Come Together, Right Now
Lil Nas X (a rapper – and yes, I had to look up who he is) and Billy Ray Cyrus (Hannah Montana’s dad – oh, and he apparently sings country music) recently scored a Billboard #1 hit with Old Town Road. Florida Georgia Line (country) and Bebe Rexha (pure pop) topped the country music charts for a record 50 weeks with their collaboration. And Red Bull combined, well, whatever’s in Red Bull with Kiwi Apple to create Red Bull Green Edition, the best-selling convenience store launch in 2017 according to IRi’s Pacesetters report.
When done right, an unexpected combination offers tremendous upside, creating a target audience that can approach twice the size of something that fits neatly within a single category. That mindset also fits more closely with how people shop today, with a heightened focus on fulfilling a need as opposed to selecting from a category.
But innovating in this cross-category space is more difficult than introducing new products within a predefined category – closer in spirit to understanding breakthrough innovation than true line extensions. As always, with increased opportunity comes added risk.
There are specific research steps companies can take to mitigate that risk and unlock the tremendous upside of these products. With a nod to The Beatles (next time, I’m only talking about mid-80s college radio), here’s a way help information come together, right now, to introduce better-selling products (and yes, I realize on reading that sentence that somewhere, someone’s guitar gently weeps):
Understand the market. Use consumer panel data to profile purchasers of each category (or better yet, survey those panelists to assess the need state in which you are interested), the overlap in purchase behavior, and how attitudinally aligned buyers are. Simultaneously, this analysis provides insight into the nature of competition – how many competitors there could be, whether there’s a dominant (or fast-rising) brand to consider and even whether competitors are using direct-to-consumer or other non-traditional means of distribution.
Pre-build the marketing plan. Too often, companies don’t start considering the marketing plan until they’ve already decided on the product; or worse, they just pull up a previous marketing plan for “budgeting purposes.” Mining advertising intelligence prior to even building and testing a concept will reveal the messaging currently being used around the need state (as defined by looking across relevant categories), the competitive spend and the media being used to communicate the message. Likewise, that same analysis against promotional intelligence will provide input into the needed trade spend, as well as generate a potentially acceptable price range. The process of pre-building the marketing plan also forces companies to wrestle with branding and positioning elements at a relatively early stage, including how prominent a role packaging plays and what kind of co-branding or co-promotion might be at play.
Evaluate within competitive context. If you’re used to using a traditional concept testing database, you may find that the ideas you’re testing don’t fit neatly into a category. Rather than making an ad hoc decision as to the products with which you will be competing, ask consumers to evaluate it within the context of their current purchases – if possible, using proven rather than claimed purchase behavior.
Use real-time tracking to stay on shelf. Given the higher-risk nature of a product mash-up, you may find that particularly your targeting and trade spend need rapid adjustment post-launch. By tracking your launch in real time rather than waiting six months – and centered around surveys with known buyers who can tell you how they found the product, what messaging resonated and whether they would repurchase – you give your new launch the best chance for success.
You may already have many of these data sets at your disposal - including advertising and promotion intelligence, and omnichannel purchase panel data with the ability to survey panelists within 1-3 days of making a purchase baked in. If you do, it’s just a matter of reorienting your view of these data and breaking down the silos that often inhibit their use. But if you find that your organization is missing some of these necessary inputs, or you’d like some guidance as to how to reconsider your innovation process, send us a note.
Muddy Waters sang that the blues had a baby, and they named it rock and roll. Innovation is the lifeblood of a successful business, and improved analysis of the information already available goes a long way toward creating an innovation process that’s more likely to generate bigger, more successful ideas. Rock on!