Read on to discover:

  • 2021 trends and user expectations for product innovation.
  • The key ingredients to a successful innovation initiative.
  • Looking to the future: the role of big data in innovation.

On day two of FC Connect 2021, Calista Corley, CRO at Fuel Cycle, had the honor of discussing product innovation with business leaders from some of the world’s most well-known brands. Calista spoke with Alex Zeitz, Director of Employee & Customer Experience at Virgin Voyages, Jay Lister, Global Consumer Insights Team Lead at Reebok, and Jennifer Ludice, Principal User Researcher at Sonos, during the hour-long session. There was a wide range of topics discussed, and in this article, we will go over some of the most powerful takeaways from the virtual panel.

What Are The Trends In User Expectations In Terms Of Product Innovation?

Jennifer from Sonos explains the macro-trends her company has investigated over the last year of the pandemic. Specifically, she states that streaming and the variety of media content has grown tremendously since COVID began. Consumers expect high-quality pictures and audio when they stream content which is something Sonos is paying attention to. Social audio, home theater systems, and work-from-home audio needs are the driving forces behind customer expectations for the multi-room audio company.

On the other hand, Jay from Reebok emphasizes the need for purpose-driven products. Consumers expect brands to have a mission and uphold that mission in their manufacturing, company culture, and communications. For example, integrating sustainability and inclusivity into their end products is something that Jay works with Reebok product teams to achieve.

In the vein of sustainability, Alex from Virgin Voyages explained that the cruise ship firm recently removed all single-use plastic containers aboard its ships to align with customers and partners’ preferences.

Is Innovation As Important As Doubling Down On Core Products?

Calista points out that many times consumers are loyal to certain core products that a company offers. For instance, she always purchases the same brand and type of high-heeled shoes, which begs the question: Should innovation be a priority for brands that already have core products with a loyal fan base? Both Jennifer (Sonos) and Alex (Virgin Voyages) explain that companies need to find a balance between the two. By making the strange familiar and the familiar strange, brands can delight customers with both oldness and newness. An excellent illustration of this concept is Sonos Roam, a product born out of market research. Sonos sells multi-room listeners speakers at its core, but with Roam, they made the product even wilder.

Roam, a portable speaker, lets listeners enjoy music, voice control, and multiroom listening at home on WiFi or outdoors with Bluetooth® streaming.

Alex (Virgin Voyages) echoes Jennifer’s sentiments, explaining how his cruise ship company took the familiar concept of room service and innovated it with their new offering “Ship Eats,” a take on Uber Eats. Essentially, cruise ship passengers can order from any of the vessel’s restaurants and have the food delivered directly to them.

Ultimately, Jay from Reebok clarifies that even as consumer insights remain the same, the solution to their needs can shift with innovation.

Is Internal Alignment A Key Ingredient For Product Innovation?

Internal alignment between the executive, marketing, sales, and research teams is crucial for consistently rolling out great products. Jay (Reebok) states that larger companies are highly siloed, making it challenging to communicate and agree on how and where innovating should occur.

Even with the challenges that large brands face, Jennifer (Sonos) emphasizes how important it is for cross-functional teams to work arm in arm together. Data, go-to-market, and products teams at Sonos take an integrated approach to develop new innovative products, but without internal dedication to collaboration, this would not be possible.

How Do You Measure Emotional Connection With A Brand Or Product?

It’s no secret that some of the most successful brands on earth got to where they are because they have an emotional connection with their end-users. But how do companies measure emotions?

With qualitative market research strategies like virtual interviews, companies like Sonos can hear customer stories firsthand. Jennifer (Sonos) tells Calista that based on her research; many customers use Sonos because it makes them feel like a resident “sound expert” with a personalized listening experience in their home.

What Role Does Big Data Play In Product Innovation?

Big data is a buzzword these days, with more customers becoming aware of what information they share and who they share it with. To combat any hesitancy, Jennifer (Sonos) stresses the importance of data visibility for brands to build trust with their customers. Sonos can harness its insights without customers feeling like big brother is watching by explaining the value they provide in exchange for data. However, even with the benefits of big data, Jennifer states that scaling qualitative engagement is even more critical for product innovation. Alex (Virgin Voyages) agrees with Jennifer’s sentiments, explaining that big data is key to creating compelling experiences for customers but that brands must be honest about how data is used. Ultimately, communication is critical to consumer trust. Conversely, companies can utilize the powers of big data to improve employee experience and retention. Virgin Voyages discovered through employee data that many of its workers chose to work for them because of their commitment to environmental sustainability. This fundamental insight encourages Virgin to honor the planet with innovative products, services, and processes.

Looking Ahead | Product Innovation

The future of product innovation is personal, according to Jennifer from Sonos. Specifically, she predicts that personalization and customer experience with data will become more critical in the coming years. Jay (Reebok) expects a future with innovation from unexpected sources. Nike, for example, has an entrepreneur and a sci-fi writer on staff to formulate new, out-of-the-box designs, a trend that Jay believes will grow. Lastly, maintaining an agile research eco-system with continuous real-time data is something Virgin Voyages is committed to, a concept that more brands will likely develop in the future, Alex (Virgin Voyages) explains. The future of product innovation looks bright; more human, more customized, more inclusive, and more sustainable than ever before.

For more in-depth discussion on agile research for product innovation, check out our FCC panel recording, “Igniting Product Innovating: Agile Research For A Competitive Edge,”