Henry Ford said, "If I'd have asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me a 'faster horse.'"
It's difficult for people to envision what they want. A really excellent interviewer and respondent may be able to get "outside of the box" but it's very uncommon.
That's why it's important to use consumer insights as inspiration rather than direction.
Chewable Rolaids is the result of consumers complaining about the "chalky taste" of Rolaids.
The "evergreen C.D." from Wachovia was the result of consumers saying they want to ensure they're always getting the best rate on their C.D. Mederma for Kids was the result of several new product concepts, developed internally, being shared with mom's and learning that moms are more concerned about scars on their kids than on themselves.
In "Service Innovation: How to Go from Customer Needs to Breakthrough Services," Lance Bettencourt argues that focusing on the service for which we're trying to create improvements actually constrains thinking. We tend to keep our thinking within the box.
I think this is just as true for products as it is for services. Bettencourt suggests we need to ask, "What is the customer trying to accomplish when they use your solution?"
Having this perspective, and actually asking this question, during qualitative research is a great way to gather insights to bring back to your product, and service, development folks.
In a Fast Company interview with Steve Jobs (http://bit.ly/d09HW4), there are several elements of the "Apple Playbook" I will take to heart when developing new products or services:
- Transcend orthodoxy
- Just say no
- Serve your customer
- Kill the past
- Turn feedback into inspiration
- Don't invent, reinvent
- Play by your own clock
Thinking back to the time I spent working with Wachovia, John Medlin was visionary and innovative even though Wachovia was perceived to be, and was, a very conservative bank.
Wachovia would not lend money to people who couldn't afford to pay it back ("Just say no"). Too bad the folks that bought Wachovia, and many other financial institutions, didn't follow this rule.
Wachovia also played by its own clock not necessarily wanting to be first to market but committed to offering the best product or service.
John Medlin and Steve Jobs, two great minds.
Hopefully these ideas will provide some food for thought in your new product and service development efforts.
How have consumer insights driven new product development where you've worked?