Customer Input Essential to Innovation

by Robert F Brands

Customer Input Essential to InnovationInnovation is not a luxury to be placed on the back burner, but rather the lifeblood of any successful organization. Innovation builds brands, which leads to profitable growth and marketplace success. An important part of attaining that success is through creating value in the minds of customers. An example of a technological breakthrough that gained customer appeal is the Rexam Airspray mechanical foamer. Since the invention of bar soaps in the early 20th century and liquid soaps in the 70’s, nothing else had changed in the market for decades until the foaming hand soap offered customers an efficient, easy to use, drip-free medium: true value in the eyes of consumers.

A deep understanding of your customer needs, and providing ways to fulfill those needs, is ultimately what leads to profitable growth. The most consistent path to creativity is when an innovator gathers customer data and observes problems that need fixing, according to Karen Holtzblatt of InContext Enterprises. WordPerfect was developed when designers asked for input from their primary customers, office secretaries. eBay founder Pierre Omidyar conceived the idea for an online auction house when his wife required a setting to collect and trade PEZ dispensers. Today, eBay gathers customer feedback on a regular basis in order to add new features to the site every year.

It is essential to get customer input and feedback during the New Product Development process. Consider holding ideation sessions with your customers to gain valuable insight. Take into account customer input at numerous stages throughout your NPD process. Some questions to ask your customers include what features and benefits they would like to see, such as product and service ideas, or what they would like a product to do for them to solve any particular issues. Finally, there are entirely new breakthroughs that customers cannot conceive. But once the idea for a product or service is suggested, let customers give input on a radical new concept.

According to “A Little Book of f-Laws” by Russell Ackoff and Herbert Addison, “Consumers can discover what they want in products and services by designing them. It is in design that people find what they want. Furthermore, consumer involvement in product/service design almost always gets creative results.”

The key of it all is to make sure your products and services are not developed and designed in a vacuum, or as technical solutions only, because they rarely succeed. It is all about creating and adding value in a unique solution.

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Robert F BrandsRobert Brands is the founder of InnovationCoach.com, and the author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival,” with Martin Kleinman – published Spring 2010 by Wiley (www.robertsrulesofinnovation.com).

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  1. Many people feel that “voice of the customer” is enough to discover unmet or unarticulated needs. This is just one part of the search. People can only tell you what they want given the current product/service usage. They can’t, and shouldn’t, be expected to tell you about a future that doesn’t exist, that is the marketers’ job.

    There are many observational methods to study people in the context of use, and these methods can really open one’s eyes as a key part of the discovery process. Many CPG companies have employed these techniques for quite a few years. B2B companies don’t appear to have found the value of using these approaches yet.

    Don’t forget that this is an on-going process. Companies need to constantly be looking for new opportunities, not in once-a-year planning sessions.

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