Want better research? Get your hands dirty.

Want more out of your research? Get your hands dirty.  Go guerrilla.  Go to where your customers and prospects are are.  Hang out where your target does real things in real-time under real conditions.  This is where you can have casual, comfortable, genuine conversations.  This is where you can walk in the shoes.  This is where your consumers are their absolute selves and act accordingly.  And where you can make observations and gather subtle insights that consumers would never even think to articulate, let alone be comfortable enough to mention in a more sterile or artificial research setting.

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By way of example, on a client assignment awhile back, we spent a couple of weeks with dog owners.  We hung out in dog parks, backyards and trails.  We tried products and lived life alongside people and their pets.  We learned a TON by experiencing what consumers experience…and by simply chatting people up.  We also learned by observing subtleties and taking note of the occasional frustrated look on a dog owner’s face…a cringe…a change in body language – things that people never think to say, even when you ask, but that are real.

The result: deeper insights that drove several new product innovations, with incremental national shelf space to match (and competitors who never saw any of it coming).  This can, and has worked with a variety of products, services, technology and start ups in all kinds of settings.  Just show up. Get your hands dirty.  And see what happens.

About the authors: Eric Greene & Keith Poulson are principals at Elevation (it’s different up here).  We are an innovation firm that specializes in A-Z new product/service/growth strategy development (including guerrilla research, opportunity I.D., brainstorming, concept development, industrial design, prototyping and engineering).  To learn more, go to: http://elevationid.com/

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Sniffed some Play Doh (smells like innovation)

Sniffed some Play-Doh the other day. You should really go out and do this right away.  Why? The effect is an instant, unmistakable, highly positive association with childhood.  The experience is delightful and conjures up all kinds of great memories.  It also conjures up important insights about differentiation, innovation and competitive advantage.

Play-DohOne of the brilliant things about Play-Doh is the built-in delight.  That powerfully distinct “smell of childhood and fun” you get when you open the can.  This powerful instant queue thrills customers in ways that stand it FAR APART from similar competitors. Think about it.  There are scores of similar products.  But there is only one Play-Doh.  They dominate without much marketing.  Savvy marketers, new product/service developers, designers, retailers, restauranteurs,  web and software developers often take the same approach.  By building in powerful touches…from any of comfortably familiar, cool, fun, emotional or in other ways delightful…you cement differentiation and customer loyalty that features and functions by themselves just can’t match.

Obviously, not everything we need to know about differentiation and competitive advantage is learned from kindergarten.  But this much is certain: put someone in charge of developing and integrating queues and touches that bring the cool, fun or delight – and your differentiation and competitive advantage will be elevated.

There’s something about Abe Lincoln

What is it about Abe Lincoln? He pops up everywhere and is referenced all the time. Think about it.  Not a day goes by where you don’t see honest Abe referenced somewhere, somehow.  Sure, on President’s Day and because of money.  But that just scratches the surface of our Abe obsession.  He pops pretty much every day in all kinds of expected and unexpected ways.  On billboards.  In quotes.  On TV.  In books.  Movies.  Parodies.  As a vampire hunter.  In costumes.  To settle bets.  A.k.a. he is the Elvis of ex-Presidents.  Honest Abe is one of 44 U.S. Presidents (albeit one of our very, very finest) and has been deceased for 148 years.  So why are there seemingly more Abe Lincoln references than those of all other non-sitting presidents put together? And what does this have to do with innovation, design, research, new product development and marketing?

Read on…

Blog 2-18-14 Something about Abe-1So what does this Abe phenomenon have to do with innovation, design, research, new products and marketing? It’s this.  All Abe, all-the-time is a real thing.  But it’s the kind of thing that most people would never consciously notice.  Most anybody can catch the obvious things.  You need someone…yourself, a leader, an employee, an agency person, a researcher, but someone…who is able to notice the offbeat things, the emerging, the next, the heretofore unseen wave that leads to big ideas.  And if you don’t have such a person, you should find one. Honest.

Attention-grabbing vs. wow factor (there’s a big difference)

A lot of celebs seek to grab attention (see Cyrus, Miley or “Kardashian – Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, Kendall, Kylie or Kris).  They make outsized noise doing over the top things involving nudity, wrecking balls, giant teddy bears, costumed little people, farm animals and meat suits to get on our radar.  And it works.  For about 15 minutes.  A lot of new products seek to do the same thing. But there is a HUGE difference between attention-grabbing “Whoa” and true “Wow” factor.  And if you want to succeed for more than 15 minutes, you need lasting WOW factor.  What is it and how do you know if you have it?

bikeLook just above.  WOW, right?  Just WOW.  Not made you look, 15 minutes of fame “whoa”, but WOW.  Lasting cool.  “It” factor.  It’s a bitch to develop but not hard to define.  Lasting Wow is deliberately built to reinforce brand, send the right message, with just the right design queues and touches that deliver lasting cool. You know you have it when most anyone in your intended target looks at your new innovation and simply utters the word, ”Wow.”  Not “whoa” like a Miley Cyrus stunt.  But “Wow”.  Whoa is Miley Cyrus, WOW is Adele.

When developing new products, you should research, brainstorm, design and engineer with “WOW”, not “Whoa” in mind. At least if you want your new product to have more than 15 minutes of fame.

Want breakthrough innovation? Be very, very contrary

Don’t think innovation can be forced or pulled out of thin air? Au contraire.  Seriously.  Au contraire.  One simple and HIGHLY EFFECTIVE way to achieve innovation is to be very, very, very contrary.  How?

A GREAT innovation tool we’ve used over the years to achieve real results is called The Great “What If” Game.  Essentially, this brainstorming exercise forces you to look at your situation (product or service) in very contradictory ways by asking a series of “what if” questions.  For example, in looking at your situation, what if we:

  • Modernize it?
  • Make it bigger? Make it smaller? Change its shape?
  • Substitute in something new or unexpected?
  • Make it more hip/cool?
  • Beautify it?
  • Simplify it?
  • Make it thicker?
  • Make it lighter?
  • Make it sexier?
  • Make it more fun?
  • Make it more powerful or potent?
  • Combine it with something improbable?
  • Make it healthier?
  • Make it more indulgent?
  • Make it more personal?
  • Make it more upscale?
  • Etc., etc.

You get the idea.  We challenge you to dream up your own large number of “what if” questions for your product or service. Then, see where it takes you.

Skeptical and don’t think this can really work? Au contraire – here is just a smattering of real world examples of where it has worked (by creating juxtaposition vs. the status quo):

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The moral of the story? Use the Great “What If” Game to zig where others zag, go up to their down, be yin to their yang.  And watch what happens.

Let’s brainstorm! Have any favorite techniques you use to think contrarian or get outside the box? Please share them over here in the comments.