Archive for the Tag 'New Product Development'

Innovating for the Irrational

Point: Innovation processes must reflect people’s true behavior

Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, finds that people display a host of consistent behavioral quirks in how they respond to products and marketing. These cognitive biases change not only people’s decisions and subjective opinions, but also their objective performance with products.

For example, in his work on behavioral economics, Ariely and his colleagues documented such quirks as:

  • how “free” items can bias decisions
  • how arbitrary numbers (e.g., the last two digits of your social security number) can affect the price a person is willing to pay
  • how adding a choice that almost no one will choose can cause many people pick the more-expensive choice
  • how publicly-made choices differ from privately-made choices.

Note: Dan Ariely will be speaking about the hidden forces that shape people’s decisions at the World Innovation Forum in New York City on May 6, 2009 at 4-5:30 pm.

One strong example from Ariely’s research is the effect of product price on performance. Does getting a good deal on a product change how well that product works? To test this, Ariely and his colleagues studied the efficacy of products such as pain killers, cold medicine, and energy drinks as a function of the price people pay from them. In the energy drink study, people bought an energy drink (some test subjects got a price discount), drank the drink, and then performed a word puzzle test. People who paid more for the drink solved more of the puzzles than did people who got a discount for the identical drink. Similar patterns appeared in the pain killer study and cold medicine research.

The implication for innovation: This research helps explain why good products can fail because of the discrepancies between beliefs in how people should act versus how they actually do act. Moreover, this irrational behavior is consistent across people, products, and time. Because the irrational behavior is consistent, companies can adjust their innovation, product development, product testing, and marketing processes to fit people’s real behaviors.


  • Understand the human biases that affect product choice, willingness to pay, and product performance.
  • Design products that suit how people are, not how people should be.
  • Create product testing processes (e.g., focus groups and lead user studies) that replicate or control for the effects of actual retail and usage scenarios

1 Comment »How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, Strategy

Innovating in Emerging Markets: Tata & Unilever

Point: How you get a product to market may be as important as what you get to market.

Story: The previous post looked at product systems innovation to build a new car. Going a step further: some companies expand the systems thinking to include distribution and service. Consider Tata Motors, which created the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano. To reach a retail price of $2,000, Tata focused on the costs of every system of car, including the system for distributing and selling the car. To keep costs low, Tata created a modular design and an innovative distribution model. Tata will manufacture modules centrally and, in some cases, ship the cars as kits to local entrepreneurs who will assemble & sell them. Tata designed to the modules to be glued together rather than welded because gluing is less expensive and doesn’t require costly welding equipment. Tata will also train the entrepreneurs to do servicing.

Similarly, Hindustan Unilever pioneered a distribution model in 2001 to get its personal care products into the hands of rural villagers. A significant fraction of rural villages lack paved roads, making traditional truck-based distribution very difficult. The company developed a network of 14,000 women and women-owned co-ops to serve 50,000 villages. The women handle the logistics and door-to-door retailing of a range of personal care products. To address the needs of the market and the novel distribution system, Hindustan Unilever changed product packaging. By using this approach, Hindustan Unilever does not have to deal with the problem of moving product in rural India. The women or their employees come to the company’s urban distribution centers to get the product.

* When designing new products or services, consider how those products will be distributed.
* Think about the role that local entrepreneurs or business partners can serve
* Design the product to support the distribution channel (e.g., modularity, ease of assembly, packaging, etc.)

For more information: Vijay Govindarajan discussed Tata Motors’ strategy at the HSM webinar on March 18 and will be speaking at the World Innovation Forum being held May 5-6, 2009 in New York City

Hindustan Unilever’s distribution model: Discussed at MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics Roundtable on Supply Chain Strategies in Emerging Markets led by Dr. Edgar Blanco.

4 Comments »Case study, Entrepreneurs, Growth, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, Opportunity, Strategy

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