How to reduce your innovation failure rates

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There is obviously a long list of reasons why some pretty awful products make it all the way through the innovation process and make it on to the supermarket shelves. Having conducted digital immersions in 42 Countries, these are the two causes that we see most frequently within both local and Global Organisations.


There is obviously a long list of reasons why some pretty awful products make it all the way through the innovation process and make it on to the supermarket shelves. Having conducted digital immersions in 42 Countries, these are the two causes that we see most frequently within both local and Global Organisations.

1) The idea for the product is completely unlinked to any insight about the target audience, but is a direct result of an internal issue or objective. (You can take your pick from, we have capacity in the factory, we need to increase sales and profits, the buyer at the retailer/ our Marketing Director thinks its a good idea or we need to reduce the cost of production).

Consumers do not care about any of these challenges and if delighting the target audience is not really the goal, is it any surprise that they are not delighted with the end result?

2) So much research is spent at the front end that failure becomes unthinkable and unacceptable. On some projects, so much investment is made in the early stages that as the project progresses the whole idea of failure becomes unthinkable. Even when the team members start to get those nagging doubts that they may be “polishing a turd” they press on, as they feel they are past the point of no return.

So how can you reduce innovation failure rates?

Throughout the innovation process ask the whole team (and senior management) to watch target consumers using the product or prototypes in the natural environment of consumption, when there is no researcher or moderator present.

These consumers do not care why you launched the product or who’s idea it was, they just care about how it performs and how it makes them feel. They will be brutally honest and by connecting your business with the authentic experience of consumers you will be far less likely to proceed when there are major barriers or problems that need to be addressed.

As well as reducing the risk that terrible products will be launched, these observations will also provide some additional benefits to the business.

  • You can share the observations with your agencies to help shape communication strategies.
  • You can share suggested improvements to the product, packaging or instructions with the innovation teams.
  • If the consumer experience is positive, you can share this sentiment in both internal and external presentations.

While not replacing the need for robust research, this technique is beautifully simple and consistently effective, regardless of the size of the organisation.