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Product Development; Learning from Failures to Make Better Products

Google product development - how failure makes for fitter products.

Even Apple, one of the world’s most successful companies, visionary, secretive, allegedly antipathetic to research, fails occasionally. Witness poor iphone battery performance, speedily reversed software changes and easy-break charging cables.  While following the ‘gut’ sometimes leads to new product development success, success is far from guaranteed.

Equally, following ‘sacred’ product development ‘gate’ processes sometimes fails to guarantee success. This is because gate processes are just that – processes. And processes are ‘a series of actions or steps’ to help management manage risks. Also to prioritise opportunities and avoid wheel reinvention. Thus processes tend to be rigid, inflexible, and less suited to some circumstances, such as rapidly changing markets.

In the 1990s Reader’s Digest was a multi-billion dollar business. Its’ mailings were legendary. Their magazines and books sold in the millions, and if the sales data were published, most products would appear in the best-seller lists. The products and promotions were based on extensive testing, and response rates commonly in double digits. Then in the UK, along came the National Lottery. Almost at a stroke response rates fell, as the attraction of Tom Champagne’s £50,000 Free Prize Draw declined in comparison with the opportunity to win millions on Lotto.

The fact that a substantial proportion of products and services fail rather than succeed suggests there is more to do (1). While failures are set-backs, there is also lots to learn from failure. It helps improve the odds of innovation success.

Instituting feedback loops beats cognitive dissonance

How to anticipate and overcome failure? It is easier to observe and comment with the benefit of hindsight.

While there is much good in health-care, there are also many stories of unfortunate casualties and accidents. In the UK alone, there are nearly 1m reported patient incidents (fatal and non-fatal).  In the US, preventable medical error in hospitals is the 3rd biggest killer. Problems occur mostly when clinicians work diligently and with good intentions. Problems include complexity (WHO lists 12.4k diseases and disorders each requiring different medical protocols), stretched resources and decision making pressures. There are also other reasons, for example, cultural, where communication, assessment and reporting is less than open and honest.  Errors occur where practitioners are so focused on a task at hand that true perspective is lost. Thus compounding issues. Early remedy is sometimes frustrated through fear to speak-out or failure to accept reality – evidenced in a blame or a cover-up mentality (2). So called cognitive dissonance.

Conversely, where the mindset to is to ‘fess up’, document and investigate the reasons for failure, heath-care outcomes rise.

The air industry has the lowest fatality rates of all forms of transport. How is this? Through systematic recording of the reasons for failure and then learning from them. As a result, installation of black-box flight recorders in aircraft is a globally agreed practice. This allows full investigation of the reasons behind any air accident. In turn, black box flight recorders, have inspired protocols covering landing, takeoff, cockpit safety and more.

Product Development

‘Biological’ evolution beats analysis paralysis

A conventional approach to product development is to identify a pain point, or unfulfilled customer need, and then design a better product or service or fill a gap.  When faced with nozzles that ‘clogged’ and halted the washing powder manufacturing process, Unilever put their top mathematicians and fluid experts on the case. After a long study period they came up with a new design. However, the powder produced still blocked the nozzles. Almost in desperation, a team of biologists, with no knowledge of fluid dynamics, were then tasked with solving the problem. They took a very different approach. First to manufacture and then test ten different variants of the nozzle. The winning nozzle was then copied and revised ten times and each retested. Through 45 generations and nearly 450 failures, an outstanding nozzle emerged. In other words, through rapid evolution, scientists learned how to make a better nozzle (2).

Synchronous product development and testing

What about the online world? Take the ubiquitous and multibillion behemoth, Google. Google tests and releases hundreds of millions of lines of code daily. Billions of builds prompt millions of automated tests to run across hundreds of thousands of browser instances daily. Testing is Google’s ‘secret sauce’ and it takes pride in both its development speed and failing on a daily basis.

Google product development

Google’s approach may have shortcomings, but they are willing to publish it and open it to the scrutiny of the international testing community so that it continues to evolve. Everyone who writes code at Google is a tester and responsible for quality. The mantra is “you built it and you break it” i.e. code a little and then test the build.  Then code more and test more. However, while product development and testing go hand in hand, different responsibilities lie with different groups. Beyond development or coding, Google has created roles for engineers (Engineering Productivity) to make other engineers more productive and more quality-minded. Their mission is to avoid re-work and redundant code due to sloppy development.

A development aim is to build a core product and release it once deemed useful to as large a crowd as feasible. And then seek feedback and iterate, rather than ship a large number of features at once. Gmail is a good example; remaining in beta mode for four years to signal that the product was still under-development.

Instead of distinguishing between code, integration, and system testing, Google runs small, medium, and large tests emphasising scope over form.  If a problem doesn’t require human cleverness and intuition, and suits automated testing, then it is. Again during early Google Mail development, 40 user groups of 2.5% experienced different colour shades. Tracking determined the best shade to optimise engagement.

Marketing Inspiration

  1. Adopt a ‘growth mindset’ rather than an ‘ostrich’ (head in the ground) mindset. Engage with, understand and challenge reasons for failure because feedback is the food of champions.
  2. Learn from biologists. Because markets are evolutionary systems, products and services evolve, with the fittest and strongest taking increasing market-share.
  3. Seek marginal gains. Accumulated over time they provide a competitive edge. Whether in product development and delivery or another element of the marketing mix such as promotion.
  4. Avoid unnecessary complexity c.f. ‘wood hidden by trees’.
  5. Encourage and make the most of differences of opinion. No-one has a monopoly on good ideas, and differences in opinion help improve product quality.
  6. Use the right investigative tools and strike the right balance between more qualitative human understanding vs. weight of data.

Do you have a product development challenge? If so check out our marketing consulting services.


(1) According to the Product Development and Management Association (, 2004, 42% of new products failed between 1990 and 2004.

(2) Syed. Matthew, Black Box Thinking – Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance, 2015

(3) Whittaker. James. A, Arbon. Jason, Carolla. Jeff, How Google Tests Software, 2012

The Psychology of Marketing

Psychology of marketing infographic

With just 20 per cent of buying decisions based on pure logic, the psychology of marketing, i.e. the role the mind plays in buying decisions, requires understanding. Psychology is the science of the mind and also behaviour. So whether we realise it or not, emotions and biases frequently influence our buying decisions. According to research, this is the case in around eight out of 10 buying decisions (1).

This ‘Psychology of Marketing’ infographic (2) summarises common biases that influence consumers’ purchasing decisions. These include the status quo bias, the loss aversion bias, and also the in-group bias. By understanding these biases you’ll be better able to devise plans to mitigate them.

Psychology of Marketing infographic

Sam Bowman’s article on the Psychology of Persuasion in Marketing Profs is also worth a read.

Marketing Inspiration

1. A brand name, special offer, and also immediate gratification all enhance sales. Thus understand the psychology of marketing. Take account of cognitive biases to boost sales.

2. Use consumer research to uncover exactly what emotional dimensions will best influence and persuade.

3. The most successful brands comprise rational and emotional dimensions – so build both into your brand positioning.


(1) Damasio, Anthony Descartes’ Error:Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (2005)
(2) Infographic courtesy

Read more about dealing with bias in this article on quantitative research.

Quantitative Research Survey Methods: Comparing Online vs. Telephone vs. Face-to-face

Best in Show Winner Crufts 2015. Comparing Quantitative Research Survey Modes

Comparing Online vs. Telephone vs. Face-to-face Quantitative Research Survey Methods;  Which is top dog?

Quantitative Research Survey Modes, Top Dog at Crufts
Top Dog i.e. Best in Show Winner Crufts 2015

Recent OFCOM Research (1) highlighted that 71% of the UK receive 9 nuisance calls a month. Also that telephone is the #4 culprit. This questions whether this quantitative research survey mode has had its day? But while online has grown in share, is this top dog? We’ve looked closely at the merits of online, telephone (random direct dialing) and face-to-face (ftf).  Several insights emerged. So if you are about to brief in a quantitative research survey, this article summarises our findings. It also spotlights ideas to help you make the most of your research investment.

Cost of research

Costs vary by sample size, ease of reaching an audience or ‘incidence’, the length of survey, mode, and also complexity of fieldwork and analysis. Some costs such as coding for online research, computer aided telephone interviewing (CATI) and computer assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) are similar. Compared with online (index =100) fieldwork costs are typically higher for face-to-face (index 250-300) than telephone (index 250-300) due to the greater human time involved.

Coverage or reach

Online presently reaches 87% of the UK (1) though many online surveys run via panels which cover just 5% of the population. Thus sample carefully to cover geographic gaps and bear in mind that respondents are also usually more ‘Internet experienced’. Conversely, nearly all homes have access to at least one phone though telephone databases cover just 60% UK (and we suspect even fewer are opted-in to research). Within this fixed line telephone reaches 79% (with greater penetration among older respondents) and mobiles reach 96% (with greater penetration of younger respondents) (1).  Face-to-face also reaches most places (though at a cost).

UK penetration of quantitative research survey modes 2019 graph
UK penetration of quantitative research survey modes – 2019

Response rates

Online response depends on the nature of the panel, and how responsive and interested respondents are; expect between 5-30%. Conversely, response from links on websites or emails depend on the nature of the source. Telephone responses have also fallen over the last decade and responses are now around 10-15%. Face-to-face response, by contrast, is around 15-20%.

Avidy bias (Sample bias)

The self-selection nature of online means there is a greater risk of respondents opting-in to surveys that interest them. This is called avidy bias. Typically online respondents are younger, more familiar with the online world and spend more time on it. They are also more informed, more opinionated and more politically activist. (2) Panels also contain more early technology adopters though it remains possible to discern other types on the diffusion of innovation spectrum.

Social desirability bias

Research (3, 4) observes that those responding by telephone present more socially desirable responses more often than face-to-face (FTF). This is particularly the case with those with lower intellectual ability/fewer years of formal education (i.e. C2DEs).  Research also shows that respondents are more comfortable discussing sensitive subjects face-to-face as they can see. This they have greater trust in the interviewer. Conversely, FTF interviews conducted in the respondent’s home eliminate anonymity, making socially desirable responses more pronounced. Overall however, interpersonal trust between the interviewer and the respondent has a greater influence resulting in more honest responses. FTF also shows similar results to online (where there is no interviewer effect). However some research (5) has observed higher valuation responses to some ‘willingness to pay’ questions. For example, when there is a perceived ‘civic virtue’ in being seen to contribute to a common good.


Satisficing (combining the words satisfy and sacrifice) involves short-cutting the response process, settling on a solution that is ‘good enough’ but could be ‘optimised’.

Telephone poses an increased cognitive burden. The increased difficulty to fully comprehend questions, reduces the effort to cooperate, search the memory and process information. Perceived time pressure also fatigues and demotivates. As a result, questions are less considered, giving rise to higher acquiescence (answering affirmatively regardless of the question), having no opinions, choosing mid-points or only extremes in rating scales, easier to defend answers and reduced disclosure. Again this is more evident with those with lower intellectual ability.  Further research (3, 4, 5) suggests FTF researchers are better able to judge confusion, waning motivation, distraction (via watching a tv, eating etc.), Thus also be better able motivate and make it easier for the respondent to understand questions and improve cooperation on complex tasks. Conversely, with online, respondents go at their own pace.

Marketing Inspiration

(1) Great research starts with a great market research brief. Decide your target and what’s most important. Beyond feasibility and answers to questions, what’s the relative importance of cost, speed, precision etc.

(2) There are many pitfalls in conducting quantitative research. Even more if you would like to repeat a survey or set up a tracker.  So use larger samples to give greater reliability; a sample in excess of 1000 will give more reliability than a sample of 500. This means that repeating a survey 100 times means that in 95 instances, responses (confidence interval) will be within +/- 1%. Also make sure data is comparable from wave to wave, and design shorter surveys to cut the risk of satisficing.

(3) Take care to make sure samples are not biased and give reliable findings. Nationally representative samples are essential to measure awareness, usage and market share. Also make sure your sample eliminates any demographic, subject affinity, usage or other bias.

(4) Buyer beware. Remember the Whiskas advert that famously told us that ‘8 out of 10 cats prefer Whiskas’. This was eventually changed to ‘8 out of 10 owners that expressed a preference said their cats preferred Whiskas’. However, what we still don’t know is the sample size, how many said ‘don’t know’, and how many expressed a preference. So whatever the survey mode, be clear what is statistically significant or merely directional, and make the context clear. This will help you avoid being duped and make better decisions! Meoww, yum!


(1) OFCOM (2019).

(2) Duffy Bobby, Smith Kate, Terhanian George, Bremer John. Comparing Data from Online and Face-to-face Surveys. International Journal of Market Research Vol 47 Issue 6. (2005)

(3) Holbrook Allyson L, Green Melanie C, Krosnick Jon A. Telephone versus Face-to-face interviewing of National Probability Samples with Long Questionnaires. Public Opinion Quarterly, Volume 67:79–125 (2003).

(4) Szolnoki G, Hoffman D. Online, face-to-face and telephone surveys – Comparing different sampling methods in wine consumer research. Wine Economics and Policy 2 (2013) 57-66.

(5) Lindhjema Henrik, Navrudb Ståle. Are Internet surveys an alternative to face-to-face interviews in contingent valuation? Ecological Economics 70(9): 1628-1637 (2011).

The Marketing Directors and The Market Researchers have no vested interest in promoting one quantitative research survey mode over another. Thus, we work in partnership with the world’s leading online, telephone and face-to-face fieldwork companies to deliver the best solution for you.  Read about all of our market research services.

The Effect of ‘Labelling’ on Customer Behaviour

Qualitative vs. quantitative research | Food tasting research

What is the labelling effect?

The labelling effect, recently discovered by behavioural economists, gives marketers another weapon in their arsenal of influencing techniques. This short piece introduces the labelling effect and also explains how marketers can use this technique to influence customers’ choice of products.

Even small labelled promotions (vouchers to spend on certain items) shift spending patterns disproportionately. Tesco, Sainsbury’s and even the Government have used the labelling effect to alter behaviour.

Small promotions do not force customers to change their spending patterns because they can easily rearrange their budget. However, small promotions do affect which items are purchased. Thus marketers can target small promotions at highly profitable items to encourage customers to spend more on those items.

A promotion is ‘non-distortionary’ if the customer would have spent more than the value of the promotion on the targeted product anyway. The labelling effect occurs when consumers react to these promotions by spending more on the targeted item. Here are three examples:

Example 1: Retail

A recent study gave customers at a restaurant an €8 voucher (1). Vouchers could be spent on beverages (the ‘labelled’ voucher) or food or beverages (the ‘unlabelled’ voucher). As customers usually spend at least €8 on beverages the gift is non-distortionary: customers could rearrange their money to spend the same amount of money. However, customers who received the labelled voucher actually spent on average €3.90 more on beverages than those with the unlabelled voucher.

Interestingly, the most common behaviour was to spend the voucher on the targeted good. Additionally, those with lower non-verbal cognitive ability were more likely to respond to the label. Non-verbal cognitive ability involves problem solving skills and mathematical ability as opposed to language skills.

Example 2: FMCG

Supermarkets are also starting to use labelled vouchers to nudge customers towards more profitable goods.

Tesco promotion

Here Tesco is offering a 20p discount on top range lettuces. Clearly, the label means that customers are more likely to buy one more top range lettuce than if the voucher could be used on any item.

Sainsbury's promotion

Here Sainsbury’s is using a small promotion to nudge consumers towards bakery items. The labelling effect means that this 40p discount will disproportionately increase spending on bakery items.

Example 3: Government payments

The Government also uses the labelling effect on benefits such as the ‘Winter Fuel Payment’ (WFP). Currently, pensioners spend on average 41% of the WFP on fuel. However, if named ‘The Annual Allowance’ they would only spend 3% of it on fuel (2).

What causes the labelling effect?

There are three potential causes of the labelling effect: narrow bracketing, mental accounting and reciprocity.

Narrow bracketing  

This is the process whereby people split one decision into separate parts and then consider each part in turn (3). For example, people may decide to spend their budget on food, beverages or both.  If their usual budget decision were totally unaffected by say an 8 Euro voucher then, then all would be spent on the targeted good.

There are four possible causes of narrow bracketing. Firstly, customer’s cognitive limitations. Secondly, cognitive inertia (it simplifies decisions). Thirdly, by applying previous value judgements or ‘rules of thumb’ to spending behaviour, such as ‘always spending at least £10 on a bottle of wine’. This could cause customers to see the wine cost as separate to the rest of the cost of the meal. Fourthly, through deliberate or conscious action to control or check expenditure, perhaps as a New Year health or budget resolution.

Mental accounting

This is a form of narrow bracketing whereby people divide their expenditure, wealth and income into different ‘mental accounts’ (4). These mental accounts represent narrow brackets. For example, a restaurant patron may have two separate dining budgets in his or her mind; a food budget and also a beverage budget. The unlabelled voucher could therefore be split between either account, while the labelled voucher may only be added to the beverage budget. Once allocated to an account, money is not easily shifted as the label given to the gift affects spending.

Furthermore, the tighter the customer’s budget, the more strictly mental accounts are enforced.  So the labelling effect has greater impact on the less wealthy.

Feelings of reciprocity

These may cause customers to respond in a way they think is helpful to the gift-giver. Customers may see a promotion as a gift and reciprocate by spending more of the gift on the targeted good. Reciprocity does not cause the labelling effect on vouchers, but it may do for Government payments.

Is the labelling effect transparent?

In the context of retail vouchers, most people are aware of the labelling effect per se but fewer are aware of its real impact (5). Awareness of the labelling effect is driven by non-verbal cognitive ability and age. The use of labels is less obvious to younger people with lower cognitive ability. Conversely, those more likely to respond are less likely to know about it.

Marketing Inspiration

1. Labels change behaviour so target promotions such as vouchers to increase spend on more profitable goods. Do not assume your customers will rearrange their money, even with small promotions. So if your customer spends £10 on books and £10 on (more profitable) DVDs, a £5 gift can significantly change  spending balance. Evidence suggests labelling the voucher for DVDs would cause customers to spend £2.50 more on DVDs than they would with an unlabelled voucher.

2. Nudge your customers into narrow bracketing by creating new product divisions in categories and markets. If some DVDs are more profitable than others, then divide them into groups by age or genre.

3. Use the labelling effect to make the most of loyalty scheme promotions. Perhaps by making reward points worth more on certain products, or by allocating reward points to different ‘accounts’ to spend on different products.

4. Use behavioural economics to uncover new insights and optimise your promotions. Small promotions and labelling or small changes in copy can change spending patterns. Schedule research, such as quali-quant tests or hall tests to understand the causes and effects.


(1) Abeler, J. & F. Marklein (2013), ‘Fungibility, Labels, and Consumption’, Working Paper. First published May 2008 as IZA Discussion Paper No. 3500.
(2) Beatty, T., Blow, L., Crossley, T. & C. O’Dea (2011), ‘Cash by any other name? Evidence on labelling from the UK Winter Fuel Payment’, Institute for Fiscal Studies Discussion Paper.
(3) Read, D., Loewenstein, G. & M. Rabin, (1999) ‘Choice Bracketing’, Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 19(1–3), p.171–97.
(4) Thaler, R. H. (1999), ‘Mental accounting matters’, Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 12, p.183-206.
(5) Hogg, T. (2013) ‘Fungibility: Are People Aware of Non-Fungibility?’, MSc Dissertation at The University of Nottingham. Available on request.

Traditional vs Digital Research Methods; Cut Through the Myths to Learn More

Online customer research

The advent of digital media has inspired many new forms of customer research which businesses are embracing with a passion.  We have also witnessed marketers foregoing more traditional research approaches, primarily to save money and time. However, there are lots of myths and misconceptions regarding digital methods. As one mobile phone marketer commented “let’s say we don’t wholly buy into the claims being made about online”. So what are the facts and considerations when choosing between traditional vs digital research methods? New doesn’t necessarily mean better …. or does it?

Some social media websites
Some social media websites

Traditional research methods

More traditional research forms involve either face-to-face contact or verbal conversations in real-time such as;

  • Qualitative focus groups or group discussions; enable topic discussion, exploration and idea generation, building and challenging. For example, recruiting respondents with differing views to ‘conflict groups’ in order to challenge beliefs and also understand and uncover ways to overcome possible prejudices.
  • Depth interviews – face-to-face or telephone; enable in-depth understanding of people, who they are, their attitudes, beliefs and also motivations. Also suited to more confidential and sensitive topics e.g. healthcare, business-to-business.
  • Accompanied shops – in a real-life shopping environment to understand real-life shopping motivations and behaviour.
  • Ethnography – observing people in specific settings or environments. For example, a professional in their work place; useful to see true context, influences and behaviour, that may be unconscious and not reported.
  • Intercepts – stopping people in the street or other ‘out of home locations’; useful for gaining high-level/fast insights, to understand motivations and quantify preferences, such as, assessing reaction to products or brands in ‘out-of-home’ eating experiences.
Face-to-face or traditional qualitative research discussion
Face-to face qualitative research

Traditional research pros and cons

Traditional face-to-face or telephone approaches enable the moderator to go with the natural flow of the discussion, and thus better understand what’s important to interviewees. Also to flex the discussion, intervene, probe or challenge at any time.

In addition, findings or interpretations are based on respondent comments and non-verbal indicators such as facial expressions, body language, behaviour and voice intonation. Albert H. Mehrabian found that body language accounts for 55%, tone of voice (38%) while words only just 7% of received communication (1). This non-verbal communication therefore provides extra richness and texture to information and gives deeper insight. What is not said is often as revealing as what is said.

However traditional research approaches take up more time and cost. Sometimes they also need more time to set up. For example recruiting a very specific sample, such as frequent rail and air travellers with experience of mobile applications could easily take a couple of weeks.

New digital research methods

The massive growth in general internet and social media, enables marketers and researchers to communicate with their consumers digitally, and also better understand the changing digital world.  New digital functionality such as wikis, video filming and uploading and messaging also provides researchers with a new means of customer communication, and new means of capturing information. This therefore helps researchers and customers work together and co-create ideas.

New digital technology allows new digital research encounters

  • Skype, Microsoft Teams, Whats App, Facetime, Google Meet and now Zoom – provide new remote video interviewing possibilities. Thus allowing the moderator to hear and see the interviewee, while ‘social distancing’.
  • Wearables – like Google glasses provide real-time or recorded/edited insights through the eyes of consumers.

New online research methods

  • Online surveys – respondents are posed a series of questions online. Typically having followed or been emailed a link. These are now well established in high internet penetration Western markets. This therefore enables rapid, cost-effective, multi-country research.
  • Online focus groups – real-time online discussions over a set period e.g. 2 hours (so-called synchronous research); useful to reach remote/difficult to find respondents.
  • Online communities – respondents join a community and are set topics to discuss and questions to answer, interacting with each other and the moderator.  Useful for gauging reactions to communications and products, building ideas, and also ‘pressure testing’ plans.
  • Bulletin boards – password protected forum, accessed via a browser, where respondents login at any time and respond to moderator led discussion. These usually last 3 to 6 days (so-called asynchronous research);  useful for product placement, assessing first and later impressions/experiences. Also engaging the digitally savvy and exploring the digital world, and developing ideas.
  • Insight platforms – there are a growing range of multi-function platforms; at our last count, over 700. Some include focus group hosting with inbuilt transcription functions, plus software to ask questions, and upload and assess images, video and other files. With several websites dedicated to listing such software provides a glimpse into the burgeoning nature of the industry.
  • AI – there are a growing range of tools that help researchers to devise questions, summarise information and use Internet know-how to postulate lists of needs, and potential customer segments. However, AI also does not have innate contextual knowledge like researchers do and is unable to design research that is fair, objective and empowering. Further, the nature of the underlying data limits the revelation of quantitative substance and ‘new’ insights.

New social media functions

  • Social media sites e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram – useful for online and offline recruitment, dipstick research. Also to gain anecdotes, perhaps at the start of a new product development process.
  • Social media analytics or social media listening software – such as to assess national sentiments, for example, via ‘big data’ analysis of tweets etc. It also possible to analyse emotional response from emojis. In November 2016, social media analytics correctly predicted the outcome of the US Presidential election in contrast to the national polls.

Digital technology also spurs new analysis methods

  • Facial recognition – uses software that’s more discerning than the human eye to determine emotional engagement (such as happiness, fear, surprise) with tv advertising, TV programmes or films. Enables better film editing and story-telling.
Online qualitative vs quantitative research

Digital research pros and cons

Some groups have particular affinity with the digital world and are thus easier to engage e.g. kids/youth market. The anonymity of the online world also encourages participation and openness.  Early technology adopters are particularly useful to pressure-test new ideas and anticipate the future.

Some digital media offer an almost ‘instant’ sample. For example, polls on Facebook, Twitter or blogs. However, a high-number of engaged followers are needed to generate fast and cost-effective insights.

The growing range and extent of online communication, for example via smartphones, make it easier to reach a wide geographic target. Thus avoiding travel and sometimes communication costs. In-built cameras also make it easier to collect audio and visual insights.

More complex technology, such as that involved in online qualitative research is a little more difficult to master. So allow time for set-up, to help respondents, as well as to conduct and analyse research. This means it is sometimes more costly than face-to-face discussions.

Online moderation is also more difficult. The process is often more linear and mechanical limiting ability to pursue all avenues of exploration. There are also visual limitations. Zoomed in head shots or screen size room views, make it difficult to see the big picture, and thus non-verbal responses. Qualitative responses also vary between the superficial and detailed. Initial superficial responses require more probing. Conversely, unduly verbose responses, especially if written, take time to follow and interpret.

Summary of traditional vs digital research pros and cons

Traditional vs digital market research methods
Traditional vs digital market research pros and cons


Digital methods complement traditional methods and vice versa. Digital tools also help automate research activities, for example, making some activities, such as recruitment, and quantitative fieldwork, cheaper and quicker.  In particular, online is a fast and cost-effective way to recruit respondents for traditional qualitative research. It ensures broader reach, and helps mitigate against serial groupies.

However, there will always be a need for a moderator, to ease the journey of discovery and dig into the detail. Online moderation is just more difficult. Witness any radio let alone text discussion.

Online preplanning also needs to be more exacting to make sure respondents are capable of accessing and using systems. And this has a time-cost.

Technology can also fail. As a result, some online qualitative approaches advocate running research with two people. One to manage the IT systems, and another to moderate the discussion.

Whichever method is used there is a need for human management and analysis. Particularly for qualitative, where online costs can be higher than face-to-face.

The nature of the social media, also means there is more and more data available for analysis.  Analysis of social media big data has shown more accurate insights than conventional polls, such as on the outcomes of election results.

New hybrids that cross the lines of traditional and digital media offer the advantages of both worlds. For example, Skype and Zoom are a boon for conducting remote face-to-face interviews and thus see and hear respondents.

Marketing Inspiration

  1. Digital media is a welcome addition to the market research tool-box.  It creates new ways to conduct research. So rather than see traditional vs digital research methods as competitive view them as complementary. However, remember the merits of face-to-face research. Those with long memories may recall the hype surrounding internet businesses in the late 1990s, and belief that these required a new way of thinking. They didn’t. Those that failed simply forgot basic marketing principles. As Simon Carter said recently, “Marketers are becoming lazy by over-using social media and ignoring the skills and disciplines traditionally learned by marketers” (2).
  2. The start-points for choosing any research method are your objectives and needs. Then shop around and fully assess the pros and cons of each option to decide the best.
  3. Best practice marketing requires a true understanding of customers and not technology. As Daryl Fielding, European Marketing Chief , Kraft Foods said recently,  “Marketers must remember they are talking to people”(3). There is a danger of technology getting in the way of understanding. Also, and perhaps ironically to digital advocates, ethnography helps understand how consumers use digital media!
  4. Yet, try experimenting. If you don’t test new things out, you won’t learn. So just make sure it is not at the cost of, or detriment to, achieving your aims.

If you have or are aware of any new digital research methods or arguments to sway the traditional vs digital research debate please let us know.


(1)      Mehrabian Albert H, Silent Messages; Implicit Communication of  Emotions and Attitudes 2nd edition 1981

(2)      Carter Simon, Managing Director, Fujitsu ‘Back to basics’ Marketing Week & Research Live April 2011

(3)      O’Reilly Lara ‘A blinkered digital vision makes marketers forget the customer’ Marketing Week 21 Oct 2011

Communication Strategy; Succeed by Understanding the Customer Journey

The customer journey and relationship ladder

With 96% UK households having internet access in 2020 (1), the ability to buy food, clothes, music, films, sports equipment, holidays, cars etc. has never been easier. Shopping no longer takes place just in the High Street but anywhere, anytime. So what is the impact on how customers shop generally and what does this mean for businesses and brands?

Customers are becoming more mobile and tech savvy

More UK customers shop online compared with other major countries.  Eight in ten (79%) internet users said they ordered goods or services on-line in 2010 (2). They also spent more time on retail sites; an average of 84 minutes in January 2011 compared with 20 minutes for Italy and Poland (2).

Mobile phones are also changing shopping behaviour with significant growth in those connecting to the internet via their mobile phone.  Further smartphone ownership nearly doubled in the UK between February 2010 and August 2011 from 24% to 46% and nearly half used their phone to go online in October 2011 (2).

The use of wi-fi hotspots increased seven-fold from 2007 to 4.9 million in 2011 as has watching TV online with over 27% of UK internet users watching TV online every week (2).

New opportunities and threats

Changes in customer behaviour present new opportunities and threats to ‘bricks and mortar’ and ‘clicks and mortar’ businesses and (r)etailers.

  • As customers shop both in-store and online, there are increasingly complex and overlapping behaviour Thus marketers must understand them.
  • Customers are increasingly multi-tasking; browsing online channels, while doing other tasks, such as watching tv, drinking coffee, and even when browsing the shelves. Thus online communication must complement or enhance the brand experience. It must inform and entertain, not just act as a functional route to purchase.
  • QR code (quick response) and phone apps such as Google Goggles enable customers to find out more about products. Applications even translate languages. Thus product packaging must compete within the visual noise of the category, work harder on a computer screen, and thus make buying easy.
  • Phone applications that use global positioning satellite technology (GPS), such as Foursquare, and O2 Media/Rewards present new High Street promotion opportunities. They allow marketers to target consumers ‘on the go’. Such as, by sending a timely text message when they near a shop.
  • The growth of comparison websites and functions such as Amazon (reviews and star ratings), Facebook (likes), Ciao (user reviews and prices) and TripAdvisor (reviews and ratings) are increasingly influential. Positive reviews, or ‘likes’ are valued by Google as well as prospective purchasers.
Abercrombie and Fitch
Daughters with the male model at Abercrombie and Fitch
  • Mobile phone recording and camera applications allow experiences and ideas to be recorded and shared with friends. These help seek feedback on a prospective purchase (‘what do you think my new dress, mum?’), enhance a brand experience (for example, taking photographs with the hunky model at Abercrombie and Fitch). They also enable promotion and endorsement via tweets, Instagram et al.

Why understand the customer journey?

Understanding the sequence, nature, and importance of the steps in the customer’s journey allows marketers to what influence’s awareness and sales of a particular service or product. In turn how to promote it and where and how to add value. The traditional view of the customer journey is as a linear series of steps, as espoused by Lavidge and Steiner (3) et al.

The customer journey
The customer journey

Though this is less relevant in the online world. With the proliferation of online media, the customer journey is becoming non-linear; a more random, looping, stepping stone process.  Customers use online to aid shopping decisions as well as buy.  Increasingly from the comfort of their own home, desk or even bus! Retail is used to see and touch.  Customers jump to and fro on their journey, reflecting, comparing and considering. They also jump from online to retail and back before finally buying.

The online customer journey
The customer journey (non-linear)

Many factors influence if, how and when they buy, as well as their relationship with, and propensity to endorse a brand.  Online media, specifically fact-finding tools and ratings on Amazon, ebay, Twitter and Facebook et al, play an increasing role.

Marketing Inspiration

  1. Don’t underestimate the speed and impact digital media is having on all markets. New technology provides a host of new communication opportunities. These change the way that customers become aware of products, and are also influenced, and persuaded to buy.
  2. Marketers need to stay one step ahead by using creative qualitative research to understand the offline and online customer journey. Also the relationships between the two. This will then provide a foundation for a coherent marketing communication strategy, with a persuasive message, and also appropriate media to assuage customers to .
  3. View the whole customer journey as a relationship ladder. Your aim is to attract a prospect, build a relationship with them and ultimately encourage advocacy of your brand.


(1)   Office for National Statistics, Internet access – households and individuals, February 2020

(2)   OFCOM, Sixth International Communications Market Report, December 2011

(3)   Lavidge Robert J and Steiner Gary A A Model of Predictive Measurements of Advertising Effectiveness: Journal of Marketing, vol. 25, no 6, 1961.

Halloween Marketing; How to Grab a Slice of the Halloween Market Pie!

The marketing of Halloween | Trick or Treat Street - Asda 2012
Halloween pumpkin
Halloween pumpkin

Researching the Halloween market we discovered the market is not as shocking as it might first seem. While the tradition of Halloween originated on this side of the pond, the United States commercialised the event. As a result Halloween is now the third highest revenue producing US event, representing around £4 billion pounds a year.

Halloween market statistics

This equates to a mean household spend of £34 (1). Further, the UK Halloween market was worth a modest £310m (2011), with average UK household spend at just one-third of our US cousins. Yet the UK market has grown at twice the rate of the US since 2005 (1). So what market and product development lessons can we learn in order to grab a slice of the market pie?

USA vs. UK Halloween market 2005 to 2011
USA vs. UK Halloween Household Spend 2005 to 2011

Understanding the cultural context and origin of Halloween, different consumers, their needs, drivers and attitudes to Halloween, and the range and nature of Halloween offers and promotions around the world reveals new market and product development opportunities.

What is Halloween?

Halloween is an abbreviation of All Hallows Even, the night before All Hallows Day (All Saints Day). It started out as the Celtic celebration of  Samhain when the Celts believed that the border between this world and the ‘other world’ became thin and allowed spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. All Saints Day was founded by Pope Gregory III (690-784) to remember saints and those that died. It is recognised globally as a time to honour ancestors and departed souls. In addition, wearing costumes and masks originated as a custom to copy or placate evil spirits. Begging for food also dates from the Middle Ages when the poor went door-to-door, seeking food in return for prayers for the dead. So called ‘souling’.

Growing popularity of Halloween

Awareness and interest in Halloween is fueled by popular culture, such as Hollywood movies, The Hollow and Halloween, and cultural crossovers such as Stephanie Meyers’s Twilight – driving interest in the ‘undead’ amongst teen girls and middle-aged mums.

US corporations including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Disney and Wal-Mart embrace Halloween as their own. Making it more appealing and accessible to customers. They built Halloween into an event to fill the relatively ‘dead’ period between the Summer and Christmas.  In the UK, Asda Wal-Mart developed the Halloween market and remains market leader with around a 50% market share. Asda’s Halloween event runs for 6 weeks from late September. Much of their merchandise is also ‘own-brand’.

So how can you grab a slice of the growing Halloween market pie?

Trick or Treat Street - Asda 2012
Trick or Treat Street | Asda Halloween retail merchandising in 2012

Understand traditional needs and reveal new needs to inspire ideas

Consumers include both adults and children. Both seek a Halloween emotional experience. Beyond the traditional activities like carving pumpkins or turnips, and apple bobbing, needs include a ‘scary’ experience and to ‘trick or treat’ friends and neighbours. Also to socialise, look cool, be a good host, and of course, entertain. Adults seek gifts to satisfy trick or treaters, items for children’s and their own parties, or a day or night out. Children seek fun ways to spend their pocket-money.

Halloween consumer needs and drivers

Uncovering, defining and delineating needs, reveals new product opportunities. From confectionery, food and drink, scary stuff to entertainment, games, dressing-up gear and make-up – to go with the pumpkins, skeletons, turnips, and party fare.

Understanding and building on the rituals, such as pumpkin and turnip carving sparks needs for design inspiration, cutters, carving kits, tea lights and other decorative or special effects.

Trick o’treating, prompts needs for mixed bags of sweets. An area increasingly served, for example, by Swizzels Scary Mix, Cadbury Screme Eggs, Haribo and more. Thinking about combining needs, accentuating the emotional experience, stimulating or depriving the senses,  inspires more product ideas. For example, the sense of touch can add intrigue, shock or surprise to the sweet selection process. Using sound, light, colour or special effects adds decorative drama to a room or walk up a garden path.

Emotional and self-image needs such as socialising and looking cool are increasingly important. This is evidenced in, and suggests demand for products for sharing/making together. Also having a laugh, surprising and bonding to more dramatic make-over solutions. Thinking about the broad range of markets where needs could be fulfilled, such as food and drink, games, entertainment, mobile telephony prompts more ideas.

Excite and engage by combining ‘fun’ with terror

Being scared is fun, creating an adrenaline rush is like riding a roller-coaster. Most retail displays incorporate colours and symbols associated with the harvest (orange, pumpkins) or death (black, skeletons, bats). Adding more vibrant colours tones down the scary nature of the offer while providing a cultural signpost inviting people to explore the Halloween aisle. For example, greens, yellows and purples are colours that occur in nature, and cuddly ‘full-of-life’ characters. This year’s Asda theme is ‘Party time’ and ‘trick or treating’. While bats and skeletons abound, the aim is to engage and encourage partying rather than frighten away.

Looking overseas to mainland Europe, parts of Asia and Latin America provides further Halloween market insights and product ideas. Auchan in France takes the ‘fun’ a step further by hosting live entertainment – both to attract traffic as well as enhance the brand.

Spooky goings on at Auchan France
Spooky goings on at Auchan, France

Halloween Marketing Inspiration

Successful Halloween marketing and product innovation requires clear understanding of the market, cultural and psychological variables. Using market research or alternatively, a few simple thinking tools helps better understand and interpret what consumers think and feel. And thus better reveal new needs and product opportunities.

Utilising Halloween colours, symbols, artefacts and rituals further helps match deep cultural and emotional needs. Thus stimulating demand, and enabling more inelastic pricing.

The insight and ideation tools applied to understand the Halloween market apply any market, occasion or consumer experience. Try them out and you may even shock yourself ;-).


(1)   The Marketing Directors’ secondary research and analysis based on various trade sources, the ONS and US Bureau of the Census.

Creating Successful Children’s TV Shows: Creative or Marketing Driven?

TV Programme Development | Roy the Badly Drawn Boy

Should writers and illustrators lead tv programme development? Or researchers and marketers who know what sells best in the crazily competitive world of children’s media? According to Simon Cowell, “Research just kills creativity because people lie or they say things they think the person wants to hear, or they over think it”. But is he right? Here’s a summary of the debate at The Children’s Media Conference (1). Moderated by Guy Tomlinson, Managing Director, The Marketing Directors, the session involved John Rice, CEO at Jam Media, Esra Cafer, Vice President Brand Management and Marketing at Chorion Ltd and researcher, Shari Donnenfeld.

Different views on TV programme development

It’s all about serendipity – John Rice, Jam Media

According to John, the ideas behind Jam Media’s successful children’s programmes emerged in different ways. By serendipity – happy accidents!

PICME started out as a multimedia invitation for John’s daughter Rebecca’s two year birthday party. One friend was so enthusiastic about it that he even offered to pay for it.

Roy, the Badly Drawn Boy was created in the opposite way to PICME. The film originated by John’s partner as a parody of his life; as a bitter 28-year-old who couldn’t find work in animation because he was so badly drawn. A CBBC development executive spotted the idea and thought that the fish out of water theme appealing to the CBBC audience. In the tv series the bitter 28-year-old is turned into fun loving everyday boy.

Tilly and Friends evolved from a series of stories by Polly Dunbar. By bringing in a child psychologist the story world expanded from 16 pages to 26 episodes!

Use research to create and support – Shari Donnenfeld, Researcher

Shari argued that research should support the creative process, as the process is complex. There are also lots of fingers in the creative pie, and it is easy for creatives to be removed from a child’s world.

Many creatives think they know kids, yet they are adults, who use razors and drink alcohol. Some are also parents who care for kids. There are however also some creatives who act like kids, but even if they do, they still don’t necessarily know what kids are about.

Children inhabit a different world, a more digital world than their parents. They are exposed to multi-million pound movies, games, e-books and ipads. It is hard to know what’s in their heads at a point in time. The sons and daughters of creatives inhabit an even more different world to ordinary kids. A world where words like 3D and CGI are regularly passed over the dinner table. As a result these children are neither normal nor representative.

Further, unlike live entertainers, tv programme makers are unable to adapt to live audience responses. A clown, for example, can easily change his or her act if he dies on his feet. However, programme makers can’t. So programme makers need to think like the clown and go and talk to children first.

Doing research with kids is like inviting them to the board-room table. They can help create a programme, while not heading the table. However, even though children are a worthy audience, research should facilitate creativity rather than act as a barrier to creativity or simply to ‘green-light’ programme development. Kids are naturally created and enthusiastic – so involve them as partners in the creative process.

Think about building brands – Esra Cafer, Chorion

Esra argued that there is a value in using brand management in the making of tv programmes. Brand marketing is a process to define the target, the programme and product offer. Also to communicate that offer to audiences and forge an enduring relationship. In other words to create brand love!

Chorion starts with characters, settings, worlds and stories already in place. It aims to understand, create, update, and extend brand properties to make sure that audiences love them. Rather than just translate the written word to the screen, research understands and defines the brand, the brand DNA, i.e. what makes it unique and appealing. Rather than dampen creativity, brand thinking reveals new opportunities and maximises relevance.

Make Way for Noddy has a traditional preschool audience of 3 to 5 year olds. So when developing Noddy in Toyland, research verified the audience, who they are and what they want. Findings revealed an audience that was growing-up and moving on to competitive products, such as Moshi Monsters, sooner than thought. This insight focused programme development on 3-4 year olds.

Research also spotted opportunities to extend the brand. It revealed that Noddy is a safe brand, to use in home, and not to show off to friends. This provided the confidence to focus on developing home products such as bedding and pyjamas, rather than lunchboxes or coats.

TV Programme Development Inspiration

Each programme development project is different. Some require more creativity and others more research. What’s right depends on the stage of development and whether more or less is known about the intended audience. Thus use creativity, research and marketing together – they are fine bedfellows!

1. Development is the most important part of the creative process

Get this right to establish a foundation for success. Further, for every show in production, have several in development. As innovation is a numbers game, this allows some to fall by the wayside.

Also create the right conditions for creativity to flourish.  While great ideas occur over a pint of Guinness or through sheer hard work, creativity is not limited to writers nor bottled and poured on. So prefer a more inclusive approach involving different disciplines.

2. Apply simple marketing principles

In other words, enable your audience to fuel creativity and be the main arbiter of choice. You’ll find this liberating!

3. Tailor research to circumstances

First, adapt the research process to reflect property origins, differences, challenges, risks and rewards.

Start by involving marketers and researchers at an early stage (via a short low-cost meeting). This will better represent target audiences’ needs, eliminate biases and also generate more saleable ideas.

Next, conduct informal research with family members and friends by showing programme materials before more substantial laboratory-esque research. And then talk to the trade and licensing people, for example, to understand cultural issues and what works in certain territories.

Finally, design audience research to fuel the creative process rather than evaluate or dampen it! Avoid closed questions such as “don’t you love this green dress?” as this invalidates the results.

4. Create a compelling pitch

Also use research to shape the brand strategy or ‘brand book’ and guide writers, illustrators and animators. Help all know the audience, and their needs. This empowers creatives to make the pilot and develop the series while retaining management control.

Create two scripts, a ‘brand book’ and a pilot to justify brand stand-out and appeal and also woo co-funders. While every tv programme development differs, the end game is the same – to secure funds.


(1)  The Childrens Media Conference takes place annually in early July in Sheffield.

Quantitative vs Qualitative Research; The Great Debate? The Result is In!

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research | Food Tasting Research

The quantitative vs. qualitative research debate has been going on since the 1970s.  Apparently it’s all about epistemology, a branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge. Quantitative research is defined as positivism i.e. scientific and objective.  Whereas qualitative research is interpretivism i.e. non-scientific and subjective.

Summary of quantitative vs qualitative research pros and cons

quantitative vs qualitative research

But there is an academic argument that the two methods cannot and should not work together.

The chief worry is that the capitulation to “what works” ignores the incompatibility of the competing positivistic and interpretivist epistemological paradigms that purportedly undergird quantitative and qualitative methods, respectively.”  Blah, blah, blah…

Kenneth R. Howe (1)


Haven’t quantitative and qualitative research started to overlap already?

The lines between quantitative and qualitative research have been blurring for some time.  How many times have you attended a research group and a done a quick ‘tally’ of responses to gain some quantitative guidance?  Or, within a quantitative survey, included a few open-ended questions to give a little more colour? Superficial instances of course, but evidence of ‘blurring’ nonetheless.

Perhaps the reason overlap has not been fully acknowledged is because many believe that the two disciplines still run separately?  Or perhaps it is because as a ‘quali’ or a ‘quanti’ researcher you are defined or separated at birth?!  So never the twain shall meet? There is lots of truth in this as many researchers start their training under a single discipline. Most large research organisations also run separate quantitative and qualitative departments.

However, from someone “on the ground”, as a qualitative researcher (who is sometimes fearsome of quantitative research) it is possible to marry these two approaches and gain extra benefits. There is also room for new research models, better hybrids of qualitative and quantitative research.  Here are some examples:

Qualitative with added quantitative

Qualitative research discussions often solicit a few ‘wishy-washy’ answers to questions. Thus it can be difficult to discern true meaning. For example, if someone says they ‘like’ something, and someone says they ‘love’ something, is there a difference in meaning? Using simple quantitative measures, such as a rating out of 10, provides much more clarity and decision-making substance.

For example, used within a new product development (NPD) process it offers a more useful ‘gate’ thus enabling better short-listing and prioritisation. It also helps make sure you are not wasting thousands of hours and pounds barking up the wrong tree!

Quantitative with added qualitative research

Quantitative surveys sometimes include open-ended questions to explain the numbers. But in many cases respondents fail to fill in the boxes or don’t provide enough detail. The data can also be costly to collect and tricky to analyse.

However, combined qualitative-quantitative research can both assess and improve products. From food and drink to media and beyond. In a recent project, respondents tasted and critiqued a number of competitive food products. Research was undertaken in a high traffic place in order to recruit people off the street into a hall. Consumer responses were captured in a mini survey, both numerical product appeal, as well as reasoning, brand fit and desirable new product development opportunities.

This work provided very clear insights for both brand and product development. It was also very cost-effective.

quantitative vs. qualitative research
Taste testing Cornish Pasties
Quantitative vs. qualitative research

Retail applications

These techniques also apply to other markets and challenges. For example, to assess packs or displays. When refining packaging, a clear read on issues such as stand-out, and reasoning is required. Asking at least 100 consumers to review a mocked-up retail fixture and complete a short survey provides reliable insights. Just rotate the current and proposed new packs so you can compare relative appeal, stand-out and purchasing intent (using a likert i.e. numerical scale). Then via follow up discussion understand decision making reasons and also what are ideal pack elements.

Marketing Inspiration

Concluding the quantitative vs qualitative research debate, there will always be a role for ‘pure’ quant and qual research approaches. However, research doesn’t need pigeon-holing into one or other method.

It is possible to design quantitative-qualitative research to offer the benefits of both. In so doing you gain face-to-face consumer contact and understanding as well as meaningful numbers. Within this it is possible to set quotas for consumer types for additional analytical rigour while also realising time and cost savings. Marketers just need to decide what they really need. So do you need understanding or numbers, or both? A creative research agency should guide and inspire you, even if it goes against what’s specified in the brief.

Get in touch for a bespoke qualitative-quantitative research proposal to meet your needs.


(1)   Against the quantitative–qualitative incompatibility thesis (or dogmas die-hard) by Kenneth R. Howe, Ph.D – Professor of Philosophy at University of Colorado, Boulder Published in the Educational Researcher 17(8) 10-16 1988

Seven Enemies of Innovation; How to Spot and Slay Them

Enemies of Product Innovation | new product development | Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Product innovation is the lifeblood of many businesses.   The proportion of sales due to new products from businesses competing in fast moving markets is often over 50%. Yet higher still in technology companies. So why is it that so many products fail, and what can you do to ensure success? So here are seven enemies of innovation. Spot them and slay them whenever you can!

Enemies of Product Innovation | new product development | Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – will or won’t she help slay enemies of innovation?

1. Failure to find or better meet a consumer need

Seventy five percent of products or services fail for this reason (1). This is particularly the case in technology markets where new innovations are often just new features trying to find a consumer need.

Even the famous Sony Walkman originally failed for this reason. The initial consumer response to the ‘Walkman’ was ‘why do I need a portable tape player when I have one at home?’ Only when Sony identified its ability to change consumers’ mood and invested in making the product ‘cool’ did sales start to take-off.

In markets where there are many competitors, new products or services must also better meet consumers’ needs,  find and create new consumer needs and turn needs into wants.

2. Cultural myopia

The more successful the business the louder is the mantra ‘we’ve always done it this way’.  Thus the more entrenched mindsets and processes become, and the greater the risk of quenching the creative flame. So remember the low-cost airlines effect on national airlines such as British Airways, Amazon’s effect on retail book-stores and Apple itunes’ effect on the music producers. This is where driven people, independent innovation teams and external agents can help cut through the malaise.

3. Lack of creativity

For new products to stand-out requires creativity.  While great ideas or discoveries can occur in a Eureka moment (think Newton and apple trees) it is a myth that creativity is the preserve of the few. Everyone can be creative. It just helps to understand what it is and how to do it. Creativity is an ability to make new connections and generate ideas. It is a thinking skill – an ability to think laterally ie from side to side, in a divergent fashion – not just in a linear, logical, convergent fashion.

There are many techniques to generate ideas and solve problems. These including reframing or looking at a problem from a different view-point, understanding and changing the rules in a market, through sensory stimulation and visioning or dreaming. For example, if Ernest Hemingway the writer ever felt bereft of ideas for his stories, he was known to sit in his rocking chair, relax and drift off to sleep. You can try this too. In the absence of a colleague, do as Hemingway did – hold marbles in your hand and work in a room with a wooden floor!

4. Lack of time, determination, or due process

Creativity also requires thinking time – time to create more, and iterate and build ideas.

As well as time, hard work and due process is important.  Creative sessions are useful to kick-start an innovation process, though it is easy to kill ideas and hard to develop them in a few short hours.  Like plants, ideas need to be nourished and given time to thrive otherwise they will die. While 3M discovered their ‘weak’ glue by accident the successful commercialisation of their famous post-it notes took twelve years.  This was in part due to the persistence of its inventor, Spence Silver. He believed passionately that his idea had potential. He eventually connected with another colleague Art Fry, who suggested how his glue could be applied.

Successful product innovation is also a numbers game. If you create and assess many ideas the chance of success is greater than if you create and assess just one.  The US Product Development and Management Association (PDMA)(2) found that ten serious ideas or concepts are needed to bring one product to market successfully. Products nurtured through a rigorous product development process have a greater chance of success, with around three quarters being launched compared with just under sixty percent overall.  Considering innovation as a process also helps institutionalise or embed it in the corporate culture. At 3M, for example, innovation is defined as ‘a process that creates products that create a new basis of competition’.

5. Lack of team work

While many notable inventions are attributed to lone inventors, success is more often due to teamwork – combining several brains to reach a common goal.

Even great brand owners, such as Marks and Spencer experience failure; most notably when the decision to stock a pudding or shirt largely depended on the pleasure that it gave the Chairman of the company. One of the greatest film makers ever, Stephen Spielberg has also flopped; consider the allegedly self-indulgent comedy ‘1941’.

Assembling a team and creating the conditions for innovation to flourish has inspired many notable successes during the last century. These include the creation of the first jet fighter, and the first animated movie. Also brands such as Virgin Atlantic and the Friends tv series.

6. Lack of brand understanding or vision

Brands exist in the eyes of customers not just the management team. Understanding what customers consider existing, latent or potential strengths can catalyse innovation as much as widely held management views. Understanding perceived brand strengths and weaknesses can reveal new facets of a brand and provide new springboards or foundations for innovation.  Caterpillar has been a leading manufacturer of heavy duty construction vehicles since 1925. Recognising the rugged strength of the brand amongst construction workers and the fact that industrial chic is a recurring theme in the fashion business spurred successful expansion into footwear. Within the company, footwear is considered a ‘walking machine’ – from professional steel toe capped work boots, to stylish slip-on comfort shoes; and now clothing and toys.

Having a clear idea where you want your business to go focuses team energy and activity. In the 1950s, Sony had a vision to ‘transform the poor worldwide perceptions of Japanese goods’. Today few Western homes fail to have at least one of their products on display. In the US, Mr. Clean (Flash in the UK, Monsieur Propre in France) has led household cleaning since the late 1950s. In the US the vision is now to extend the brand into car washing.

Mr. Clean Car Wash | Product innovation | New product development
Mr Clean Car Wash – the successful household cleaner is now expanding in to car washes

7. Lack of customer involvement

‘Research only dumbs down great ideas’. If we had a pound for every time we’ve heard this message we’d be a very rich. This view is most evident in the creative industries. An industry where the gulf between the best and worst performers seems to widen every year.

Most assume that research means ’focus groups’. And perceptions are poor and thus lacking in credibility. Perhaps through experience or a belief that the sole purpose of research is ‘evaluation’.  While evaluation research is useful this misses the point. Most consumers, even those as young as three or four, have an innate creativity and marketing ‘savvy’. Further, all are different; have different backgrounds, beliefs, skills and ways of thinking. Most are also naturally social rather than solitary and like creating and working with others. It means that there is a vast pool of creative talent available to address your challenge. This is a boon to product development.

Marketing Inspiration

Here’s how to address the seven enemies of innovation:

1. First, establish a product development process but tailor or flex it to different challenges and circumstances.

2. Create lots of ideas, give them time and conditions to grow. It’s easy to kill ideas but hard to develop them.

3. Consult and involve diverse colleagues in your product innovation process. No-one has a monopoly on good ideas.

4. Use creative tools and techniques to engage, inspire and bring out the best in your team.

5. Involve consumers in the product innovation process. They can both create and build great ideas.

6. If your new products do fail, make sure you learn from your product failure!


(1)    Cooper , Robert. G  Winning at New Products, 1993

(2)    Product Development and Management Association,, 1991

Read some of The Marketing Directors marketing success stories. Our successes include new to world innovations, new brands and a myriad of brand extensions.