Why Innovators should stop talking to Mainstream Consumers

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If you knew one group was responsible for 75% of innovation ideas, wouldn’t you want to talk to them? This group are the Pioneers® and at Brand Genetics we believe they are the only consumers worth talking to when you want to uncover insight and inspiration for innovation. Yet though consumer brands spend huge budgets hunting insights that will unlock fresh innovation opportunities, most never speak to this group.

Pioneers® (sometimes termed Extreme Users) are the consumers FMCG brands normally avoid because they are out of the ordinary. But change happens at the edges and these consumers are the ones with more pronounced needs and desires than the average Joe Bloggs, so they are thinking more deeply problems they need to solve.

Evidence shows they are incredibly valuable both as inspiration and partners in idea development. In the 1970s Eric von Hippel, a professor at MIT and the grandfather of co-creation, showed insights from this group drove 75% of the innovations for major scientific instruments – a pattern that was found to be repeated across many other industries. In the 1990s 3M compared a ‘Pioneer’ driven innovation strategy with their traditional idea generation methods; after five years they found that ideas from Pioneers had generated eight times more revenue than an average project using their standard methods.

We draw Pioneers® from the edges of the population – largely the far left of Roger’s diffusion curve. These are the innovators who are not just at the bleeding edge of early adoption, but are actively adapting existing products to better meet their needs. But they can also include consumers who are positively antagonistic to your category and actively finding (or adapting) alternatives: this creates a positive creative tension.

To figure out which Pioneers® are most useful for you to engage with, first identify the key elements of the product experience you want to explore and then think of people who are likely to be extreme in these facets. They’ll be the ones souping up their cars, brewing their own beer or making their own household cleaning products and they’ll be likely to have a very different perspective on your brand and your challenge.

So if you wonder why you never get anything but the same old insights that lead to the same old ideas, stop talking to the same old people and start talking to Pioneers®.


Brand Genetics

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