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+++ S P E C I A L R E P O R T +++
"New Products Success
FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD: Creative tactics that give you an advantage"
2002 By Phil Glowatz and Jacques Chevron
1 September 2003

Until late in the 18th century, most travelers walked or rode on the left side of roads. This came about because soldiers usually fought with their swords in their right hand, and being on the left side of the road made it easier to engage an enemy. The soldiers demanded all travelers follow suit.

Napoleon changed this practice. To give an edge to his armies, he ordered soldiers and travelers to the right side of the roads. The resulting flow of refugees fleeing on the "wrong" side of the road during conflicts had the effect of slowing down his opponents' armies. And, when enemy patrols were met on the road, there was confusion that Napoleon's men were expecting and prepared for, giving them a tactical advantage.

With marketing, and particularly in new product development, doing things differently can also pay big dividends. Yet, most of those in new products use the same tactics-the same development and research tools-in very similar ways. Ergo, they get similar results, and category after category is filled with products that are not distinguished from one another and lack competitive advantages.

To change this, new product developers should inject creativity into the process, and use their methods and tools in different ways. For example:

BRAINSTORM ANONYMOUSLY. Traditional group brainstorming sessions actually inhibit ideation. Human nature being what it is, some people are shy in a group, while others are reluctant to voice what might be viewed as a "bad" idea. (The mantra of "no bad ideas" is often subverted by the group's non-verbal reactions; some ideas get built on immediately, while others evoke silence.) So, consider brainstorming anonymously using an online "ideation chat room" (each participant is identified only by a code number). This allows all group members to open up and new product ideas to flow freely. There are several software programs available for this.

ENCOURAGE CONSUMERS TO BRING THE PRODUCTS THEY USE TO FOCUS GROUPS. Show and tell works. When consumers can point to the actual products they use as they discuss them, a clearer understanding of attitudes can emerge. In developing eyewear, for example, we had consumers bring in their eyeglasses- most had several or more current pairs-and explain the usage occasions for each one. This helped us understand more sharply the potential (and limitations) for premium eyewear concepts. We've done the same with a range of consumer products.

EXPLORE A BENEFIT THAT IS THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT SHOULD WORK. Throwing an outrageous concept into the mix can get consumers talking about your category in different ways. For example, in developing a new deodorant, you might explore a product idea that claims to let some of the body's natural odor come through. For spaghetti sauce, create a concept that promises a smooth texture with absolutely no herbs and spices. These "opposite" concepts can stimulate a focus group discussion and lead to insights that might not otherwise be uncovered.

OBSERVE THE PRODUCT BEING USED. Have the members of the new product team go into homes and watch how consumers actually use a product. Some years ago, we worked on a dishwashing liquid which, as most brands still do, claimed a superior grease-cutting ability: "A few drops are enough!" Accordingly, R & D was hard at work developing formulas where even fewer drops would be needed. Yet, during in-home visits, we observed that even the most dedicated product users weren't heeding the "few drops" message, and were squeezing out far more liquid than they really needed. The recommendation to R & D was to focus away from making a more concentrated product.

DO A QUANTITATIVE ANALYSIS OF QUALITATIVE VERBATIMS. Regular focus groups, properly moderated, are a powerful tool already. But, analyzing them with a little creativity can lead to even more golden insights. One very effective technique is a computerized method called verbatim mapping (VerMap), that analyzes the transcripts of group discussions. Also known as "Self-Organizing Artificial Neural Network Analysis," it evidences words that are juxtaposed frequently, as well as those that show negative associations (i.e., when a particular word appears, others never do). These word/concept relationships can be subjected to sophisticated statistical analyses-e.g., cluster analysis-to provide insights that might otherwise remain hidden.

Of course, there are numerous other creative twists possible. The key lies in searching for ways to customize your research tools-by looking at possibilities on the "other side of the road"-to uncover the insights your competitors will overlook with traditional methods. You may not conquer the world, but you will surely increase your chances of developing a product with a compelling customer benefit, and a tactical advantage in the marketplace.


Phil Glowatz (718.343.6535) is a qualitative researcher and creative director, and Jacques Chevron (708.784.0730) is a consultant in marketing and branding strategy. Phil and Jacques have created the JP Group to work together on client assignments.

2002 Phil Glowatz and Jacques Chevron

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