Taking Consumer Insights to the Next Level
By Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting
Successful new food product development is the result of taking two basic steps, according to Dr. Mieke Weegels of Unilever’s Consumer Perception and Behaviour Department. “First, you have to come up with a very good idea – usually based on a good consumer insight,” she said. “Then you have to translate this insight into something consumers want to eat – over and over and over again.”
Dr. Weegles remarks came during a presentation called “Innovation Without Tears” presented at the ECR Europe Conference held this week in Stockholm.
“You have to learn how to translate ideas into products that deliver on their promise,” she added. That’s harder than it sounds, Dr. Weegels said, especially in food categories. “They are low [consumer] involvement categories,” she continued. “Consumers know what they like, but not why they like something.” Most consumer package goods companies try to work around this low involvement issue by an innovation methodology best know as trial and error. But, Dr. Weegels noted, not only isn’t trial and error very effective, it can be extremely expensive.
Unilever has built a consumer driven innovation model that begins with a systematic design of innovation. It that starts with building knowledge and demands consumer involvement at every stage of the innovation process. “Unilever employees like to say, ‘We are consumers,’ ” Dr. Weegels said, “but Unilever employees are not representative of Unilever’s customers.”
All innovation concepts are subject to a rigorous structured process. “We look at which [food product] attributes matter to consumers; what are the preferred attribute levels; what differences are noticed by consumers; and finally what do consumers really prefer. So, for example, research might show that consumers like ‘creaminess’ but is that enough information to base a new product on? To succeed, you have to understand what consumers mean by creaminess; learn what exactly they believe constitutes creaminess; discover what level of creaminess they think is appropriate; and finally what other attributes they are willing and unwilling to trade out for creaminess.”
Why do so many new product introductions fail?
Dr. Weegels has some theories. “Many manufacturers think in terms of make and sell rather than in terms of sense and respond,” she said. “Also, new products are sometimes attached to low profile brand carrier systems. And, often manufacturers with low risk orientation will find themselves being the third or fourth market entry.”
“Sense and respond manufacturing,” she continued, “begins by focusing on what consumers really need and not on what the organization wants to provide.” She added there is a place for the make and sell orientation, which often explores new materials and new technologies, to see if they can be exploited for new product ideas. But, she said, the make and sell approach must be balanced against the sense and respond model. “Successful consumer-centered innovation concepts are based on valid consumer insights; tied to powerful brands; hit the market first; and market based on value, not price,” she said.
What constitutes a “valid consumer insight?” These, she said, are insights that are “fresh and unexpected” and offer manufacturers an “outside-in perspective.”
Moderator’s Comment: How prevalent is the “make and sell” approach to new product development versus the “sense and respond” path? How does this factor
into both primary brand and private label development? – Ryan Mathews