My Say: Consumer behaviour drives product innovation

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 5, 2018 - November 11, 2018.
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"You know what’s weird? Day by day, nothing seems to change. But pretty soon … everything’s different.”

This is a quote by Bill Watterson, artist and the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, the cartoon strip about a six-year-old boy, Calvin, and his stuffed tiger toy, Hobbes. Calvin talks to his make-believe tiger all the time and their conversations always provoke my thoughts in many ways. How true that when we go about our routine day by day, everything seems the same, but things out there are changing so fast that sometimes we are caught napping.

Take changes in consumer behaviour, for example. In the past, newspapers were the daily staple of most people. A day was not complete without sifting through the dailies. Nowadays, tablets, smartphones and other gadgets flash the news at a touch. The news comes alive with videos, live commentaries and pictures that pop out on various screens. Will these remain as they are today and way into the future? Very unlikely, and this has got to do with the entrepreneurial and innovative concept which I spoke about in this column last month: “If it’s man-made, it’s meant to be improved.”

The sequel to this concept is that every product or service created by man will evolve, for man’s creation can never be perfect. The evolution happens with changing consumer behaviour. When we create or innovate a product without studying the changes in consumer behaviour, then our product may end up in storage.

So, when we create a product, we must do it on the basis of catering for the lifestyle of consumers. If we don’t do this, we are creating it only to satisfy our own want and ego. Are we creating a product or service within our own “ego-system” or the consumer eco-system?

If we insist on creating to gratify our ego, subsequent efforts to create a demand for it can be a Herculean task. But when we create a product when there is a known demand for it, the chances of it succeeding are greater. This is because humans don’t exist individually. We exist collectively, and there will be demand for a product that caters for the collective or common wants and needs. If we don’t create a product according to the consumer demand and lifestyle, then we will most likely fail even before we start.

I would like to share my simple recipe for developing compelling products all these years. There are six steps, driven by six compelling questions:

1.    What is the problem? Is it a Malaysian problem, a regional or a global one? This identifies the opportunity.

2.    Can I provide the solution to that problem? This should be proprietary.

3.    Are consumers willing to pay for that solution to the problem? This signals the demand.

4.    How much are they willing to pay for the solution? This tests commercial feasibility.

5.    How many of them are willing to pay that amount for the solution? This defines business worth and market size.

6.  If all the answers to the above are positive, and it becomes worthwhile for me to create the solution to that problem, then I go on to protect my intellectual property (patent, trademark or copyright) so I can continuously harvest what I once have sown.

The above are the generic steps to take in developing a product. Obviously, there are micro steps to make them work, including developing a prototype, product testing and iteration as well as foreseeing future changes in consumer behaviour.

An inspirational aspect of Calvin and Hobbes is Calvin’s inventiveness in creating all sorts of games, which he plays with Hobbes. The tiger always wins the games because it creates its own rules as and when the two of them play. So I adopt this concept of creating one’s own rules. When I started out as an entrepreneur, I did not know the rules, so I had the freedom to create my own rules. Some may call this thinking out of the box. Many people like to parrot this term, hence, acknowledging that there is a box. If we are out to create and innovate, there should not be any box in the first place. Let our mind wander free. There are limitless possibilities.

Another thing I always try to avoid is playing the catch-up game and fishing in the same pond where thousands have also cast their lines. This is based on my belief that there are still many products waiting to be found, and many industries waiting to be born. Let’s go back to the old days. What if you were the one who gave birth to the first car or the automotive industry back in the day? Bear in mind that this industry did not exist way before that. If you were the one who founded the industry, wouldn’t you be a multi-billionaire today?

Now imagine yourself in the 2030s and beyond. There will be products that will become a necessity to people living in the future such as the iPad or the smartphone that we have today. So think of things that are not here yet, have not been created yet. Let us stretch our minds way beyond the present time. Don’t allow anyone who says a certain thing is always done a certain way to get in our way. Be a non-conformist. Disrupt the norm so that we can come out with a lot of original ideas.

Just because the majority say something should be such and such, it doesn’t mean that it is the right thing. I don’t necessarily conform, even if the majority say so. We represent perfection in creation with a brain and a mind to think. In business, for instance, there are merits and niches and we have to find our own. When every other company moves this way or that way, we have to be the exception to the rule. Once we have our own ideas, we must plan, take action and process our strategy to make our ideas work.

Datuk Azrin Mohd Noor is the founder of Sedania Group, an innovator, author and IP expert. Reach him at [email protected]

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