Innovation Failure or Failure to Innovate

Nutrition Industry Executive

Consumer habits and desires change through time, sometimes rapidly, other times slowly. They are the forces behind research and technological innovations that eventually change whole categories. Consumer product manufacturers and marketers need often to re-invent, or innovate from scratch. Those that do, survive and even thrive. Those that don’t — don’t.

If, for example, retailers one by one begin discontinuing your product line, and tell you it’s just no longer selling, this is a siren call to clinically examine it — the product itself, how it is marketed, and outside forces affecting consumer perception.

Meanwhile, there are incredible opportunities to succeed that are often ignored. Executives need to recognize them and be able to translate market opportunities into relevant products.

There are several key mistakes to avoid as you look toward success.

Ignoring Key Trends: Is it a fad or is it a trend? A fad is always a short, intense term, rising quickly, with a quick demise. Meanwhile, a trend often becomes a long-term influence on a market’s future.

There are few companies well-poised to take advantage of fads, but all of us need to be aware of trends that affect our business. Executives who fail to recognize dramatic shifts in consumer behavior may be experts in what they do, but are risk averse. A perfect example of this is found in another industry. CPI Inc., the operator of family-portrait photography studios in Sears and Walmart, announced that all 2,700 U.S. locations would close. The reason? It had failed to transition its facilities and services from film to digital processing.

Whether a product works or not is irrelevant if the buyer doesn’t believe the concept to begin with. Sometimes we rush into development based on data, and miss testing the concept first. The category of “beauty from within” beverages launched by billion-dollar companies including L’Oreal and Procter & Gamble are a great example. U.S. retailers didn’t know where to merchandise the products, while American women were simply not ready to buy into this concept. It’s not that the products didn’t work.

Going Off Strategy: Successful innovation begins with a solid understanding of corporate mission. What are you trying to do? Who are you trying to be? The mission becomes a tool for idea evaluation. For example: if you are an antioxidant-focused company, then the idea of launching a medicinal mushroom product won’t work.

Also, deciding to extend the brand into other dosage forms or related foods may not work. For instance, Pfizer introduced Ben-Gay aspirin in the mid 1990s. From topical pain relief to oral analgesics it made sense. But consumers couldn’t make the leap.

Packaging Disasters: Do we give as much time to thinking about the packaging that surrounds a product as we do the product itself? In 2010, Frito-Lay switched to sustainable packaging for its Sun Chips. It was a great idea that, unfortunately, was poorly executed. The bags, when opened, were seriously ear-splitting, purportedly coming in at 95 decibels.

Companies both large and small regularly make product development mistakes. It’s going to happen. Learning from each other’s experience will make the next idea more likely to succeed. Without risk, there’d be no failure. But without risk, there would also be no reward.

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Innovation Failure or Failure to Innovate