Let’s start with a little game. Close your eyes and think about an icon for innovation.
My guess is that you chose a lightbulb. Just like me and 9 out of 10 people.
And this is not good. A common visual language is gold, but a lightbulb is not what innovation is about.
I have a background in product development and I do innovation workshops. So I see many products in their baby-days. One of the things that strikes me is that many organisations think innovation is about having the best idea. And a lightbulb depicts just that; the enlightenment of your brain when it all becomes clear. Almost without exception people wanting to innovate set out to organise hackathons, put up idea-contests, hang letterboxes to post ideas.
Ideas are cheap
I think having ideas is important but not at all crucial. In fact, ideas are cheap. Because they’re easy to generate. In most companies, in about 4 hours you can harvest enough ideas to keep everybody busy for at least a decade.
How to make innovation work
Innovation is a risky business. Although I didn’t find conclusive numbers, it’s said that most new product introductions fail. I’m sure an important reason for this is because ideas are just believes. -They’re assumptions without data to prove them.
And the longer you live by these believes the more you get invested. Up to a point where they become the truth in your own ecosystem. And you keep spending on the projects that are build on just believes. That is, until you go to market. And then find out what your customers think of your idea.
Once you realise this mechanism, it’s easier to put focus on more important things: The most important fix is to test your believes. As early as possible. Before you spend big budgets and take big risks.
7 Ways for early product insights
To help you out with this, I listed 7 experiments to get insights on your believes. All are insights from real potential customers. And you’ll see these are all simple things to do. Doing these won’t break the bank and they’ll provide results fast. Some of them the very same day.
- Interview your users
- Create simple prototypes
- Look at your web stats
- Fake doors
- Run ads on your idea, not your product
- Ask people in the street
- A/B testing
1. Interview your users
It can be tricky to do the interviews right. So, if it’s your first time, do some reading-up. There’s a lot of information available online, like here. You’ll be amazed how much you learn from just talking to your end users. Especially when you show a prototype of your product. Some hints to get it right:
- Prepare the questions you want answered. Craft a script for the interview. Even though you are not likely to follow it to the letter, it does help to keep track.
- Get fresh users for every round of interviews. Talking to the same user from your ‘focus group’ doesn’t get you much further.
- For statistical purposes, every round should have at least 5 interviews. Sounds doable, right?
2. Create simple prototypes
Prototyping is great. Just the act of making your idea tangible improves it. And I guarantee: it always yields some unexpected feedback. In Design Sprints we usually spend 1 day to make a very shiny clickable demo. But even in about 2 hours you can create prototypes fit for purpose.
Some examples I saw working:
- Keynote/Powerpoint clickable demo’s
- Paper prototypes
- A movie explaining a service
- When we were testing beer concepts: a bottle with a newly printed label glued to it
3. Look at your web stats
It’s crazy, but many business or development teams have no clue what their products or landing pages do online. Probably the data is available, because 66 % of all websites use traffic analysis tools. Most likely it requires nothing more than a walk to the other side of the building. To the marketing department, or similar.
If you want to learn about your customers, look which Instagram posts do best on you company profile. Reach out and get access to the facebook pixel or Google Analytics data. Sure, there is a learning curve in using these, but the reward is great.
4. Fake doors
If you have a digital offering this test can be a real killer. Assuming you have proper web analytics set up, it’s easy to do. And you’ll learn a lot about real user intent in a real life situation. It’s a fake door test because you create a fake entry and measure the use of it. This can be a menu item, a tab in your app or a fake product in your shop.
Imagine you run a pet-food webstore. You can put up a product in the store that is not available yet. Maybe strawberry flavoured dog-food. If a lot of people try to buy it, you’re really sure you are onto something and invest more.
5. Run ads on your idea, not your product
Normally you’d have an idea for a product, build it and then sell it. Maybe tweak it.
If you have a really good idea, why wait to have it build? It much cheaper to start your online marketing campaign highlighting the features that you think will make your product, skipping the build part.
And so you learn how your idea resonates in the market, before spending anything on building.
6. Ask people in the street
Unlike proper user interviews, this is a shallow and fast conversation. Think of it as a real-life poll. If there is 1 hypothesis you want to test, it works great. Just go to a place where your target demographic can be found and ask some snappy questions.
It can be tricky to convince passers-by to answer your questions. When talking to strangers, think about a proper opening line. Like “We are a startup creating a new soda. Can we ask you about your preferences?”
7. A/B testing
A/B testing is a bit technical but a very reliable option. You should have a system to randomly serve two versions to the user (yes, version A and version B). The versions can differ in wording, color or be completely different websites. It’s the only way to really see which version works better, because all else is equal.
Let me know what you use
These are some of my favourite experiments. Please leave some comments or drop me a line to let me in on yours!