listen or lose! the consumer-led way to avoid new product disaster

by: Becky Mead

When it comes to innovation, the loudest voice in the room should be the person with the purchasing power. Consumers have the coin, which means they also have the final vote on whether your product succeeds. It should be as simple as that.

The consumer’s voice is often missed, dismissed or drowned out for relatable reasons, such as budget constraints and internal biases. Sometimes, opinionated leaders fixate on a direction, leaving minimal space for alternative viewpoints. In other cases, deadlines force manufacturers to cut corners on consumer research and count on gut feeling instead.
The answer is to bring your consumer into the innovation process as early and often as possible. You can do that in various ways at every stage of the innovation pathway, which are laid out here.


At the beginning of the innovation process, you must make an effort to understand consumer needs. You should create an innovation framework that accurately reflects what’s happening in the market. This looks like targeting genuine opportunities rather than steaming ahead with an idea your co-worker thinks is cool.

It can be tough to shift towards a consumer-led innovation culture, particularly if you’re used to prioritising other perspectives. Being retailer driven is a common scenario that prompts brands to create bigger packs or fruitier flavours simply because the retailer demands it. But it’s you, the brand, that deals with the consequences if these don’t resonate with consumers and translate into sales.

Shake up the status quo by investing in research that reveals unmet consumer needs and buyer behaviour. Who exactly are you talking to? How and why do they use products in the category? What does their path to purchase look like? You can even get clarity around how consumers perceive your brand, which should guide the direction of your next innovation.

By recording real shopper experiences or conducting exit interviews, you can gain direct insight into purchase drivers and barriers. This information enables you to influence buyer behaviour and avoid repeating mistakes. In a nutshell, front-end research highlights how your target market is currently solving problems, while presenting opportunities for you to do that job better. Successful NPD is about creating the change that consumers want to see.


Once you’ve established opportunity areas and produced relevant ideas, it’s time to build them out. During the develop phase, talking to consumers shapes and refines what’s in your mind.

One way we do this is by implementing a Tinder-style approach to idea screening surveys. We test numerous ideas with buyers who swipe left or right to indicate liking. This technique uncovers the strongest intuitive ‘yes’ response. As a result, you can turn market needs into concepts that are guaranteed to float your consumers’ boat.

Next, the consumer perspective should come in again to highlight where your new product concepts sit in their minds. Perhaps you believe a microwaveable pouch would make your product more convenient for the time-poor target market. Ask consumers: Does this idea make sense to you? Is it filling the identified gap? If the answer is yes, explore what the packaging design should look like, what benefits resonate with consumers and how those benefits should be communicated.


Brands often invest the bulk of the insights budget at the end of the NPD process. This decision is a problem because the idea hasn’t been shaped with consumer input. At this stage, it’s often too late to make major changes if you’re not largely on course for a product the consumer will buy. Due to this, many new products fall at the final hurdle.

Waiting until it’s time to build a business case or even put a product on the shelf before investing in insights is asking for trouble. If you want in-store execution that lives up to expectations, your ideas must be co-created with consumers and refined along the way. Commit to doing that and avoid nasty surprises at curtain call.

Bringing the consumer voice into the prove stage of innovation looks like testing your product bundle, establishing your brand’s impact at the point of purchase, setting the right price and maximising conversion by optimising placement. By the end of this stage, you’ll have confirmed three crucial elements: desirability, visibility and feasibility. Do consumers want your product in this form? Can they find it on the shelf? Does the product, pack and communications mix work? You’ll need to tick all these boxes if you’re to win FMCG gold.


After launch, it’s learning time. We strongly recommend measuring and evaluating your ambitions and strategy post-launch because the value in understanding what worked (or didn’t) from the consumer’s perspective is enormous.

Unfortunately, this stage is often missed or completed to minimum requirements – with disastrous consequences for brands. You might get lucky and create a winning product, but can you pinpoint the secret sauce to replicate next time? More often, not only is the outcome disappointing, but also no one understands <itals>why<itals> those sales figures suck. How can you improve when you’re stabbing in the dark?

The default approach is to ‘set and forget’, with brands swiftly moving on from failed launches instead of reflecting and pivoting with an optimised product. But this is such a waste of your hard work. Sometimes, a little realignment is all it takes for a flop to come out on top.

Take the beverage industry, for instance. Classy carbonated water products such as San Pellegrino and Mount Franklin’s Slightly Sparkling have stepped in to replace soda in people’s fridges. Ready-to-drink sugar-free seltzers are also exploding thanks to ever-growing demand for healthy, convenient options. Even the dusty golden oldie, SodaStream, has become popular again because it’s more environmentally friendly than buying plastic bottles, which resonates with a new generation. FMCG brands in this space are profiting from understanding consumer trends and reinventing products with a modern twist.

Eager to learn from your launch? Ask buyers and non-buyers what they think about your innovation, and then act on this input. Don’t miss an invaluable opportunity to uncover the ‘why’ so you can learn from your mistakes or build on your success.

test plans, avoid problems

I hope this breakdown of a consumer- led innovation process inspires you to invite the consumer voice into every stage of your grand brand plans. Rest assured, there are right-sized solutions for every stage of the NPD process, so you can make informed decisions that translate into big wins. Beyond that, the best sense-check is to ask one question at every stage of the innovation process: ‘Have we heard the consumer voice on this?’ Because without someone to buy your product, what have you really got?

Let’s shake up the way you innovate. PLAY is your partner in consumer-led innovation for the FMCG industry: innovation advisory and market research insights under one roof. Our team can help retune your NPD process to maximise in-market success. 



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about the author

Becky Mead

Becky has spent the last 18 years getting curious about understanding consumers so FMCG manufacturers can create products they truly want. Becky’s favourite part of the job is helping businesses leverage the consumer perspective to grow - fast! She believes in the benefits of working in partnership with her clients across the entire innovation process and focuses on consumer-first, agile approaches.

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