Plenty of companies talk about “customer-centered design,” but often what they mean is “designed to suit what we want customers to want,” not necessarily what the customers actually need. Innovative design that is truly customer-centric involves more than a singular focus group, including the brand new delivery system we developed for SmartMouth™ Mouthwash. All of this and more has been achieved through our Vertical Innovation Consulting™ service, which has delivered over $50 billion in revenues and 1,000 patents over the last 40 years. Nottingham Spirk consults on how to incorporate iterative, customer-focused research throughout the entire development cycle—that results in products that customers can’t live without.

“We recommend companies think well beyond the traditional customer research that most conduct at just the beginning or end of product development,” said John Nottingham, Co-President, Nottingham Spirk. “Although it is perceived to slow down the timeline, companies must commit to receiving ongoing consumer insights at each stage of the development life cycle. Also, by bringing in a new group each time, new insights are gained.”

In addition, Nottingham Spirk recommends a minimum four-phase timeline of customer research:

  1. Secure initial insights through in-person observation of customers; the “in-person” factor is key to maximizing understanding of each group member’s response to the product concept.
  2. Bring a fresh group in for the design phase; and listen for new insights (not just what you want to hear) and those that elicit an emotional response.
  3. The next customer touch point should probe the retail reality of the product; competitive products, packaging, messaging, and pricing, because without the correct price range, even the most revolutionary of products will fail.
  4. And finally, customers use the product in the context of their world—so consider in-home tests or field testing.

Proof of the benefits of folding customer insights into the entire development cycle can be found in the case of Triumph Pharmaceuticals. The company’s SmartMouth™ Mouthwash provides twelve-hour protection from bad breath; its formula comes from the interaction between two different solutions that release odor-neutralizing zinc ions. Originally, this meant separating the two solutions, requiring the consumer to pump three times from each bottle. Consumers loved the mouthwash, but hated the pumps, which were clumsy, wasteful, and hard to dispense accurately. Nottingham Spirk was brought on to innovate on the next generation launch, with the goal of disrupting the mouthwash category.

Consumer research throughout the development cycle was vital to SmartMouth’s success, and included:

  • Studying individuals using the original packaging, and documenting dosing behavior, studying in-home storage.
  • Ergonomic testing of the prototypes that studied how consumers were gripping, pouring and tilting the spouts to make sure that they would dispense properly and accurately from any orientation.
  • Reducing the cost of manufacturing, so that SmartMouth could be sold at what customers considered an affordable price.
  • And finally, retail readiness. Feedback from focus groups resulted in more distinctive packaging and nearly doubled shelf capacity.

The resulting one-bottle delivery system, which dispenses accurate doses without consumers needing to measure, is now available at Walmart and other major retailers.

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