We are all on a hunt for the golden ticket product that disrupts the category, creates buzz and is an instant success on social media with retailers calling you to get it on shelf. These unicorn products do exist and they are often a magic mix of timing, insight, innovation, relationships, and being in the right place at the right time. We spend hours strategizing how to get all those components to align: which product, what price, what formula, which shelf, when. 

Many of these components are things we can build for or collect data on. We look at retail trends, we analyze competitive sets,  we craft beautiful design, we try different products, we chase manufacturing technology innovation to be the first and the greatest, all in service of that drive for increased revenue and market share.

I have had the pleasure of working on many product launches and sitting in on many caffeine, sugar-filled, plant-based brainstorms for the latest flavor, product, or concept of the moment. We are usually chasing creativity and breakthroughs in those moments. From there, list in hand we funnel down to key ideas, screen them with brand relevancy, vet them with data and margin testing and eventually come to market with what we think will be the next best flavor or the next hit product line.

The truth is, we fail more often than not. We miss a key ingredient.

In those rooms we are always looking within, with the input of our team, through the lens of, typically, a non-diverse group. We look at what is happening now, what story the data and trends tell and we look for inspiration from the creativity we have surrounded ourselves with.

We should be looking and starting with one thing and one thing only.

With the most important ingredient that is outside the room.

The consumer. 

As Entrepreneurs, as marketers, as brand champions, as product creators, the closer and closer we get to our business the more we step into the brand and take on the brand persona, but still we are not the brand. Our lens gets clouded by our closeness to the topic at hand. 

We have to start with the consumer. They are the most important ingredient and their wants, needs and desires are our drivers.

The key to a successful product is one that the consumer pulls of the shelf, clicks into their cart and puts to use. In order for them to be compelled to do that, especially in an ever crowded retail space, the product, packaging and design must appeal to their needs and show up in a way they want, in a style and approach they appreciate. It’s all about them and when we get that right, we get the purchases, we get the repeat purchases and we get the buzz as it is shared with family and friends. It’s about them.

More often than not, we assume we know our consumer and we speak for them, or we embark on research assuming we know who we need to target to ask their opinion, but we often miss a new audience entirely or formulate a product for the wrong audience. I recently spoke with Cindy Blackstock, Co-Founder and CEO of SIVO Insights, a top-notch consumer insights group, her take-away message to our Culinary Institute of America students was “don’t assume you know your consumer.” I couldn’t agree more.

To create products that succeed in the marketplace, please don’t forget about your consumer. Their needs, wants, preferences and lifestyles are the key to your product success. It's not your manufacturing, nor your personal taste-buds, nor your personal passions that will pull it off the shelf. It’s your consumer.

Find them, talk to them, learn about them and create products with them in mind, each step of the way.

That, not the chocolate covered espresso beans (yes please), will be the key to your product success. 

Happy innovating and please share, how do YOU keep your consumer in mind through the product innovation process?