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Making the most of the fuzzy front end

Making the most of the fuzzy front end

Brand RepublicWhen it comes to new product development it's important to take a strategic view of the fuzzy front end, write Joe Marshall and Annie Tokatlian, Ipsos Marketing in Brand Republic. 

The fuzzy front end is still shrouded in mystery for most organisations. For example, most believe the fuzzy front end is a creative process that should not follow a formal framework.

At Ipsos InnoQuest we firmly believe that the process must be strategic and rooted in the business decisions that need to be made.

While we use creative tools during the process, the ultimate goal is to uncover the insights and ideas that will lead to successful products in the marketplace.

First, companies need to define the innovation strategy for the brand, which is about defining innovation platforms based on market, brand, shopper and consumer understanding. Choosing which platforms to pursue is a strategic decision informed by foundational research. Once the platforms are identified, companies need to generate and decide on ideas to pursue.

Finally, marketers need to develop the concept, which should be the best expression of the right insight and the right idea, supported by the right reason to believe and the right brand.

Insights are often not treated as they should be in the fuzzy front end, considered only to guide idea generation around new products. They should in fact be at the heart of the fuzzy front end and be leveraged at different points of the brand’s life.

There are fundamental insights, which capture the motivations, desires and attitudes of people. These can ladder up to product insights - fully articulated insights that resonate with the product benefit - and brand insights; the ‘Big Idea’ for the brand communication platform. Insights can be the foundation of new product development and communication idea or positioning.

The fuzzy front end represents one of the greatest opportunities for improvement to the overall innovation process - good ideas to begin with mean strong commercial opportunities are more likely.

All too often, the original insights are lost along the way - it is simple enough to recognise an insight, much more difficult to write it into a concept so that it ties to the core idea, benefits and reasons to believe.

We also need to recognise that the fuzzy front end is an evaluation phase, and should involve validated metrics that will help you move on from insight generation to ideation and concept development.

Marketers often mistakenly believe that segmentation effectively defines consumer target groups at the fuzzy front end.

Instead marketers need to recognise that consumers must be understood from different angles and in different circumstances. Otherwise, strong opportunities can be missed or innovations steered in the wrong direction.

To more realistically define consumer groups, segmentation should be considered along with real consumer behaviour observation. Consumers have two faces: the real one, and the one they want to show.

For example, ‘healthy eaters’ still have junk food in their kitchen cupboards. Brands need to speak to both faces.

Another popular misconception is that the more inventive an idea is, the more likely it is to succeed. In reality, ideas that relate to more common occasions are far more likely to find success.

A mistake often made by companies is pursuing an idea that, while breakthrough or inventive, are not relevant to consumers at the current time.

For example, in the late 1980s, Pepsi introduced Pepsi AM to appeal to breakfast drinkers. The product failed, largely due to the low numbers who would drink Pepsi at breakfast.

Our experience shows that successful ideas relate back to insights across several criteria. Insights that highlight an idea as a revelation, important and relating to frequent situations and personal involvement are usually successful.

The fuzzy front end, insight identification, and articulation in particular, are becoming more important to many companies.

With the spotlight shining brighter on this early stage, there is increased pressure to ‘get it right’ - in other words, produce results that ultimately lead to successful products and do so in a creative yet efficient manner.

Now, more than ever, marketers need to really understand the realities of the fuzzy front end as a strategic process to see the whole consumer, and take charge of the fuzzy front end to produce impactful insights, ideas and concepts that resonate with people and pave the way for new product success.

Find the needles as early as you can to make sure you don’t spend the rest of your time in a haystack.

Joe Marshall, head of Innoquest at Ipsos Marketing, and Annie Tokatlian, senior marketing executive, Ipsos Marketing
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