We often tell people we’re in the idea business. The ideas we work with primarily help shape two things: 1) New product development and 2) Messaging/communication. The idea generation and optimization process happens early on but, sadly, early-stage “fuzzy front end” research is rare and seems undervalued. It’s tempting to just go with gut feelings when addressing common business problems like, “What should we say?” or “What features should our new product have?”
Additionally, people often justify not investing in early-stage research because they can’t afford it. In reality, you can’t afford NOT to do it. According to Cincinnati research agency AcuPoll, a whopping 95% of new products introduced each year fail. And a study by Montoya-Weiss and O’Driscoll showed that even the slightest improvements in an organization’s new product development process can yield significant savings.
Your creative and media will only go as far as the quality of the core brand positioning or communication idea. We often describe research as a “garbage in – garbage out” process. It doesn’t matter how pretty the survey is if it’s not designed to deliver insights that answer the business question. In the same way, it doesn’t matter how good the creative is or how much you spend on media if the idea is “garbage.” This is why it’s so important to invest in early-stage research.
How does the idea generation and optimization process work?
We view the idea generation and optimization process like a diamond. The top half of the diamond is where you expand your thinking by generating and considering a wide range of ideas. The bottom half of the diamond is where you focus in and sharpen the best ideas. It’s human instinct to try and “solve the problem” … to simply jump right in and find a solution. But the diamond approach forces you to explore and generate alternatives BEFORE selecting the best idea. You’re probably planning to invest a lot in creative development and advertising, so it’s unwise to invest heavily on an untested idea.
Let’s quickly look at two areas where early-stage research has been proven to be extremely valuable.
“What should we say?”
It’s important for the research/planning department and the creative team to be on the same page. Creatives need freedom to be creative. But research/planning need more structure and definition. How does early-stage research help them meet in the middle? An award-winning Creative Director describes the outputs as “creating the sandbox that the creative team can play in.”
In the case of messaging, early-stage research helps focus on core messages — what should and should not be communicated. Before investing anything on creative development you want to be able to say, “We know that if we communicate ‘XYZ’ then we increase likelihood of purchase by 25%.” Now the creative team has a “sandbox” to work in and they know as long as they stay within the “sandbox”, their work will impact the consumer.
“What features should our new product have?”
Similar to messaging, early-stage research for new-product development is all about setting yourself up for success and managing risk. Early-stage research can also inform product development in a different way – by identifying unknown consumer “problems,” we can begin to generate solutions which target needs that are currently unmet in the market.
- Early-stage research is a vital step in producing effective marketing communications and new products.
- Strong ideas support strong execution! Don’t pass over the opportunity to learn more during the “fuzzy idea stage.”
- Align your efforts by having the research/planning department develop a “sandbox” for the creative team to work with that’s backed by data.