Ahead of the Curve or Way Off Track?

Posted by Wasyl Terlecky on Feb 15, 2016


With trends coming at us faster than ever before, how do you get ahead of what consumers will want in the next few years? If you work for a large company with multiple initiative gates to pass and several levels of management that need to sign-off on any new product, it can seem especially tough to prove out a concept that is just on the cusp of consumers’ consciousness.

Take a 70-80% failure rate for new products within their first year of launch, coupled with the pressure for immediate ROI, and it’s easy to understand why there’s a hesitation to take a risk on a truly new product. Meanwhile, small start-ups pop up overnight with bold new ideas grabbing market share and generating buzz. How do you know when you’ve got an idea that’s just ahead of the curve and worth pursuing, versus one that’s a passing fad or a footnote in the initiative graveyard? 

Traditional market research isn’t always forward looking enough.

Five years ago consumers couldn’t tell you that today they’d be taking rides in strangers’ cars (Uber), paying companies to send them samples (Birchbox) or putting kefir and coconut oil in their grocery carts. And if you showed these concept to a rep group of women in a focus group, they’d likely have had a less than encouraging response. So what’s a marketer to do?

> What’s Happening Outside Of Your Category?

Take a good look outside your product category. What societal trends are shaping consumers’ expectations and priorities?  What behaviors are changing? Your idea may be something they’ve never seen before, but if it fits with these larger consumer trends, you’re heading in the right direction. 

Look outside your country too. Just as Korean skin care trends and European focus on non-GMO foods have been influencing what’s happening here at home, you may find that you are onto a global trend that hasn't hit the US yet.

> What are those on the leading edge doing and saying?

Find those small pockets of passionate, leading-edge consumers who are either already using something similar or are prime targets for your idea. 

If they’re using something similar, what are they saying? What do they love about it? If it's a totally new product, give them a prototype to try and watch what happens. How do they use it? What do they love and not love about it? What does it supplement or replace? 

Engage with them in their environment, whether that's in-person in their kitchen, at the store or in a small group with their friends, or virtually through online discussions, videos and journals. Learn what matters to them and the language that they use to describe their experience.

> Get the language right

Eventually, every idea needs to be able to be communicated in a concept or on a package.  The insight needs to connect, the benefit needs to be relevant and meaningful and the reason-to-believe needs to be just that – believable.

Having immersed yourself in the world of your most passionate consumer makes this so much easier to get right, but allow the time to fine tune the message and the language so the idea also carries through to those outside this core group.

From novelty to nutritional powerhouse

Several years ago, SpencerHall worked with a large food manufacturer looking to develop healthy fruit-based snacks to fill its 5 year initiative plan.

One of their scientists had intrigued about the nutritional benefits of chia seeds. Today, chia can be found in cereals, beverages, every kind of snack imaginable. But back then? Chia was nothing more that a novelty “pet” that needed constant watering. But chia fit with the burgeoning “superfoods” trend, health food junkies were mixing it in their smoothies and everyone was looking for new sources of Omega-3s. 

It was exactly the type of ingredient that was on the cusp of breaking into mainstream consciousness. All it needed was a simple explanation of what it was, a compelling articulation of what benefits it offered, and an insight that captured why it all mattered.

So if fermented skin cream, amino-acid beverages or insects as a sustainable source of protein seem like they might make for a great new product concept for your brand, don't be afraid to explore it. Just know that your research plan will have to be as forward looking as your ideas.  

Using SpencerHall’s iterative approach to concept development, we were able to write winning concepts that connected not just with fringe health food fanatics, but with the brand’s core consumers, in a way that allowed them to look at chia in a whole new light.

Lara Kudryk Traska is a creative and strategic marketer, with a focus on consumer understanding, innovation and concept development in the food/beverage, personal care/wellness and fashion/accessories categories. Prior to joining SpencerHall in 2007, Lara led global color innovation and design on the Procter & Gamble cosmetic brands, including the launch of CoverGirl’s Outlast Lip Color, Smoother’s Compact Makeup and the restage and expansion of LipSlicks. She also developed Olay’s color philosophy and led the launch of its lip and nail brands and spearheaded innovation on Vidal Sassoon, where she developed the flexible hold “working spray” concept for P&G’s largest hair spray initiative, launching a new styling product category. Lara has a BA in Economics from the University of Western Ontario and an MBA from Georgetown University.


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