product innovation

Simple Packaging Innovation Leads to Big Brand Rewards


National brands are generally the end result of big investment, big ideas and big marketing. So why am I finding that my own consumer choices are being increasingly influenced and determined by niggly little things instead of the big picture?

One of the little things that got hammered this revelation home for me what the security seals on meal replacements. Both Ensure and Boost are nationally advertised, similar tasting and priced about the same. One has simple perforated plastic ring that you break when you twist off the cap. The other has a foil seal with teeny tiny tabs that you remove with your fingernails if they’re strong enough to apply about 2,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. If they’re not, you have to stab the seal with a knife. It may seem like a small thing. But, when you think about it, this is product category primarily focused on an older demographic that is even less dextrous than me. Why put these consumers through hassle when the whole point of your product is to make their lives easier?

Getting to the actual product in the package is the ultimate pay-off for every brand. Which is why I don’t buy loose charcoal for the barbecue anymore. Why hunt for scissors to cut open a bag and then pour out the briquettes in a storm cloud of charcoal dust when I can choose a brand that lets me toss the whole bag into the barbecue and use one match on the bag to light it? This is brilliant. I am betting the idea came from a product manager who actually has a charcoal barbecue and uses it.

And while I’m on the subject of barbecuing, I want to commend the people at Maple Leaf who had the foresight to package Prime Chicken in leak-proof trays. Thanks to food safety experts, we  know that handling raw chicken and plutonium are about equally deadly, but many grocery stores continue to wrap their chicken trays so the raw chicken juice manages to leak out the bottom. With Prime, I can confidently purchase poultry without a hazmat suit.

After investing mightily in what’s in the package and on the package, I would encourage brands to invest more time in thinking about how consumers open the package; which is one of your product’s most important brand touch-points. It may be a small thing, but I suspect it influences more purchasing decisions than they believe.

Maybe it’s time to refocus some focus groups on collecting insights about that moment of truth when consumers experience products for the first time. After all, the product experience outweighs all of the brilliant and cunning marketing that gets them to the point of trying it. The real beating heart of innovation is simply answering the unmet need. It doesn’t have to be a big unmet need. But if that unmet need you’ve met is something your competition isn’t doing, you will win.

I will buy a battery with a best-before date on it before a battery that makes me guess. I will choose a network provider that continually tells me how much bandwidth I have left for the same reason. People are only loyal to brands as long as the brands work for them. As soon as your brand creates angst in my life, I’m unfriending you faster than you can say salmonella.

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The Three Basic Tools of Innovation: Eyes, Ears & Feet


Innovation Insights

One of a series by Ken Tencer, Spyder Works CEO

During a recent presentation on product innovation to the HBA Global Expo in New York City, I was asked a great question:  “What tools do I need to be a great innovator?”  My answer surprised many people with its simplicity: “Your eyes and ears.” Innovations are all around us, and when we take time to notice them they can stimulate more creative thoughts within each of us.  And I really should have also added “feet,” because the day before I had walked 40 Manhattanblocks looking for interesting and outrageous inputs to spur my own innovative thinking.  Here are two examples of what I found:

First, I noted that Ben & Jerry’s has introduced new Greek frozen yogurt.  They’re jumping on the trend that has seen smoother, higher-protein Greek yogurt double sales in each of the past three years.  It’s still not that healthy – Ben & Jerry’s positions its Greek frozen yogurt as a “reasonable reward,” not health food.  But it’s a fast, clever move to harness consumers’ changing tastes and growing health concerns, while maintaining Ben & Jerry’s reputation for flamboyant branding.  Who else would sell Greek frozen yogurt in flavors such as Strawberry Shortcake, Raspberry Fudge Chunk and Banana Peanut Butter?

I couldn’t miss the A&E TV show Storage Wars.  Why do people love this reality show?  It’s about discovery.  Four (and now more) modern-day treasure hunters, competing to find abandoned storage lockers concealing antiques, bargains, collectibles and other forgotten finds.  In tough economic times, this combination of hope, disappointment and triumph has become a magic elixir to lighten our daily struggles.

If you’re a product developer or retailer, the point is this: little discoveries and everyday surprises are all it takes to engage today’s cash-strapped consumers.

Next time you’re in a distant city – or even a new part of town – don’t even think of sitting back in a cab or going deep underground in the subway.  Take a walk.  Look up, look down, notice what people are wearing, venture into stores you’d never normally go into.  The more we get out of the office to see and hear other people, other products, other places and new approaches, the more ideas we can gather to make our own work more innovative and impactful.

Plus, it’s healthy.

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The Cake Pop is the Essence of Innovation


Innovation Insights

One of a series by Ken Tencer, Spyder Works CEO

Some say that successful innovations “mask the complexity behind them”. I put it a bit differently – I believe that successful innovations harness the obvious. One of the great examples of this is the cake pop. These deceptively simple desserts –  frosted balls of cake on a lollipop stick – reflect everything that is right about innovation. It’s a bold new use for a traditional product that opens up huge opportunities for creativity and new sales venues, while reflecting a societal shift to healthier lifestyles (smaller portions), more frugal indulgences, and ease of access for people on the go (look ma, no fork!).

Let me say that again: cake pops didn’t come out of nowhere. Invented by blogger/baker Angie “Bakerella” Dudley in early 2008, they took off a month later when Martha Stewart invited Dudley to make cake pops on her TV show. But cake pops succeeded because they addressed changes in societal norms and consumer behavior.  They also met one other need: they brought a rare and fun originality to the baking and catering industries. Covered with sprinkles or styled to resemble mini ice-cream cones, cupcakes, Christmas trees and even flowers, cake pops can now be found at birthday parties (where they leave much less mess behind than slices of cake), weddings, corporate events and family dinners – anyplace where gracious hosts and hostesses are always competing to serve the newest of the new.

Understanding consumer needs and capitalizing on market shifts represent the essence of innovation. It’s bringing new things to market to continuously re-engage your customers and meet their changing needs. Surprise your customers, delight them and solve their problems, and watch your sales pop.


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