What should our next new product be?

The unconventional way to come up with new product ideasAnswering that question is perhaps the hardest step in the entire new product development process, especially if you compete in a mature or commodity category.

Let’s say you work for a kitchen gadget company. It’s been a couple of years since your company introduced a new vegetable peeler. In the meantime, several of your competitors have brought out new peelers that are outselling your peeler.

What can you do to a vegetable peeler that hasn’t already been done? That is different enough from what’s already on the market that your retail customers will buy it?

The conventional approach

The conventional approach would be to look at what your competitors are doing and then figure out what you can do differently or better.

There is nothing wrong with this approach … if your goal is to incrementally grow your peeler business. You’ll probably be able to come up with a new peeler that is a little bit better, a little bit more durable, a little bit cheaper, or a little bit prettier than competitive offerings.

The road less traveled

However, if your goal is to dramatically grow your peeler business and increase your share of market, a competitive analysis is not going to provide the information and insight you need to come up with a new peeler that is going to fly off the shelves.

If you want to dramatically grow your peeler business, you need to come up with a new peeler that solves a problem the consumer is having with their current peeler. You need to come up with a new peeler that meets consumers’ needs better than what they are using now.

Uncovering unsolved problems and unmet needs

How do you find out what those unsolved problems and unmet needs are?  You take a page from the P & G playbook.

As former P & G Chairman and CEO A.G. Lafley wrote in Game-Changer, “great innovations come from understanding the customer’s unmet needs and desires, both articulated and unarticulated – that is, not only what they say, but, more important, what they cannot articulate or do not want to say.”

You keenly watch and listen to real people who use vegetable peelers. You observe them while they are peeling vegetables. You find out what frustrates them about peeling vegetables. You watch them using their own peeler and competitive peelers and ask them what they like and don’t like about each peeler. Then you sift through the mass of information and distill out the insights that lead to innovation.

Then and only then, do you start the ideation process armed with a thorough understanding of the needs, wants, and problems of your target consumer and insight gleaned from watching and listening to consumers.

It’s a fairly simple process but it’s not easy.  But it can pay big dividends if it’s done right.

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AJ Riedel, author of Housewares Insight blog