Don't listen to your customers: Working with a task based approach to innovation

Lubna Khan
JWT, New Delhi

Introduction

We all know about products that were launched with extensive consumer research validating them at each stage of the development process, but still failed in the market. Every year, companies spend millions of dollars trying to understand customer needs in a bid to innovate and unlock growth. Yet despite the heavy investment in research, and in the actions taken on the basis of the 'customer needs' identified, new products fail, advertising and promotion efforts go unheeded and businesses shut down.

The problem at the heart of these failures is that too much attention is paid to what customers say they need. In a widely cited article published in 1993 titled "The Voice of the Customer", Griffith & Hauser1 advocated listening to "a description, in the customer's own words, of the benefit that he, she or they want fulfilled by the product or service." This is typically the approach used by traditional market research. But in the years since then, the staggeringly high failure rate in innovation with these methods (as much as 80% by some estimates) has made it imperative that new models be found that help to understand what customers really need, and use this to guide business strategy and execution.