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Archive for the ‘Market Assessment’ Category

Want to Uncover New Product Opportunities? Try Archaeology

Posted by Plish on April 14, 2012

I recently read this wonderfully provocative piece on how archaeology can be used as a tool for new product research.  The crux of the paper is that insights into new product opportunities can be gleaned when we shift the focus off the consumer, and onto the products themselves, as this graphic shows.

While this perspective is fascinating, it’s not entirely new.  Certain industries have, for years, been focusing on products in a unique way that others don’t. One of these is the medical device industry.

In this industry, once a product is sold it isn’t forgotten.  If, at any time, there is a problem with a product, the Manufacturer is supposed to be notified of the failure.    It is then incumbent upon the Manufacturer to look into the failure, and based upon the results of the analysis, undertake corrective and/or preventative actions to ensure the failure doesn’t happen again.

When investigating medical product failures, scant, helpful feedback from clinicians is not uncommon.  When asked about the problem, often the response is, “Your product failed.”  Specific details of who did what, when,  are difficult to tease out.  As a result, medical device failures are, in many ways, much like an archaeological dig.  The product has to speak for itself…

The package landed on my desk with a thud.

“What is it?” I asked. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in culture of innovation, Customer Focus, Design, innovation, Innovation Tools, Market Assessment, problem solving, Research | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Driving Emotional Connections – A Case Study of Home Shopping Channels

Posted by Plish on February 11, 2011

In times when people are deluged with stimuli, it’s essential to design products and services so that positive, lasting, energizing experiences result. These emotionally engaging products and services, when analyzed, share commonalities.

Richard Chase and Sriram Dasu, in their article: Want to perfect your company’s service? Use Behavioral Science;(Richard B. Chase and Sriram Dasu;Harvard Business Review, Jun 2001; 78-84) point to 5 rules that can improve the positive experience of services or minimize the impact of negative experiences when they occur (I color coded three rules so they can be found later in the article).

  1. Finish Strong
  2. Get Bad Experiences Out of The Way Early
  3. Segment Pleasure, Combine Pain
  4. Build Commitment Through Choice
  5. Use/Respect Ritual

Harvey Hartman of the Hartman Group, in one of my favorite, loaded, little books,Reflections on a Cultural Brand: Connecting with Lifestyles, highlights 5 principles and how they lead to emotional engagement.  Design the control  of these principles and you increase the emotional engagement:

  1. Community>>Interaction>>Belonging
  2. Knowledge>>Empowerment>>Confidence
  3. Authenticity>>Trust>>Security
  4. Relevance>>Personal Connection>>Comfort
  5. Surprise>>Delight!>>Pleasure

When used in tandem, both of these sources provide guidance in designing experiences- Hartman with regards to the content of offerings and Chase/Dasu with regards to how things unfold over time.

Let’s examine how these various principles are applied in the case of home shopping television stations such as HSN or QVC.

These companies are excellent examples of providing emotionally engaging services.  (If you have access to these stations, it might be worth stopping by and watching them for a while – some of what I will say will make much more sense after you have.)

When tuning in to one of these stations people see a gregarious host, possibly an equally bubbly product expert, beautiful models, close-ups of various products and a prominent insert on the screen that points out the retail cost, the customer cost, shipping, how many have sold and/or are available, and how much longer any special deals will be present.  And this continues, pretty much, 24×7.  There is a wonderful structure to the flow of the shows.  Whether it’s food, jewelry, frying pans, or electronics, when you tune in to a shopping channel you quickly fall into the flow of the program – people fall into the ritual.  The programs are also segmented by product offerings and time.  Because of this combination of ritual and segmentation, people can tune in at the time of their choosing, and buy what they want, when they want, with a choice of payment plans and shipping options.  These stations strongly leverage three of Chase/Dasu’s 5 guiding principles.

Let’s look now at how the experience of Shopping channels maps to Hartman’s principles.


It’s clear that aspects of shopping networks map well to the principles noted by Hartman.  Multiple opportunities for building positive experiences are leveraged whenever possible.  The more that experiences can be mapped to these principles, the more powerful the pull of the product or service.   Couple this with the Chase/Dasu principles and it becomes obvious that the success of home shopping channels is anything but accidental. 

There is a nexus of  experiential meaning present for those that visit these networks, and this means that it is highly likely that these people will also be evangelists.  The result is a self-sustaining, emotionally fulfilling shopping experience, all in the comfort of the home.

How do your products and services stack up against this tandem of Hartman and Chase/Dasu principles?

Posted in Authenticity, Behavioral Science, Case Studies, creativity, Customer Focus, Design, Emotions, Experience, innovation, Market Assessment | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Finding the Voice of the Customer

Posted by Plish on January 8, 2011

Humans are attuned to hearing other people’s voices.  Or rather, we have a tendency to hear and zero in on those things that pique our interest.  A unique, high-pitched voice squeaking about an experience with a company’s product catches our attention only if it’s in a language we can understand and only if it’s a product we care about.  If we speak English and the voice is German (well, we think it’s German because obviously, if we can’t speak it,  we’re guessing which language it is, right?) we tune the person out and relegate it to background noise.  If it’s not a product we care about, again, the conversation becomes background noise and we turn our attention to something else.  

This is only natural. We all have limited bandwidth of time and energy.  If  voices don’t somehow resonate with us, we turn our attention to those that are interesting or useful to what we are trying to accomplish.

But, businesses cannot afford to be deaf to any unique voices…

To make sure your company is effective at hearing the Voice Of the Customer (VOC), answer these simple questions with brutal honesty:

What language is your customer speaking?

Is the company fluent in this language?

Language here means more than just the same spoken words using the same alphabet and grammatical rules.  (Actually, really meaningful VOC can be obtained even when there is a disparity between the languages spoken.) Language here means the deeper  foundational dispositions of the customer.  It’s more than words.  It’s about actions, motivations and emotions.   It’s about getting past the customer’s vocal cords and getting into their hearts and heads. 

Customers can only be understood when there is empathy with them. 

Unfortunately, many VOC projects start all too easily with the premise that there is a common language between the company and the customer – it’s English (or French, German, Ukrainian, etc.), the language that the focus groups and questionnaires are done in.  Projects starting in this manner often end up with the VOC output sounding vaguely familiar.  Unfortunately, few will ask if the reason something sounds familiar is because it is an echo of the study sponsor’s voice.

Meaningful innovations seldom come from these types of VOC studies.  They instead come from those studies that truly understand the deeper language of the customer.  Products coming from these types of VOC studies, ultimately  leave customers speechless with delight.

That silence is the most powerful, vocal endorsement of all.

Posted in culture of innovation, Customer Focus, Design, Emotions, innovation, Innovation Tools, Market Assessment, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

When Designers Don’t Really Pay Attention to the Customer – A Case Study of a Humidifier

Posted by Plish on December 15, 2010

I recently bought a Sunbeam room humidifier.  Over all I like it’s look and the various displays.  Then I went to fill up the tank… 

I exaggerated slightly to make my point, but  I think you can see what the problem is.  The fill hole for the tank is placed away from the edges.  As a result, I can’t set the tank down in the tub as it’s filling.  (I can, but 50+% of the water splashes off and goes down the drain.) Instead, I have to hold the tank at an uncomfortable angle while it’s filling and getting heavier.  On top of that, it’s hard to know if I’ve filled it enough since everything is tipped.

Before I got too angry, I looked at the instruction booklet to see what they recommended and  it clearly said the tank could be refilled in  the sink or tub.    Now, to be fair, I did check to see if it fit in my kitchen sink and it did – barely.    But, sinks often have things in them and they don’t deliver a good volume of water – it takes forever to fill up a tank.  

 Tubs, on the other hand,  give nice large volumes of water.   Without doing a study, I couldn’t say that more people use the tub than the sink, but I’d be willing to bet they do.

So what does this all mean?

It probably means that the designers of this product didn’t take the time to actually watch people in their homes filling their humidifiers.   If they did, they would have noticed the contortioning that people do while filling up their humidifier tanks.  To be fair, maybe this was done on purpose so that  people wouldn’t overfill the tanks.  Or, maybe they didn’t go to people’s homes because they measured 100 different faucets and designed for the average and it turns out that mine is an outlier – 99% of all faucets fit but mine doesn’t.  

Regardless, this all comes down to the simple question,

“Why does this even have to happen?” 

Moving the fill hole an inch closer to the closest straight edge would enable this to be used in all types of tubs. 

People could just walk into the bathroom, plunk the tank down, watch the water gush through the hole with minimal splashing (and thus not require major wiping afterwards), turn off the water, screw the lid on and pick up the tank.  It would’ve made for a simple, stress free, tank filling process. 

Is the current situation a huge dealbreaker?  Probably not.  I already bought it and it’s not worth taking it back to the store.  But, in the end, if someone asks me about a room humidifier, while I’d probably still recommend this model, I would share the info on filling because it’s an inconvenience and mess that I’d want to be upfront about.  It’s a shame really because it wouldn’t have taken much to make this product rock solid…

It’s a simple lesson really:   A better customer experience doesn’t necessarily come from flashy numbers, cool dials, smooth, beautiful lines.    Sometimes it comes from just paying attention to what the customer does.

Posted in Case Studies, Customer Focus, Design, Ergonomics, Market Assessment, Research | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Novel Tool for Measuring Emotional Response to Products – PrEmo

Posted by Plish on December 5, 2010

Companies put extreme effort into making sure their products are built according to specifications in repeatable, cost-effective processes.   For many, quality is seen almost exclusively through the lenses of assuring or controlling quality, Six Sigma,  Lean Manufacturing and the like.  In other words, improving quality means minimizing scrap or complaints due to product failures.

The problem is that none of these quality measures actually look at intangibles of quality, that je ne sais quoi tied into the emotional responses of the people purchasing or using the product.  Instead, these intangibles are indirectly (and many times incorrectly!) measured through metrics like increasing sales, i.e. if the products are selling, people must be happy with them and love them! 

In reality, however, good sales of a product may not have anything to do with people being excited about a product.  Instead, people may buy because of  how easily something can be purchased, or simply because of the lack of other offerings.   We’ve all had the experience of buying something that really wasn’t the preferred product simply because it was more readily available at a closer store.  In fact, since we are creatures of habit, we may even repurchase that very same item the next time our ‘habit cycle’ comes around! Does that mean I like that product? 

Of course not! It means I can live with it, and in the increasingly competitive world of  product offerings, successful companies shouldn’t, and in some cases can’t, rely on their products being ‘good enough’ to live with.  What are needed are products that elicit powerful emotions in people – those emotions that make people want to buy something even if it means driving 2 hours and waiting in line for 10 hours to buy it.

How do we know if a product elicits this response?  We measure the emotional response


Pieter Desmet, Ph.D.,  has done some excellent work in  finding ways of objectively and effectively measuring emotional responses.  To that end, I strongly suggest you read his paper entitled, ‘Measuring Emotions.’  It’s an easy but informative read about the development of his emotional response measurement tool called,  PrEmo.  

PrEmo is based on the premise that people are more able to effectively articulate their emotions through recognizing those same  emotions as conveyed in the facial/body expressions/vocal tones of others, than they are able to describe what it is they are feeling.   To facilitate this process, PrEmo consists of animated cartoon characters depicting 12 emotions (it used to be 14) on a screen.  Also on the screen is a picture of the product that’s being evaluated (though this product could be held in someone’s hands or experienced another way).  The person then clicks on each cartooned emotion, noting the extent he or she feels that particular emotion.  The data is compiled at the end and voila! Emotional responses have been measured and comparisons between populations and products can be made. The tool is easy to use and is even described as fun by some people.

 SusaGroup, in conjunction with the Delft University of Technology, built the system into a reasonably priced  commercial product.  If you contact them they will even oblige you with a demo so you can experience the tool for yourself.   

I think you’ll find that, like me,  PrEmo will have a place in your research toolbox, because product quality isn’t just about specifications and manufacturing processes – it’s also about the experiences people have when they interact with your product; it’s about designing products that elicit emotional bonds.

The importance of this emotional response can’t be overstated, because when the experience of a product is memorable in a positive way, you’ll find that people are often more than willing to overlook certain ‘quality’ issues.

Posted in Design, Emotions, innovation, Innovation Metrics, Market Assessment, Quality Systems, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Intuitive Guiding of Iterative Design Research to Expedite Product Development

Posted by Plish on May 14, 2010

Wednesday,  at the final day of the Design Research Conference,  a panel discussion was held on the topic of design research and its role.  One panelist, Don Norman, was particularly animated about the need for design research to better serve industry by providing the results of the research in an expedited manner.  

While listening to Norman I found myself in total agreement with his assessments.  I also resisted the urge to jump up, wave my arms and say, “We’ve already done it!!!!”

What is ‘it’?

‘It’ is: Expediting design research to help industry develop products faster.   This technique may or may not work with non-product design but thinking about it, I’m not sure there’s a reason why it shouldn’t. 

So what is this process?  Here’s a diagram of the comparison between how design research is done in traditional programs and in expedited programs.

Click for Full Size

The typical Research and Development (R&D) process holds science in the highest esteem.   It consists of a research phase, Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Authenticity, Best Practices, Creative Environments, culture of innovation, Design, design thinking, innovation, Innovation Tools, Market Assessment, problem solving, Research, Tactics, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Is ‘Reverse Innovation’ Really Innovation?

Posted by Plish on September 30, 2009

Comparison of Innovation Strategies - Click for Full View

Comparison of Innovation Strategies - Click for Full View


Recently, GE’s CEO coined the term “reverse innovation” in this article.  (Or read the shorter summary version from BusinessWeek)

In a nutshell, Reverse Innovation is  a process by which Product ‘X’ gets developed in and for places like China or India.  It meets very specific needs at a lower price.  However, after launch there is a realization in the U.S. that Product ‘X’ meets needs for a sizable demographic within the U.S., at the lower price.  In a strange twist, a company creates products that compete against its own products.  Instead of expensive, feature rich products being developed in the U.S. and then being modified for sales overseas, products get developed overseas and come back to the U.S. at a lower price point.

That said, is reverse innovation truly innovation?

Vote here before reading my take:


My take:

Ultimately innovation, which involves bringing good designs to market at acceptable price points, comes from knowing the customer.  This should be done on a local level, and that part of reverse innovation is on the mark.  However, it shouldn’t take someone creating a device in a different country to open one’s eyes to a market for that same product in the U.S..

I’m not sure what I’d call it, but if you want to know what reverse innovation sounds like, I created this:

Posted in Case Studies, Customer Focus, Design, Disruptive Innovation, innovation, Market Assessment | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Cool New Patent Analysis Tool

Posted by Plish on August 13, 2009

Over on LinkedIn I came across a new website that offers some intriguing Artificial Intelligence and Pattern Recognition webtools.  But the one I like the most is the Patent Search tool that not only shows patents in the field you’re looking in but allows you to get an approximation of the value of each patent.

For illustration purposes I  ran a search for U.S. patents that have the terms “Camera” and “Flexible”  in the Abstract. The results are shown below:


The results show the following:

1. If a box is outlined, it means the patent in that row belongs to the subclass of the column.

2. The number in the column/row intersection is equal to the number of subclasses in the patent plus the number of patents from the search that are in that subclass.  The higher this number, the more valuable the patent can be seen to be.

3. The shade of blue helps carve out islands of similar groups of numbers.

After you run this search you can check on the patents you’d like to look at more and click the ‘Find Similar’ button to obtain a sorting operation.

Personally I like this engine.  I even found some other patents that didn’t show up when doing other web based searches.  I also like how the various relationships between various patents and classes are depicted.  It does give a great lay of the land in that respect.   It also excels in showing where there might be holes in the patent landscape.

After talking to the developers of this tool, they made it clear that they have much more in pipeline from a development perspective, so this search engine is destined to become cooler and more useful still.

Posted in Disruptive Innovation, idea generation, innovation, invention, Market Assessment, patents, Web 2.0 | Tagged: , , | 9 Comments »

Some Insights into Office Max’s Innovation

Posted by Plish on June 25, 2009

(pic courtesy of businessweek.com)

(pic courtesy of businessweek.com)

Please check out this excellent article over at Business Week about Office Max’s innovation efforts.

There are some great insights into how they chose to redefine how and what they sell.  Some great guidelines for innovating as well:


• Focus on Unspoken Needs

Needs represent market opportunities, but consumers are unlikely to come out and say, for instance, “I want a better way to label file folders.” Researchers read between the lines to uncover real needs.

• Study customers in their environment

You’ll learn far more observing people’s everyday behaviors than you ever would by asking them questions in a focus group.

• Watch for Contradictions

When someone says one thing and does another, that’s often the sign of an opportunity.

• Identify Your Target Customer

In-depth ethnographic studies usually involve no more than a dozen subjects, so make sure they are the right ones. Depending on the project, it might be important to include subjects from different regions or countries, or to get a mix of urban and rural participants. A food company, for instance, needs to understand regional differences in eating habits, while a pet food maker might want to study the differing needs of city dwellers and out-of-towners.

• Use Multiple Tools to Record Material

In addition to written notes, the researchers used video, which allowed them to capture rich detail. Audio is useful when researchers want to be less obtrusive. An advantage of still photographs is that they are easy to sort later as researchers review materials looking for common problems and other valuable insights.

Anything else you could add to this?

Posted in Case Studies, Design, innovation, Innovation Tools, Market Assessment, Research | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Princess and the Pea, User-Centered Design, and asking “Why?”

Posted by Plish on May 1, 2009

Sometimes 'Smaller' Doesn't Help...

Sometimes 'Smaller' Doesn't Help...

I was talking to a nurse about a particular medical device. She looked at it and said, “You need to make it smaller.”

“Why?” I asked -having a gut feeling that it didn’t need to be much smaller based on some in-field research.

“Because it’s too big. It get’s pressed onto the skin like this, and then…then it’s uncomfortable for the patient.”

“What do you mean?” I continued.

“It digs into the skin.”

“What about holding it,” I took a slightly different direction, “How does it feel?”

“Just about right, I wouldn’t change it too much.”

The picture came together all at once.  “So, do you think it needs to be smaller or more comfortable?”

“More comfortable- definitely!  Yeah, not too much smaller, I’d have trouble holding it like this with my stubby fingers.”

Sometimes when you’re asking people to give input on a product/process, the first words out of their mouths aren’t really what they mean.  In this case, ‘smaller’ did not mean ‘smaller’, it meant, ‘more comfortable for the patient.’

The result of not asking “Why?” could have been disastrous.  If I took the “make it smaller” statement at face value, I could have developed a product that was smaller (even less comfortable for the patient-think “Princess and the Pea”), and harder to handle – missing on two accounts.

Children are great at asking, “Why?”.  They don’t care about looking stupid, about not having all the answers – – they just want to learn.

So next time you’re trying to solve a problem, ask “Why?”…multiple times.  This technique works great for everything, even problem statements. For example:

Problem Statement: In what ways might we make this thingamabob smaller?

Why does it need to be smaller?

Because it needs to fit in this slot.

Why does it need to fit in the slot?

Because that’s how it turns this other doohickey on.

Why does it have to turn it on?

Um…it doesn’t…maybe being smaller isn’t what this thingamabob needs to be.

For another great perspective  on the pitfalls of not asking “why?” check out this blog entry.

Posted in Case Studies, Creative Thinking Techniques, Design, idea generation, Market Assessment, problem solving, Research | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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