focus on the needs and insights of 3 or 4 different profiles. This is certainly a very good approach if you are running an innovation workshop session, so that people aren't all generating the same ideas.

With the sun lotion project described above, the project team ended up looking at the needs of four different named people who were on the beach.  This included Team Anna who want maximum protection and no burning; Team Beth who love a healthy all-year tan; Team Chuck who don't really care about sun lotions, they just want it to be easy; and Team Kids, with a focus on sun care needs of adults with younger children.  And for each of these profiles, the teams focused on 5 or 6 different insights and pain points that were identified in advance of the ideation workshop using some simple insight brainstorming techniques.

5. Focus on Benefits When Innovating Claims

If your project objective is to generate claims and a compelling new promise can you make about your brand or product, then our experience is that you should focus on the 2 or 3 specific benefit areas that are most relevant to your target consumer.  For example, new claims for a longer lasting smart phone battery; claims that promise greater eye wearing comfort for a new contact lens product; claims for a deodorant brand that promise superior levels of odor protection etc.

Once the 2 or 3 specific benefits have been identified, further focus can be provided by identifying some deeper insights and pain points linked to each of the agreed benefit platforms. And don't feel that you need to commission new research - look to revisit "old research" with fresh eyes and exploit insights from social media and from different online consumer forums. 

6. Test and Refine Your Area of Focus  

Finally, when defining the focus for innovation, beware of taking too long or being paralysed with the data.  In many projects that we run, it sometimes makes sense to quickly define a broader objective that will guide further exploration work, to understand the needs and unmet needs of your target consumer and how this compares with what your competition are offering. You can then gather, refine and evaluate early trends and insights that can be used to better re-define the overall objective for the project. 

Another option is to run an innovation project in two stages, where a team will quickly generate and screen a wider range of early ideas in stage 1; to help define areas and themes that have greatest appeal with your target audience in stage 2.  You could then "go deeper" in the second stage to focus on developing and improving the 4 or 5 ideas that had most potential. To support this activity, we use our Zip-Zap Ideas® platform as a quicker and more agile way to screen early ideas with a target audience.  In some cases, the screening work can be done at the end of a one day ideation workshop, with results and feedback provided the following day to refine the focus for further creative thinking.


Get in touch if you have any questions or comments - we'd love to hear from you.