Fighting Back Against Idea Fatigue

We’ve all heard the figures about the staggering numbers of new products launched every year. But what people don’t often say is that these innovations are rather unevenly distributed. Some categories see only a few major launches. Others see a huge turnover of new ideas. And behind every one that makes it to market there are a throng of concepts that didn’t get that far.

Trying to innovate in these everyday but high-turnover categories – think alcoholic drinks, waters, snack foods, or haircare for instance – can be frustrating, and it must seem like idea fatigue has set in and only truly special concepts can break through. The rest get dismissed – “Too boring!” “Too weird!” “Too off-putting!”

Is there hope? Yes. There are a few things you can do to improve your innovation process and optimise concepts to prevent the ones with commercial potential from getting lost. Here are our top four tips.

1. PULL THE IDEAS APART

Your first priority should be finding a testing method that can actually detect your great ideas, and the distinctive but polarising ones which deserve further development. A lot of concept testing methods have a tendency to “flatline” – failing to pull ideas apart and letting bad concepts off the hook.

While some good ideas need a tweak to get them to perform at their best, there are plenty which really are just deeply average (or worse!) and testing has to reflect that.

Our Predictive Markets method – which asks participants what they feel other people will do in the market, instead of relying on flawed self-predictions – is particularly good at pulling ideas apart and quickly identifying the strongest and weakest.

2. FIND THE FAMILIAR

What about when you feel a concept has promise, but it tests as “too weird”? Successful innovation is a combination of novelty – the wow factor – and fluency – the “I get it” factor. Which is why we talk about Fluent Innovation, an approach to concept development which puts fluency at its heart.

Without a familiar angle to make people understand them quickly, new concepts can flounder. The seed of the familiar can be visual: the iconic Italian Moko espresso maker based its distinctive octagonal look on a very familiar and fashionable coffee set of the time, establishing an immediate association with “coffee” which made the unfamiliar technology more fluent.

The seed of the familiar can also be behavioural. Micro-length personal status updates were a hard concept for early Twitter users to get their heads around. So the company framed it in terms of public text messages, which made more sense.

So if you’ve got a weird idea, try and find that familiar comparison point which can help you make it fluent.

3. MAKE CONCEPTS CONGRUENT

But familiar things aren’t always good. Sometimes the comparison with something well-understood can do more harm than good. Take the case of alcoholic iced tea – an innovation we tested in a self-funded exercise a couple of years ago. The concept performed very poorly, and looking at respondent comments we found out why.

Look at how the concept begins: “I’m proud of Britain’s tea drinking tradition, but sometimes it’s not a hot cuppa I’m after”. But by reminding people of the pleasure of a hot cup of tea, then asking them to rate an ice cold drink, the concept created incongruity. And many comments from respondents – along the lines of “cold tea is always vile” – reflected that.

For something to be fluent, its component parts have to fit together – and if you remind people of one thing while showing them something different, you make the overall idea less easy to process, not more.

So if your concepts are testing as “too off-putting”, it’s worth taking a closer look at them – is there something in them which doesn’t ‘fit’ well with the rest and leads to rejection? Can you remove it and make the whole thing more fluent?

4. FIGHT BACK WITH FEELING

What about ideas which are “too boring?” These present a dilemma. Most of them really will be junk. But at the same time, the shelves are full of products that don’t represent a dramatic step forward, yet do quite well. The key to giving a concept its best shot is presentation – if something is already simple and easy to grasp, then make it look more attractive and distinctive, or talk less about pedantic extra features and benefits.

Look at this self-funded example, for instance. We knew in the real world this raspberry cider was a big hit – but in testing it only did OK: berry flavoured cidres just didn’t feel new any more. By cutting back on the words and adding tempting visuals, we brought out the feeling in the idea – and improved its scores to more closely match in-market performance.

With boring ideas your problem isn’t too little Fluency, it’s too low Feeling – and you need an emotional pick-me-up to improve them.

So if you think your consumers are suffering from idea fatigue, follow these steps to make your innovation Fluent again.

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