Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Innovating with Our Customers

By Anne Marie Kilgallon
Vice President
Enterprise Strategy and Innovation


At AARP, we know technology holds great potential for improving the lives of people aged fifty and over,but we also believe that innovations intended for everyone should extend to a product’s design. So, in addition to seeking technology solutions for our members, we also advocate and explore opportunities for universal design.

An approach that considers how a product or service can be used by people of any age or ability, universal design is often attributed to industrial designer and gerontologist Patricia Moore. In 1979, at the age of 26, Moore set out to study the life experiences of the elderly by traveling throughout North America dressed as a woman in her 80s. To fully immerse herself in the study, Moore also used prosthetics and other devices to limit her movement, vision and hearing. 

The experience of the physical disabilities, as well as being treated with dismissal and even cruelty by others, opened her eyes to the need for improved design. Shortly after, Moore established her own design firm dedicated to creating products that consider everyone.

“Design has morphed into the cornerstone of equity, culture, and socialization,” Moore said. “It’s about bringing resources to people who don’t have them. The power of design is to look at each individual, their home, their community, and the infinite small things that make for success or failure of interaction in those realms.”

At AARP, we couldn’t agree more. We believe there are many opportunities for universal design, and not just for people aged 50 and older. Products that assist with emergencies, health and fitness, and communication with loved ones all have benefits for people of every age. But too often these are designed with features that make them less accessible for universal use. That limitation also makes products less marketable, not only to the over 100 million seniors in this country, but also to their children and caregivers who are looking for life-stage solutions, or devices for multi-generational use.

In our own product innovation, AARP always emphasizes the customer first. To adhere to that, we listen.  We make it a priority to engage with our customers throughout the entire innovation process, from concept to launch and beyond. Not only does this approach help us identify potential solutions to build, it also ensures we are innovating with everyone in mind. 

Starting with research, we invite our customers in to talk about their lives and needs while also walking them through questions that help us identify where opportunities may exist. We then check our work with experts who can provide the necessary insights to test our hypotheses and make sure we’re on the right track.

After ideas are developed and analyzed, we go back to our consumers again for the true test of whether something is worth developing, and again and again throughout the build process. We never want to guess and it’s only this process of co-creation that gives us the confidence that our solutions will be truly beneficial to everyone.

So while Patricia Moore’s work has led designers to create more usable products – things like OXO kitchen utensils, digital thermometers and rocking light switches -- Universal Design based on customer testing should be a priority for all product developers.

With more than 20 years of professional experience as a forward-thinking business leader, Anne Marie joined AARP in 2013 and has been in her current role for a little more than a year. As Vice President Enterprise Strategy & Innovation at AARP, Anne Marie is responsible for executing enterprise-wide innovative product development and education programs that drive revenue and value for AARP. Previously, she developed, launched and sold AARP’s first retail and technology product called RealPad™ – an Android tablet designed for 50+ Tech-Shy users.

A Strong Ideation Framework Leads to Customer-Centric Products

By Kara Sterner
Director of Innovation
Bumble Bee Foods, LLC

With the rise of agile research, it has never been easier or more cost effective to practice an iterative approach to new product development. Iteration for us at Bumble Bee Foods, LLC takes place in many ways, but when it comes to the front end of innovation, it’s all about understanding consumer behaviors, identifying unmet needs and generating concepts that have the potential to succeed with a core target audience.  

Bumble Bee Foods, LLC has adapted a traditional Stage Gate ® process that allows the business to assess opportunities in a systematic yet empathetic manner.  We have adopted a thinking framework from a “big think” partner called The Rise Group, consisting of two concentric NEEDS circles and an exterior INSPIRATION circle.  On the left is the WE NEED, all things business related (i.e. brand values, strategic plans, financial goals, core competencies, etc.) and on the right is the THEY NEED, all things consumer related (shopping behavior, demo/psychographics, food trends, etc.).  When these circles collide, there is a point in the middle called WE CREATE where the ideas start to flow and new consumer value is created.  The exterior INSPIRATION circle represents the creative behaviors we practice that encourage the two center circles to cross. What I love about this model is that it gives you as an innovation practitioner a way to be creative and pragmatic that produces quality output.

Iteration during ideation happens in all shapes and forms.  It’s practicing the simple actions of building on ideas (yes and… verus yes but…), it’s connecting smaller thoughts into more robust ideas, it’s bringing consumers into the mix for vetting, it’s activating instant research communities to garner more of the “why.”  As we build ideas into concepts, we reach a critical point at which the business needs to decide which concepts we want to further explore and spend resources against in feasibility.  Here is where we activate agile quant concept testing with a partner called GutCheckIt.  The GutCheckIt Concept Testing tool has enabled us to connect with a target audience and weed through concepts in a consumer-centric way in a 7-10 day turnaround time (that’s crazy fast!)

We have established a set of six key metrics to measure all potential concepts against as well as a consistent visual format that allows our Innovation Steering Committee to see the data in a way that drives insightful decisions.  Did this work straight out of the gate?  Absolutely not.  It took a few tries to get things right; but once we figured it out, the conepts were flowing and the funnel began to output against expectations.

There are numerous tools and systems out there to help your company be more consumer-centric and iterative in its approach to new product development, so I encourage you to be bold and try out something new on your next concept development initiative.  It’s amazing what you can do with limited resources as long as you have a solid framework to drive consumer centricity.

Kara Sterner leads the innovation charge at Bumble Bee Foods, LLC touching everything from strategy, to process, to ideation, to commercialization. Kara has deep roots as a marketer having launched international textile collections and as well as brought to life “first-to-market” technologies including 3DTV and Google TV through an insight centric lens.  She made the move into the field of Innovation back in 2011 and hasn’t looked back since.  Prior to joining Bumble Bee Foods, Kara led an internal crowd sourcing platform at Sony Electronics focused on sales & marketing Innovation.  Now at Bumble Bee, she focuses on Consumer Centric New Product Development.