I hear it all the time – “I’m in a dinner rut…I don’t know what to make…sick of the same old thing.” At the core of these comments is the need to innovate. So what can we take from this common everyday kitchen dilemma of “what’s for dinner?” in order to improve product innovation?
At a very broad level, there are three different ways we innovate in the kitchen:
- Alteration: Often a change in one or two things to make it different, just to mix things up a bit. The alterations are not intended to necessarily improve the dish, but to simply change it. Often we still like the dish, but are getting tired of it or adjust for alternative need states. Sometimes our trials result in success, sometimes they result in failure.
- Enhancement: Whether it be personal opinion or external feedback (those eating the food), input is given on how cooking can be improved. The goal is not to create a brand new dish, but to improve it in some way. Improvement can take many different forms: taste, cost, complexity, amount of cleanup needed, etc.
- Creation: In some cases, we start from scratch and make up a completely new dish. The highly experimental case of creating a dish can be a result of many different factors: resource availability (what’s in the fridge), pure curiosity and interest, as well as failed attempts at improvement through enhancement.
Through the course of a three-part series, we will focus on these three ways and contrast each to how we can do the same in business.
Alteration – ground zero of the innovation process
Similar to our favorite meal in the dinner rotation, it is difficult to argue for change in bread & butter products, especially if it’s successful among a loyal customer base. However, we often get tired of even our most favorite dishes and even a small change can spark renewed excitement and pleasure. In business though, the risk of making a wrong decision is much greater than having to order pizza delivery because of a failed recipe attempt.
Luckily for marketers, there are research techniques that allow one to test a multitude of small changes and compare those changes to the current product – it’s as if you get to cook and taste hundreds of alternative recipes in a single evening.
Once we’ve identified simple alterations we’re considering making – there are two key questions we must ask…
Does the environment allow for increased variation in the line?
Starbucks has had much success in altering basic tea and coffee products – the Frappuccino being one of their most successful introductions. The concept grew out of Starbucks’ own employees making versions of a blended coffee drink during those hot summer months and suggesting that a version be rolled out. At its core, the Frappuccino is a blended version of a traditional coffee drink – a simple alteration that not only added variety and options for the consumer, but also increased perceived value in the product and became a 2 billion dollar brand.
Does the change result in a quantifiable improvement in the product?
While alteration can uncover improvements, the improvement needs to be grounded in an actual improvement, not just ‘I like it better’. A preference such as I like it better suggests we have solved for being bored with the recipe or product, however solving for boredom does not get at the core insight behind the boredom, nor should it automatically result in full replacement. If the product is to be replaced, the improved benefit needs to still solve for the core insight, not just improve on a separate need state. As with the example of Starbucks, some might order a fancy Frappuccino on occasion (during hot summer days), but it may not always replace somebody’s daily coffee choice.
Stay tuned for our next article where we discuss ways to go beyond simple alteration and look at ways we can best determine how to enhance a product through definitive goals.