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.
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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.
Recently, I had a great three days at the Corporate Researchers Conference in Chicago. It was a blast to nerd out with fellow researchers, and it was hugely validating to both our primary focus on in-context research and some of the key initiatives we have been working on for the last couple of years. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing my thoughts, analysis, and implications on a few of the more meaningful presentations/themes from the conference.
Dan Heath gave a memorable presentation highlighting some of the principles talked about in his book, The Power of Moments, which has broad-reaching implications ranging from improving customer service to innovation. The foundational premise Dan focused on is that we don’t remember every aspect of every experience; the peak-end rule indicates that we, in fact, remember only the moments that were best and worst. As such, fixing most problems generally doesn’t make people happy; it just produces an unremarkable, unmemorable, unappreciated experiences.
Often the next step teams take is filling the potholes by dealing with the smaller issues. While it can be important to fix what is missing in a product or experience, the focus should instead be on creating some peak moments that are the unexpected, unique, and/or special aspects of a product or experience that will be remembered and lead to consumer/customer delight and retention.
- Overall, there is a tremendous need for a qualitative understanding (surprise!) to tap into emotional reactions and to understand what about the experience or product stuck with them. REAL Insight has developed a “Spark Scale” for testing new concepts that is focused on understanding which products have something remarkable (memorable) about them. Not all aspects of a product or experience are equal in the eyes of customers, so it is critical to be able to weigh the emotional reaction to understand which aspects, if any, are the true drivers of interest and loyalty and which are just along for the ride.
- These peak moments aren’t anticipated by the experiencer/consumer, but rather something that they discover within the actual environment and moment. For this reason, context is huge and understanding actual behavior is huge. Don’t ask about how someone would react to a scenario. Create a test scenario and have someone actually react to see what peak moments are produced.
- From an innovation standpoint, with so many decisions to make in terms of investment and key success drivers, peak moments can simplify the risk. If there is a delighting feature that can act as a peak, smaller issues and inconveniences can be deprioritized. Identifying which of these features are worth investing in and which function as “filling the pot holes” decreases the risk of adding to product cost without actually adding any value.
By thinking about the innovation and customer experience as building memorable peak moments, there is a huge opportunity to invest smarter for optimal success and retention. Doing so will, in the words of Dan Heath, “defy forgettable flatness”.