Another key note speaker at the Corporate Researchers conference was Derek Thompson, author of Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction. I was particularly struck by his analysis around the myth of novelty which directly impacts some of our innovation work. He describes this as “people like sneakily familiar positive variations of things of a moderate deviation to the mainstream”. There are obvious exceptions to this claim, but for the large companies we work with who have teams searching for “breakthrough innovation,” the truth is that the vast majority of shoppers aren’t looking for something radically different.
We are uncomfortable with that. We need a jumping off point. A parallel comparison.
In our work, we frequently encounter this myth in action. Shoppers want to compare the offering to something they know and put it in a familiar mental “box”, which can impede their abilities to fully grasp the true essence of what they are looking at. Product placement can further disrupt understanding in categories with inherent norms and assumptions; where a product is placed can be an advocate for similar-to-norm products or a hurdle to overcome for products that depart from the standard and are seeking to combat ingrained expectations.
Thompson would argue marketers should focus their attention on products that would qualify as familiar surprises—just enough familiarity to make shoppers comfortable with just enough surprise to make the product feel unique and novel. That will require the least amount of effort with the greatest amount of impact. For real breakthrough innovation to occur the runway to adoption can be very long and the cost of generating awareness and changing behavior can be very expensive; for publicly traded companies in such a challenging business environment, many big brands simply don’t have the ability to be patient.
How do you determine if a product is innovative enough to be seen as unique without being alienating due to its uniqueness? I am glad you asked. We have a methodology for vetting concepts in-context early in the development process to see which ones spark yet are understood.
You may find it familiar, yet surprising.