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13. Jan 2020

Quality beats quantity - Evaluating innovational ideas with lead users

Frau trägt gelbe Taucherbrille gefüllt mit Steinen

If you ask large, representative samples for approval of radically new ideas, you almost always end up with zero responses. No wonder: Most consumers can only imagine what they know. If you want to assess the real content of an innovation idea, you have to rely on lead users instead of an online omnibus.

Selling percentages. This applies to discount campaigns in retail just as much as it does to decision-making proposals in the company. It's easier to get an idea through committees if you can express consumer interest in figures. But: If you ask for approval of radically new ideas in large, representative samples, it will almost always end in indecision and thus in zero statements. If you want to evaluate the real content of an innovation idea, you would be well advised to survey lead users and focus on quality rather than quantity. If done correctly, the result is often: n=5 > n=5,000.

Abstract ideas do not fit into a questionnaire

There are two basic rules when designing quantitative surveys. First, questions must be as clear and unambiguous as possible and leave as little room for interpretation as possible. After all, clicking is quick, in the sense of "I don't know, I'll take the middle". Second, there must be anchors to the survey subject in the consumers' world of experience. Otherwise, they cannot imagine the content of a new idea or a new product. Nor can they honor it.

When developing and testing new concepts, we need black-and-white thinking, something polarizing. Because what polarizes wins fans. And what wins fans, in turn, has the chance to be carried into the masses.

The question then becomes: In which research format is it okay if an idea is not yet completely thought through or still needs explanation in some places? If there are still alternative directions for development? When we know it's an idea that may still be difficult to understand in the here and now?

Co-creative lead user workshops - means of choice for early consumer involvement

Lead users provide answers to the question of tomorrow's consumer behavior. They may represent a very small group of enthusiasts, but one thing is clear: they think ahead because they are curious, open-minded, creative and tech-savvy. They provide a preview of what larger groups will think and how they will behave in three to five years.

Caution: Lead users should not be quantified. They will never offer the greatest market potential, as they are by definition a marginal group. Instead, they develop their effect as sparring partners for product development primarily when you actively invite them to take a look behind the scenes. They find it exciting to be included in development processes and discussions. They feel valued by sharing ideas and concepts that are not yet ready and enjoy asking questions that actually go beyond their everyday area of expertise. With the help of co-creative formats, we can find out exactly what the success or failure of a product innovation would depend on.

What do we need to keep in mind? Five points:

Schedule extra time:
Co-creation sessions need a goal and tools to work with. The schedule should leave room for following a path that has not yet been thought of. And: Lead users are only human. They are just as tired after a day of workshops as we managers and consultants are. Even if, unfortunately, they won't be around tomorrow to give their feedback, you should give them breathing room and not bombard them with questions.

Create setting:
The white mirror room in the Mafo Institute is a real inspiration killer. The room, food, environment and materials should embody a certain future orientation and innovative mindset. This inspires everyone involved and sets the bar at the right height for the results to be achieved.

Display openness:
Discussions are held at eye level; everyone is allowed to ask questions. However, it is important that everyone knows and has the common goal in mind. Side discussions are exciting, but often do not contribute to the goal.

Recruit like-minded people:
Lead users want to know why they in particular were invited. Of course, this also happens in alignment with the other participants. The better the recruitment, the stronger the feeling that this is a really good group that can achieve something together. Ideally, (some of the) facilitators and moderators will also be part of the target group of lead users.

Generate ambition:
Lead users are defined by their affinity for trends, their strong opinions, their creativity, and their curiosity. When they feel comfortable in their environment, they often outgrow themselves after initially feeling out the topics. Therefore: Don't be afraid to also put things up for discussion that are challenging in terms of content and clearly go beyond the everyday life of lead users.

Lead users can, especially in the early phase of product and idea development, provide extremely valuable impetus, test out routes, uncover errors, and highlight the rough edges of a product.

Selling percentages - that's still true, of course. And lead user co-creation cannot always and in every case replace classic quantitative market research. But a discussion with the target group of tomorrow and the eye-opening insights that your managers will gather in conversation with lead users usually inspire more sustainably than 62 percent approval. auf einer 5er Skala.

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