Huntsman Alumni Magazine

Fall 2012

Marketing’s Role in Innovation and New Product Development

It’s the most fun part of the job

By Eric Schulz

Working on innovations and creating new products is the sexiest job in the marketing world. It offers the opportunity to experience the exhilaration that great inventors like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and others must have felt—bringing new ideas to life, creating something from the vast void of nothingness, using only visionary insights to bring thought to creative fruition.

The dream of every new product manager and entrepreneur is to originate a great idea that will catapult a business into the sales stratosphere. Unfortunately, this dream is about as close as most marketers get to nirvana. More likely they end up feeling like Dr. Frankenstein, with a mutated idea that seemed pretty at the start, but ultimately must be destroyed in order to save mankind (or the company’s bottom line!)

Academic studies affirm that eight out of ten new products fail within the first 12 months. Despite these daunting odds, innovation is what drives the world economy, and companies continue to invest millions of dollars every year in new product research and development.

The New Product Development Process

There are four steps in the process for new product creation:

  1. Brainstorm lots of ideas
  2. Develop an idea you think has potential
  3. Write a “product concept”
  4. Test the concept on real live consumers

Here’s a quick look at the first of these steps.

Successful Brainstorming

I often get invited to participate in on-site brainstorming sessions to help dream up new products, marketing, and promotion ideas. I love the art of strategic creativity, so I always jump at the chance. To crank up the creative juices, I have a routine I go through before going to the group called “gittinjiggywidit.” It includes loud music, looking at wild colors or beautiful landscapes, and turning loose the adrenaline. By the time I arrive, I’m wild-eyed, fired up, and ready to rock n’ roll.

To get breakthrough creative results, you have to break out of traditional paradigms. Great ideas aren’t usually found sitting around a corporate conference table at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

Preparing For Brainstorming Success

There are three keys to creating the atmosphere where great brainstorming can occur. First, provide an environment that’s fun. When I was at Coca-Cola, I held creative sessions at Dave & Busters; it’s an adult’s dream playground, with thousands of video games and virtual reality simulators. We’d rent out the back room, do some creative exercises, and then play for a while in the big room before convening again to create.

Fun is critical to the creative process. A University of Maryland study affirms that when people are laughing, they’re three to five times better at generating successful ideas.

Music also is crucial—loud, upbeat, and eclectic are the best. Food is important as well— M&M’s, soft drinks, and anything laced with sugar to keep the blood racing.

Second, bring lots of stimuli to provoke ideas. Stimulus can be anything you can see, smell, taste, or touch. Magazines, toys, products, pictures, and lists of interesting words all can work wonders. If you are doing a full-day creative session, you’ll need about 1,000 different stimulus items to maximize your effectiveness for the duration of the session.

Third, invite creative people who don’t work for you to participate. You need to seed both business sense and non-sense into the invitees. You need outside thinkers who are unbridled by the confines of corporate conventionalism. It’s the only way to get out-of-the-box thinking.