Innovation May Be Possible. But is it Purposeful?
A real-world approach to building new products that matter.
In today’s rapidly changing world, the imperative is to innovate or die. And companies that excel at innovation leverage a purposeful, repeatable process. They realize that it’s insufficient to rely on intermittent sparks of inspiration. They also understand that innovation should be based on what the customer needs, not just what R&D can make. In these times, building innovation as a capability is a critical component for any organization committed to futureproofing itself and building a durable trajectory for growth.
Successful innovations serve a clear and compelling purpose in the lives of customers. They help customers through their ‘jobs to be done.’ They reduce customers’ pains and create meaningful gains. They spring from a common understanding of the role brands seek to play in their customers’ lives. They activate customers’ heads and hearts. At Finch Brands, we call this Purposeful Innovation.
Our method of purposeful innovation is grounded in a deep understanding of customer needs. It elevates only those concepts that are congruent with our clients’ brand strategy. It prioritizes ideas that lie at the intersection of opportunity and utility.
There are three key attributes we use to identify a purposeful innovation:
1. It makes customers’ lives (at work or at home) better.
This is about relevance and utility. Is the innovation we’re creating relevant to our customers’ lives? Does it have value and make positive impact? Innovation doesn’t always just mean new products from scratch – sometimes it’s leveraging technology to make a process easier, sometimes it’s delivering an existing product in a new format, and beyond. The litmus test is: does an innovation make life easier, simpler, more convenient, more enjoyable?
Working with a large fresh food manufacturer, we conducted real-life listening sessions with customers and R&D resources that helped us identify several key macro trends and determine feasibility. In this case, focus groups showed us that people were looking for greater convenience and variety in their healthy eating regimen. These insights led us to product concepts that were highly motivating to customers and gave us confidence in ideating certain territories.
2. It aligns with our brand strategy.
Most innovations come from established companies – and most are line extensions leveraging the equity of existing brands. Thus, it is imperative that new concepts are well-aligned with what our customers think and feel about us. We could invent the most amazing pizza crust, yet it will fail if our customers see us as a yogurt company!
Thus, innovation processes often start with defining – and widening if necessary – our clients’ brand strategic frame. For example, we were working with a brand well-known for low calorie sweetening of coffee and other food/drinks. To truly unlock innovation opportunities, we needed to transcend that specific association and, instead, nurture a broader positioning – in this case, around ‘health enjoyed.’ Research validated this as a mantle the brand could plausibly claim – and innovation territories were then easy to identify.
3. It orbits around a category in which we have a right to win.
Once innovation concepts are defined and tested, it becomes a matter of priority. These decisions are usually based on a “right to win” assessment that includes a range of considerations – such as size/trajectory of category, strength/dynamism of competitors, sales and marketing efficiencies, manufacturing infrastructure, and beyond.
It doesn’t make sense to make a big innovation bet in a declining category. Nor to target a space with strong, well-funded incumbents who are generally satisfying their customers. As noted above innovation must bridge opportunity and utility – for the company as well as its customers.
Change happens. So can purposeful innovation when you listen, plan, and engage customers in the real-world.
At Finch Brands, our innovation processes generally consist of several key phases. The methodology, we find, is both highly focused but also flexible enough to accommodate the distinctive needs and priorities of individual clients:
We conduct deep dive Discovery into key areas of the project. We listen to leadership and other key voices. We review close-in competitors, category structures, channels, and growth rates. We access secondary sources where possible to rapidly surmount the learning curve. The goal is a robust knowledge base and strong start.
Insights are at Finch Brands’ center. We build environments that enable us to listen to key audiences and connect dots in meaningful ways. These range from more traditional methodologies like surveys, interviews, and focus groups – to more progressive approaches to yield the rich insights base we need to understand customer needs.
Good ideas can come from anywhere. That’s why we build co-creation into our process. We deploy co-creation workshops both internally with experts across the enterprise and externally with customers. Bringing together cross-functional teams and actual consumers into ideation workshops provides richer perspectives and points-of-view that make concepts more relevant and resonant. Concept development is best managed through collaboration as opposed to isolation. One particular method – a Bounce-and-Build® workshop – is a highly interactive and energetic collaboration that channels creativity to generate distinctive, differentiated, and relevant ideas. Our experience in co-creation ranges from CPG, technology, retail, healthcare and food service.
An innovation is only as good as its ability to deliver value in the real world. That’s why, once ideas are generated and refined, we build validation research into our process. We put our best solutions in front of prospective end users to pressure test them. We do this to assure that what we’re bringing into the world solves a problem, delivers value for consumers, and creates purposeful change in the category or the world. This process helps us validate and prioritize innovation territories – both through consumer feedback and ‘right to win’ assessment.
Any innovation is only as valuable as our ability to make it work in the real world. We have a range of activation services – with design for internal and external audiences at the center – to enliven the best innovation concepts. Frequent deliverables include brand identity, packaging/campaign/experience design, and go-to-market strategy.
Innovation as a catalyst for purposeful change.
We believe that innovation is a powerful change management tool as well as an accelerator of growth along an organization’s trajectory. We help brands and businesses rise to the challenges of change and work together to bring ideas to market in the forms of new products, services, processes, and programs.
Innovation is the coin of the realm today – and the most successful companies balance inspiration with systems thinking to make new product development/launch a core competency.
As always, Finch Brands is here to help!