Innovation research metrics: Trial & Breakthrough Potential


Great innovation is often not the work of a lone genius who has a breakthrough idea while sitting alone in deep thought.

Instead, ideas are molded and shaped throughout an innovation process until they become products that meet consumer needs, in packaging that appeals to them, at a price point they will accept.  

With that in mind, consumer research for innovation seems like a no-brainer. You should use consumer research early and often to bring the consumer voice into your innovation process — so that by the time the product is ready for market, you know it will be a success. But which metrics matter? Which metrics will guide your organization to create products that sell? 

At Zappi we have a range of key metrics that we use across our innovation solution suite — all designed to help brands maximize the growth potential from their innovation investments. Different metrics are best suited to different stages of the innovation process — from early idea screening and prioritization, through to concept optimization of dimensions (like pack, price, names, claims, etc.) and downstream into final concept refinement and assessment of commercial potential.  

While different metrics serve different purposes, companies also need consistency in their metrics and frameworks. Consistency makes it easier to communicate clearly across teams within a business and at any stage of the innovation process. The key is to balance these two needs: The right metrics at the right time vs. consistency and ease of comprehension.

We believe that two metrics can help strike this balance: Trial Potential and Breakthrough Potential. In short, these two metrics: 

  • Provide a succinct, yet nuanced evaluation of the potential for new products to drive growth.

  • Evaluate whether new products have what it takes for consumers to try and repeat.

  • Evaluate potential for new products to drive growth in a competitive market.

In this article we’ll cover why they’re important and what role they play in innovation development.

An introduction to Trial & Breakthrough Potential

The primary aim of innovation is to drive growth, which for most consumer brands means getting consumers to try and repeat. Getting consumers to try a product one time is essential — and it’s certainly not easily done. That’s why, throughout the innovation process, it’s critical to measure and optimize for consumer trial potential

How do you do this? 

It really can be this simple…. Ask your potential consumers. 

Consumers make buying decisions every day for products like food, beverages, personal care, household goods etc. They’re adept at reacting to ideas — ideas from friends and family, or ideas from brands for potential new products, and can quickly tell you whether you’ve got something that they’ll actually want to buy.

In addition to driving trials, new products must also be able to stand out from the competition and disrupt consumers’ purchase habits. New products must be distinctive and advantaged in order to break through

Distinctiveness refers to how different a product is compared to alternatives on the market. Advantage refers to whether a product is seen as better than alternatives on the market. 

A product must have both in order to break through. Being different is important, but your product can’t just be different for the sake of it. It must offer an advantage relative to other products. 

Both Trial Potential and Breakthrough Potential are critical to understanding the potential success of an innovation, and should be viewed together for the best outcome. If an early stage idea shows Breakthrough Potential, even if it’s lacking Trial Potential, you might make the case to continue to iterate — and vice versa. 

With that in mind, this is our approach: We ask target consumers to assess innovation ideas and from that we determine their Trial Potential and Breakthrough Potential.

Trial & Breakthrough Potential explained

All concepts are plotted on a matrix based on their Trial Potential and Breakthrough Potential, which looks like this: 

In this view, all concepts are classified as one of five types based on their performance, which gives clear guidance on how to evolve the concept and how to take it to market. The five-type classification system is a nuanced one that reflects real-world strategies. 

Zappi’s five-type innovation classification system

There is room in many product portfolios for multiple types of innovation. It’s not all about Scale and Sustain opportunities (high on both Trial and Breakthrough Potential). Different types of innovation can be used to grow a business in different ways, and our system acknowledges that.  

Other innovation research providers may give you a single number to use for decision-making. The goal of a one-number system is to help you select only those innovations that maximize volume, which means your business will miss out on some of the potential winners that would take another route. 

For example, a Seed and Grow idea (high on Breakthrough Potential but slightly lower on Trial Potential) may not be a blockbuster today, but it can be the innovation that helps your business stay on trend and give the brand a contemporary, relevant positioning.

It is also important to note that while we use Trial and Breakthrough Potential as the most important, overarching metrics, our solutions also bring in other supporting metrics — such as believability, relevance, meets needs etc — that help diagnose the “what and why” underlying the Trial Potential score.

Let’s look at some examples

Example 1: Seed & Grow

Proceeding with Seed and Grow opportunities can lead to success. Dr Pepper Strawberries & Cream is a recent major success story. The new flavor was commercially seeded on a smaller scale, then grown and expanded — and it has now been added to the brand’s permanent lineup. 

This line extension capitalized on popular flavors and a consumer desire that the brand is poised to serve — treat seeking. Dr Pepper Strawberries & Cream includes the original 23 flavors of Dr Pepper swirled with layers of refreshing strawberry flavor and a smooth, creamy finish — who wouldn’t want to try it?

Example 2: Short-Term Trial

PepsiCo’s Wotsits Giants product launch is a great example of a Short-Term Trial innovation idea that went on to launch and become a commercial success for the brand. Aftering kicking off a front-end innovation process to identify new innovations that would accelerate growth across a three-year time horizon, the team ended up with 35 viable ideas, each addressing a different potential product angle the brands could stretch in.  

Zappi helped the brand evaluate them all and identify those with the strongest potential. Giant Wotsits was found to have very strong Trial Potential, with average-to-good Breakthrough Potential — giving it a Short-Term Trial classification. This was on-strategy for the business, and so the idea progressed into production and launch.  

The result? Once launched, Wotsits Giants were a big hit — bigger than the team could have hoped for! The innovation flew off the shelf and the brand found itself trending on Twitter without any ad support, showing just how exciting this discovery was for UK snacks shoppers. The Wotsits brand grew 45% after the launch of the new innovation, signaling a halo effect of the innovation on the core range of products. 

New Wotsits Giants are a huge success

When the new product Wotsits Giants launched, it was a big hit. But how did the company spot this potential innovation among all other ideas? Find out in this case.

The two metrics you need to support agility

As part of an agile innovation process, these two dimensions (comprised of three metrics) can form the core of tools used to evaluate ideas, concepts and other elements. They’re simple, easy to use and can help you to make quick, consumer-driven decisions. 

This consistency also helps you to understand how ideas are developing throughout the process. Layering on deeper measurement and analysis of factors that drive these can help you to continuously improve so you can create products people love and innovations that drive growth for your business.

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If you're interested in learning more about our approach to innovation research, get in touch today.

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