The average couch potato's reaction to breakthrough levels of innovation
is a mental flinch followed by a brain-dead commitment to wait-and-see.
Sooner or later they will buy. If, of course, the product hasn't been
discontinued by move-it-or-lose-it retailers. The wait-and-see phenomenon
has lead marketers to presume it's hopeless to use consumer input
to channel commercial applications of breakthrough technology into appealing
-- and unintimidating -- product configurations. It's a misguided
construct that may single-handedly explain the astronomically high failure
rates of "first-to-launch" ideas that are later successfully commercialized
The procedure is designed to be a window into the future. A way for researchers
and NPD managers to peer into the brave new world of tomorrow and identify
revolutionary new product technologies with mass market appeal. A way
to identify and utilize the input of individuals whose present needs will
become general to the marketplace in the near term future. A need forecasting
laboratory for marketing research and a source of concept and design specifications
to match those needs.
The implications are vaguely Orwellian; managers who can see into the
marketplace of 2004 -- today -- will dominate the world of 2004.
The tool contradicts the niggling suspicion that efforts to use consumer
input/research to develop and test concepts inevitably kill breakthrough
new product innovations. And therefore nothing short of a market intro
can reliably evaluate the commercial potential of new-to-the-world ideas.
It's an erroneous, egotistical and high-risk perception that leaves
many NPD managers flying by the seat of their pants in efforts to guide
the conceptualization of breakthrough technologies. Or evaluate the commercial
potential of the future-forward brainchilds of R&D teams.
Not to fear. It's entirely possible to conceptualize, evaluate and
position breakthrough ideas -- if NPD teams look for guidance from the
portion of the adoption curve that isn't, per se, intimidated by innovation.
Look to the early adopters...emulators...maybe even the early majority;
but skip the stuck-in-a-rut late majors and reactionary laggards. By offering
virtual reality presentations of the product + positioning to innovation-accepting
segments of the population it is possible to map credibility gaps, spot
irrelevant techno-traps or transient gimmicks and identify high leverage
positioning opportunities that will both amplify and accelerate the all-critical
adoption of the early majority.
The tool screens the population into "innovation acceptors" and
"wait-and-see" segments, making it possible to work with a segment
of the population that is not rejecting a new product concept because
it is, per se, new. Then it carefully introduces them to the technology
In efforts to conceptualize commercial applications of breakthrough technology,
the concept team first develops one or more "virtual reality"
presentations of the core technology -- an effort designed to overcome
the credibility issues that even innovation-accepting end-users may harbor
for revolutionary kinds of innovation. It's done by creating technology
prototypes or digital simulations, by citing fictitious "data,"
presenting visual evidence or simulations of performance and by communicating
potential end-benefits of the technology via fully developed product positioning.
Equipped with the "prototype applications" of the core technology
-- real or simulated -- and supported by "user friendly" positionings
it becomes possible to work directly with consumers in qualitative discovery
groups. Typically, the sessions work with two respondents at a time to
map credibility gaps, dodge irrelevant techno-traps or intransient gimmicks.
Recognize functionality and end-benefit utility of the core technology.
And possibly identify commercial applications perceived to offer important
and believable benefits. It is important, however, to recognize the role
of the consumer is that of a critic -- not a creator -- and as such respondents
are primarily reacting to stimuli proposed by the NPD team.
Following NPD team concept ideation efforts -- in which the NPD team formulates
and refines commercial applications prompted by consumer discovery efforts
-- the same "ask the innovation acceptors" principles are employed
to qualitatively screen the newly conceived commercial applications to
a manageable number destined for quantitative evaluation. The effort works
because even though innovators are not equipped to envision truly new
ideas, they can be unbiased in their evaluation of the utility of innovative
new product concepts -- if the benefit is clearly identified and the way-cool
technology is demystified.
The new product applications indicated by screening efforts as best-bet
applications of the new technology -- typically presented in simulated
prototypes supported by "user friendly" positionings -- are developed
for final evaluation. This time quantitative research is used to identify
high purchase intent concepts among "innovation-acceptor" and
"wait-and-see" segments of the population. Ultimately the variance
in purchase intent and demographic/attitudinal composition between pro
and anti-innovation segments is analyzed to determine both the magnitude
and rapidity of real-world acceptance.
The tool developed a new product concept registering the highest top-box
concept test score in Continental Baking's history; the product at
first blush appeared to be an oxymoron -- a hi-tech shelf-stable bread
with an interminably long (18 day) shelf life that consumers ultimately
perceived would be "fresher than bread I bought today." In an
era when ATMs were intimidating concepts, the procedure identified location
sites and physical configurations where Wells Fargo ATMs would and would
not be accepted -- spotting the potential for ATM outlets in supermarkets
long before the idea was commercialized. Identified "best-bet"
features & and benefits options for McKesson's Value-Rite consumer
prescription drug buying service. Identified, commercialized and tested
-- in simulated market conditions -- the potential for US Leasing's
direct market PC lease for small businesses.
The tool has application for refining, evaluating and commercializing
virtually all of the breakthrough ideas generated by Leading Edge Influentials
(see Concepting On The Leading Edge).
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