7 techniques to try when you’re trying to innovate consumer products and you’re stuck

The new-product development process begins with a search for new ideas. These ideas can be improvements to existing products or entirely new products that have not been in the consumer market before.

Here are 7 techniques to try when you’re stuck. I’ll bet you tried some of them before but never knew they actually had a scientific name. They do and here they are:

In Attribute Listing, you would first list the attributes of an item or product upon which you are trying to improve. Next, you explore modifications to these attributes. For example, if the item is a door knob, you might substitute a modification such as handle instead of the knob, an electronic keypad instead of a keyed-lock, or the color blue instead of gold. You can then test of these attributes to see if you have arrived at a new product, an incremental improvement or change that might launch a new product line or extension, or an entirely new concept.

In Forced relationships, you would list several ideas or items and consider them in relationship to each other. The items themselves need to revolve around a central theme or suite of products. By “forcing” them to relate, you may develop new products. For example, in many homes you would expect to find a television, a computer, and possibly a gaming machine such as a PlayStation or X-Box. By taking these separate products, and forcing them together, you might have developed the “Connected TV” that combines the attributes of each of these items into one device.

In Morphological analysis, you work backwards from the previous two techniques. Instead of starting with existing products, you start with a consumer problem and then try to find the solution. It may be a new problem you’ve defined or it may be an existing problem. Auto manufacturers may have looked at the rising prices of fuel and consumer desires to conserve energy and defined the problem as a car that is too expensive to operate and put too many hydrocarbons into the atmosphere. In examining various ways to solve the problem, they developed hybrid technologies which use both carbon-based fuels and electric batteries to drive the cars’ engines. In this example, they reduced fuel costs, increased gas mileage, and made cars greener.

Reverse assumption analysis takes the opposite of assumptions to see if there’s a new way of doing business, creating, or marketing product. For example, successful restaurants have dozens (even hundreds) of menu items, wait staff, and high-touch business models. While there are very good reasons to run the business this way, there are also built-in costs, including staffing, recruiting, and training. There’s also a sizable investment on food items that may or may not be utilized before going bad. Looking at the opposite approach would mean examining the opportunities of a limited menu, counter service instead of table service, and lower-touch models. This approach may have spawned a whole different type of quick-serve restaurants. In-and-Out Burger, Five Guys Burgers, and Wing Stop have an exceptionally limited menu — as few as a dozen or so items— and no wait staff.

New contexts involve taking a familiar process and positioning them in a new context. An example might be fast food restaurants that have, for years, used drive-through intercom systems to process orders faster so that the preparation can begin before the customer gets to the window to pay, the separation of pay window and product-delivery window, or the newest practice some fast food restaurants employ: putting an employee with a wireless order tablet right at the intercom to speed people through the line even faster during peak demand times.

Or the idea of putting kiosks at tables to pay for your meal instead of having to wait for the server to bring you the bill (and don’t we all hate that wait when we’re done eating and we… just… want… to… leave).

Mind mapping is like stringing together words in a word association game to come at new ideas. An example might start with the word car, which would lead you to think of BMW, which would cause the mental jump to German engineering. Doing this with all the associations that come up with each word may generate a new idea.

Another approach is what’s called Lateral Marketing. Lateral marketing can be as simple as combining two ideas or products to create a new product offering. An example of this might be taking calendar + phone to come up with a calendar app on your phone.

Philip Kotler and Fernando Trias de Bes also came up with a related way to look at lateral marketing, which includes several specific techniques that may lead to new or better ideas. Here’s an example of how this might work.

Example: Sending roses to your loved one on Valentine’s Day.

1. Substitute it: Send live plants instead of roses

2. Invert it: Send roses every day except Valentine’s Day

3. Combine it: Send roses and a bottle of wine

4. Exaggerate it: Send dozens of roses, or just send one

5. Eliminate it: Don’t send roses on Valentine’s Day

6. Re-Order it: Loved one sends the roses on Valentine’s Day

By using these techniques, and others, organizations can develop new ideas or product improvements.

Once an idea is developed, there is an entirely different process to evaluate, test, and screen the idea. However, it all begins with the idea.

Follow the Author: Paul Dughi


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