Naturally in order to have a successful new product, you have to have a group of consumers willing to buy it. So I think it’s important that innovation teams meet consumers early in the process when they’re developing concepts.

It makes sense to involve consumers early in the innovation process. This way you haven’t invested too much time and money in developing concepts. It also means that your innovators haven’t become too emotionally attached to one favourite innovation idea or product. By testing out several ideas when they are still seedlings rather than fully-formed products, you can begin to get a broad understanding about what consumers are attracted to.

But who should you meet? When you have an established product, it is relatively straightforward to establish who should be in your focus groups. It’s much harder for innovation teams to determine who should evaluate new concepts in development. Good researchers and clever client teams will rigorously challenge the ‘target spec’ offered to them by the client. My advice is try to meet a range of people; don’t narrow down who you want to meet too soon. For example, we were recently conducting consumer insight into a new health product. We met plenty of extremely active and health-conscious millennials. They were instagramming their home-made spinach juices on their cycle commute to work. For them, the concepts we showed them were unnecessary. They were already on to creating the next set of health trends. But we also met those who were equally concerned with health, but were struggling with diet-based health issues such as diabetes and obesity. Many of them were members of Weight Watchers or Slimming World. They weren’t willing to make and eat DIY spinach drinks, but they were interested in a new health product. They were pleased that the product tasted delicious. They weren’t put off by preservatives, a little added sugar or a household brand name. Whilst it was informative to meet and understand those who following and creating new health trends and concerns, if we had only met these people we would have advised the client that their new concepts wouldn’t work.

We recently had a client who complained about having non-nationals of the country in the focus groups. However it turned out that for the new product didn’t gain traction for the traditionalist, white European nationals – the client’s imagined target – but it was much more popular with immigrants who were time-poor, aspirational and far less attached to the traditional national breakfast culture. If the client had excluded these ‘new Europeans’, they’d have missed a huge opportunity.

It can also be advantageous to think beyond an aspirational, affluent (ABC1 in marketing speak) target. We were recently involved with a research project for a beer brand. From talking to DE beer drinkers who had less spare cash and drank in less salubrious bars, we learnt that product cleanliness and glass cleanliness were big concerns for them. A big brand who could offer this reassurance over cleanliness was far more important to them than fancy new taste profiles or craft claims, unlike their better-off counterparts. This provides the perfect opportunity for a big brand with a resource advantage over smaller craft brands to cement their brand commitment with this group. The new product could reflect these attitudes.

It really pays to try concept ideas with a few different and distinct groups of potential targets.

It’s easy for innovation teams to assume that they share their consumers’ point of views. It’s also easy for marketing and brand folk to assume that they need to go after affluent consumers, or leading-edge consumers. Sure, the ABC1 millennial target has disposable cash, but actually your new product could well have more success, or get off the ground at all, for that matter, if you focused on other groups of consumers.