How to innovate by understanding your customer problems and challenges?

 In R&D Strategies

It has remained a debatable topic whether innovation is driven by breakthrough technology or by customer needs. Whatever is the result of the debate, businesses can’t ignore customer needs. A better understanding of the customer needs can help in effective utilization of resources to solve the problem for which solution is most craved and rewarding.

Understanding customers’ problems, thus, can be a game changer. It can point research in a direction leading to products that can become a wave of the future. Steve Jobs, for example, rightly identified the problem – people can’t carry music along with them in a convenient way and the available options are not much attractive and don’t solve the need of having a huge library of music in a pocket. Do I need to narrate the iPod legacy?

If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.
~~ Albert Einstein

Many organizations have already been directing their research activity in areas that are hot cake among the customers. No organization wants to invest money in research areas that bring no or negligible return. However, it happens.

Sometimes even breakthrough innovations face a situation where either demand gap arises or a problem that affects minority group gets addressed. Such things lead to wastage of research efforts, investment, and delayed business growth. In worst cases, it pushes a company from a leading position to a survival stage.

So if I have to describe everything I discussed above using an illustation– of which I’m a big fan of, this is how it will look like: 

This is how it helps your R&D team, in particular, and your organization in general:

How to innovate using your customers’ problem?

If you haven’t been doing this, I’ll share few strategies today to help you. If you have been already doing it, I do have something for you as well. Let’s start:

So, I have a question to ask: do you attend a lot of conferences, read a lot of research papers, and consult multiple experts and consultants in a variety of fields to get the intelligence for various steps of your research cycle?

Yes? Then, how about having a tool that can reduce your time and effort? Well, NorthStar is one such tool. We designed it for this exact purpose.

Let’s take an example of electric vehicles (EVs) which these days are a hot topic. How quickly EVs capture the market depends on how quickly the challenges that are holding them back get resolved.

In case of batteries used in EVs, challenges like cost, battery capacity, charging time etc. are common. Let’s pick battery capacity for discussion which is one of the major hurdles that companies are trying to overcome. Not on various battery manufacturers but manufacturers from automobile domain are also trying to solve these issues.

Companies researching the materials of EVs are trying to manufacture lightweight material that can increase mileage by reducing stress from a battery. Today it seems obvious. A decade ago, however, do you think these manufacturers would have taken would have appeared normal? Might be or might not be!

Many material researchers jumped the wagon after observing the early movers. All the laggers could have been in a different position if they had an easy option to see the problems that their clients (electric vehicle manufacturers) were aiming at. They could have easily decided to contribute way earlier.

Let me pick an example where NorthStar helped one of our clients from the tobacco industry. It helped them to revamp their research strategy by adopting a solution from an unrelated industry. This helped the client save time and money while solving a concern bothering their customers.

In the case of electric cigarette domain, some of the prominent players were investing a lot in improving power management in an e-cigarette.  Here is an image that will help you decipher what was happening:

Top players in tobacco domain filed many patents to make their e-cigarette last longer.  This is a challenge they have been trying to solve for years. Hence, a lot of research is going on in the effective power consumption in the e-cigarette area.

On the other hand, there are battery manufacturing companies that are actively researching on technologies to offer compact and safer batteries which provide more juice as compared to traditional lithium-ion batteries. Adopting such type of solution from an unrelated industry can help tobacco manufacturers in solving the problem in a lot easier way.

Not only this, on the other hand, battery manufacturers can also locate challenges among various industries and can customize batteries to meet the expectation of their clients. Thus, generating a win-win situation for both the type of companies where it ensures that tobacco companies can direct their research activity on some other areas that will make their product better and at the same time for battery manufacturing companies it opens a new market to expand the business.

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