- Five Ways to Kill an Idea
Not all the best movies make it to the big screen. Not all the best restaurants get discovered. And not all the best marketing and new product ideas see the light of day. Why aren’t there more ventures like Prêt A Manger and FedEx? New products like Innocent Smoothies and I-Macs? Or marketing campaigns like those for the Mini? It is because the process of invention often weeds out the best concepts. In my experience, five practices kill promising concepts too soon.
Falling in love with your product and ignoring second-hand insults. After spending years perfecting a product, some marketers become so enamored that they can’t see its flaws. Years ago Synecticsworld ran live consumer sessions to allow a confectionery company to get direct market feedback. A teenager said to a marketing vice president, “you know, this brand wrapper looks like a piece of crap.” The executive was taken aback and then exclaimed, “my God, you’re right!” He immediately asked his market research manager, “how could this slip through our research?” The research manager told him the teenager’s reaction had been expressed in every market research report the company had commissioned over the past five years. Until a live customer confronted executives with it, they conveniently ignored it. Changing the wrapper and creating new ads ignited sales.
Letting a focus group rip into it. While marketers must always strongly consider consumer feedback, some take it too far, especially if they let a focus group cast the final vote. It is human nature to find fault. Many focus groups begin by tearing apart a new concept, and group dynamics see each consumer finding a bigger problem than the last. When the moderator surfaces the pluses, the tone has been set and the group has nothing left to say. Concept killed.
Assuming the customer is always right. Many sophisticated marketers rely on consumer screening tests to convince the organization to fund a new product or marketing concept. “The numbers don’t lie” is their belief, and if the effort bombs, their defense is ready. The problem with asking consumers hard questions about a new concept is that they will often shoot down an idea they can’t relate to. In the early 1990s, the initial reaction by many UK consumers to mobile phone text messaging was: “Why would you want to tap messages into your phone?” The product caught on slowly until people discovered the latent potential of text messaging: avoiding live conversations but getting the message through.
Strangling it with a “funnel,” “onion” or other brand framework. The most savvy marketers use frameworks (sometimes referred to as funnels or onions) to ensure new products and marketing campaigns do not erode the brand. Such frameworks pinpoint the qualities any new product or campaign must have, how it should be marketed, and so on. There are 1,001 ways to destroy a powerful brand, so such frameworks are invaluable – until marketers and product developers need blockbuster ideas. Such frameworks can strangle radical new ideas. To make sure a bold new idea passes the framework test, the team begins to chip the edges off the concept. Eventually, it becomes so emasculated it never excites anyone. Big ideas can’t grow in small boxes.
Regarding yourself as the authority. Pure arrogance prevents many marketers from considering ideas offered by nonexperts; however, many great ideas come from “ignorant” sources. The idea for the first Polaroid camera came not from a scientist in Edwin Land’s laboratory but rather from his three-year-old daughter. On holiday at the Grand Canyon in 1943, she asked why she couldn’t see the picture he had just taken. His light bulb went off. In a consumer session a computer company held several years ago, one consumer wished for a computer that would look attractive in her home. Company attendees laughed so hard the consumers could hear them on the other side of the wall. This happens when marketers think they’re the product experts and everyone else isn’t, and is especially strident in market research settings, which cast consumers as “ants” to be observed.
The first and last practices stem from arrogance; the middle three from risk aversion. Finding a middle ground between the two extremes and ending practices that murder ideas, mean marketers can take a lead in creating the next Mini, Smoothie or Prêt A Manger.