Product Innovation is all about staying relevant.

But the fear – and cost – of failure can be huge hurdles to overcome.

In fact, a recent McKinsey survey found executives believe new consumer behaviors present growth opportunities – especially for consumer goods and services.

21% of Survey Participants 21%

Yet just 21% of the survey participants believe their organizations have the expertise, resources and commitment to successfully pursue new growth opportunities.

Product innovation is about more than making something better. Breakthroughs happen when brands listen to consumers and solve a real problem or unmet need – and brands grow when they create value by making products or services more affordable, accessible or convenient for people.

So, what does it take to overcome the fear of failure and cash in on profitable growth opportunities in a competitive market? Innovative brands keep consumers at the core of everything they do and count on market research solutions to reduce the risks and cost of product innovation.

Overcome The Fear of Failure

How Market Research Keeps Product Innovation Relevant and Profitable

When Forbes named Spanx inventor Sara Blakely the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire in 2012, she credited her father for empowering her to overcome the fear of failure. In a CNBC interview she said childhood dinner discussions inspired her to embrace failure and perseverance because her father routinely asked, ‘what have you failed at this week.’

Before inventing the Spanx body shaping garment in the late 1990s, the inventor was selling fax machines. The ‘a ha’ moment happened when Blakely was getting ready for an event, and she decided to cut the feet out of a pair of tights to wear under a pair of cream-colored trousers.

Embracing failure can be easier said than done. But the common denominator among the most innovative brands is a culture that embraces a customer-first mindset and perseverance.

Blakely knew she was onto something special with footless pantyhose according to an Inc. interview, but it took years to persuade a clothing manufacturer to develop a prototype of her product. She never stopped believing others would love the way the new undergarment made her look and feel.

In 2000, Blakely’s perseverance paid off when she found a mill willing to produce her product line. And her big break happened when The Oprah Winfrey Show featured the footless pantyhose as one of Oprah’s ‘favorite things.’ In 2001, she struck a deal with the QVC TV shopping channel, enabling her to expand the product line. And now, Spanx is a global sensation.

Embracing failure can be easier said than done. But the common denominator among the most innovative brands is a culture that embraces learning, a customer-first mindset and perseverance.

Target Category Drivers

Brands can gain a competitive edge by looking beyond their current portfolios and focusing on underlying category drivers. A good example is the alcoholic beverage industry, where the cocktail culture is driving up sales of premium spirits.

In fact, premium ready-to-drink cocktails are the fastest growing spirits segment according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, and two out of three participants in a recent study said they consider themselves to be regular or occasional consumers of mixed drinks. Based on a report published by Beverage Industry, premium tequila, whiskey and rum are driving up cocktail sales.

And there is also growth potential for zero-proof and low-alcohol by volume (ABV) drinks according to a market analysis by IWSR. Rising health and wellness awareness are changing the way people drink and think about alcohol, and this is expected to continue driving growth in the low- and non-alcoholic beverage segments for several years.


More imbibers want to know exactly how much alcohol they are consuming and moderate their consumption by switching between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. In fact, a NielsenIQ study found 78% of people who buy alcoholic beverages also buy non-alcoholic beverages. The study also found people who buy low-alcohol-by volume (ABV) beverages tend to be more health-conscious, and are looking for options with natural ingredients, fewer calories and less sugar.

Molson Coors is actually diversifying their beer and hard seltzer portfolio ‘beyond beer,’ and is introducing products based on the many ways people enjoy drinking– whether that means abstaining, drinking in moderation or cocktailing. They added a new whiskey brand and a line of canned cocktails with premium spirits to their product line.

In the NA space, the brand launched zero-proof canned mixed drinks, alcohol-free energy drinks and gourmet sodas. Plus, in the DTC wellness category, their subsidiary Tess USA sells VeryVell in select states, a sparkling water line infused with vitamins and hemp-derived CBD.

Discover Unmet Needs and Problems

Identifying growth opportunities starts in the ideation stage, and market research can determine whether an innovative idea will meet consumers’ needs, solve a problem or close a gap by meeting an unfulfilled need.

Swiffer is a great example of product innovation inspired by consumer insights.

Back in the 90s, Proctor & Gamble had the leading floor detergent brands. But the floor cleaning category was over-crowded and stagnant. In fact, wet mops were patented by Thomas W. Steward back in 1893, and the dry mop was introduced by O-Cedar in 1959.

Combining proven quantitative and qualitative research methods is the best way to gain a deeper understanding of how values, needs, and interests influence consumers.

P&G used ethnographic research to learn how to make mopping feel like less of a chore. Researchers visited customers’ homes to observe how they actually cleaned their floors, and learned people take pride in having a clean home –but loathe the time intensive floor cleaning process and hate lugging around mucky buckets of mop water.

These consumer insights inspired the launch of the Swiffer product line in July 1999. Using the Gillette ‘razor and blade’ business model, P&G has kept prices low and sustained about $500 million in sales annually with equipment kits, disposable cleaning pads, and bottles of detergent.

Monetize Shifts In Consumer Demand

Marketing is all about having the right product in the right place at the right time and quick-turn market research enables brands to pivot and monetize shifts in consumer demand.

Back in 2007, Hershey, Kraft and Mondelez launched a collab to push repeat consumption of s’mores ingredients during camping season – in case you haven’t tried one, it’s basically a graham cracker sandwich, with a fresh roasted marshmallow and a melty square of chocolate squished inside.

When real-time consumer insights revealed a spike in demand for s’mores during the pandemic lockdown, Hershey’s decided to forgo their seasonal focus on Easter candy sales, and ramp up production of multi-pack milk chocolate bars.

The Hershey’s team collaborated with their cohorts at Jet-Puffed and Honey Maid brands to design S’mores Kits to sell online and in warehouse stores and partnered with Kroger and Walmart to set up in-store point-of purchase displays with all the ingredients needed to make the nostalgic treats.

The pivot paid off. According to news reports, the campaign resulted in consumers making 10 million more s’mores in 2020 than 2019, contributing to a 30% increase in milk chocolate multi-pack sales.

How To Get A Deeper Understanding of Unmet Needs and Consumer Behavior

Consumer goods and services are ripe for disruption, and according to research by McKinsey, the industries with the most unmet consumer needs right now are
consumer packaged goods, financial services, pharma and medical supplies, retail, healthcare systems and services, and technology.

Combining a customized blend of proven quantitative and qualitative research methods is the best way to gain a deeper understanding of the values, needs, interests and feelings influencing consumer sentiment, shopping behavior and spending habits.