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What Makes a Nielsen Breakthrough Innovation Award Winner
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What Makes a Nielsen Breakthrough Innovation Award Winner

Finding ways for a product to succeed in a beleaguered marketplace takes a mix of pragmatism and creative genius. And the winners of the 2012 Nielsen Breakthrough Innovation Award did just that. In contrast to innovation awards focused on one-year wonders, the Nielsen Breakthrough Innovation Award honors new products that succeed on multiple dimensions over multiple years.

Nielsen analyzed more than 11,000 new products in the U.S. between 2008 and 2010 to find the 2012 winners. Of the products evaluated, only 34 products met award criteria. These products totaled less than 0.5% of all new product introductions during the period.

The study revealed that there are no easy formulas on the road to successful innovation, and many common pitfalls. Of the product launches that didn’t meet award criteria, one trap many companies fell into was losing sight of consumer needs. Often– to save time and money, attract a certain demographic group, or respond to competitors in the market– new product teams added features that consumers don’t value, or shifted product focus away from what made the original concept a fresh, viable solution.

Breakthrough Innovation award winners avoided these pitfalls, in part, thanks to a process for creating distinctive concepts that kept consumer needs at the center of the process. Many of their strategies for developing distinctive concepts shared similar themes. Those strategies included:

Benefit Import:

  • Combining benefits from often-unrelated categories to deliver a new value proposition.

Breaking Historic Tradeoffs:

  • Eliminating frustration caused by an either-or compromise in existing products.

Shifting the Economic Equation:

  • Making benefits both more affordable and accessible to a broader market.

Reconfiguring the Means of Delivery:

  • Offering new forms, or packaging, to address unmet needs.

Leveraging Brand Platforms:

  • Using existing consumer trust and familiarity with a brand to bridge into new categories and uses.

The importance of developing a distinctive concept may seem obvious, but the 90 percent failure rate for new product launches is proof of how difficult achieving this goal can be. One other important lesson from the review of 11,000 new product launches worthy of mention is that few concepts on Nielsen’s list of Breakthrough Award winners would have won if the first draft had been submitted.  A common trait among winning innovation teams was the belief that getting it right the first time is neither likely nor important. Most winning teams used a test-and-refine learning process that relied heavily on consumer feedback and adaptation during the pre-launch to improve success rates.

Teams operating without this approach in place often encountered one of two undesirable outcomes:

  1. Good ideas that needed a little work were killed, rather than reworked. Marketers should periodically review their archives of abandoned projects for incomplete offers that contain a compelling core concept.
  2. Inadequate return on investment. Flawed ideas sent to market due to aggressive launch schedules– or over-confident launch teams,–were often coupled with heavy spending on advertising and price promotions, but these products rarely fulfilled expectations.

Go to the 2012 Breakthrough Innovation Report for profiles of the winners, or to download a copy of the report.