Today's marketers try hard to look for innovative opportunities in their product mix in order to garner a larger market share. The search for that elusive "eureka" of product innovation continues and the target audience is bombarded with new, improved, ultra and often phantom benefits. Most are
old wine in new bottles. These so called innovations are either marginal additions to the product composition or are merely cosmetic changes in its packaging.
Predictably, the customer response to the above is a yawning one and this boredom translates into lukewarm sales response. Typically, the FMCG companies are a party to such frivolous innovation mania where the "new-improved" mantra has been done to death. It no longer arouses the customer interest. Even the consumer durable industry is guilty of masquerading small incremental benefits as tangible USP features. You have flat screen TV being touted as ultra flat, dyna flat and what not.
But for these reasons should innovation be curbed unless any path-breaking technology or formulation comes around? The answer is a definite no. The future road to innovation is to find the missing link between latent customer desire and the product. A study undertaken on consumer desire during my management days still holds out a lot of promise for marketers. The key to innovation is to analyse the customer desire in terms of the product.
Some interesting responses are worth sharing. Out of a sample size of 100 customers who were administered a questionnaire on four product lines - instant noodles, shampoos, toothpaste and liquor - some very interesting findings came out. Apart from mundane questions like preferred brand and volume of usage there was one unique question put in. The respondent was asked to list one wish each that could have been added to the products in question.
There were 40 respondents that desired to have an extra "masala" pack in their favourite instant noodle pack. Out of these, 25 respondents were ready to pay up to Rs. 2 extra for the same. One respondent wanted Maggi (Nestle) to start selling the "masala" pack separately. Can marketers scent a big innovation opportunity here?
The shampoo category responses were equally compelling. 70 respondents thought that sachet usage was more economical as there was less wastage and resulted in better control on usage. But the eye popper was the desire shared by five people that they wanted to use shampoos in the bottle format if the cap is graduated with 5-7 ml attachment contraption wherein each spurt is measured. This would enable them to have total control over the usage. They also cited that storing opened sachets is an issue and mostly the open sachets spill over and result in wastage.
Marketers can use this to promote the higher margin bottle category. Effective price for the consumer in this format is lower in terms of volume to price ratio. Here, the latent consumer desire can easily be mapped to the product and the resulting innovation can be a huge first for the innovating company.
Toothpaste desire list was similar where the consumers wanted a measurement device to be made available on the tube itself. Mothers were especially fed up with children squeezing the tube like mad. Wastage was the primary concern. So, next time we may expect Colgate or Pepsodent to respond to this latent desire.
Liquor responses were a bit cryptic but 10 responses are worth mentioning. These connoisseurs loved their drink but were disappointed with the occasional freebies doled out to them. Normally playing cards, raunchy calendars or wine goblets are the order of the day in this surrogate category. The respondents wanted can openers and bottle openers for beer and graduated pint glasses for wines and whiskies. This would help them know their exact intake or save them the inconvenience of searching for a bottle opener and even using their teeth to uncork the crown caps.
Here, convenience and control are the two innovation opportunities readily available to the spirit marketers.
The innovating company can reap the first mover advantage and moreover can leverage the innovation in many forms of media, not to forget the good word of mouth publicity.
So, long live innovation if connecting with the customer is at the root of that innovation.
The surfer works for a leading telecom company and can be reached at email@example.com.
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