Innovation Panels™ Spark Breakthrough Insights

By Scott Berman and Scott Wilkerson

HawkPartners has led Innovation Panels over the last two decades for clients in various industries.

Innovation Panels bring together a diverse group of experts, intentionally from a variety of different fields with unique perspectives, to generate new insights. It is a powerful methodology when you need a future outlook, radical thinking or an innovative approach to strategic issues – from future scenarios to competitive developments to changing trends and market dynamics.

Let’s look at some key ways Innovation Panels may benefit your organization:

1. Breakthrough Ideas

More often than not, traditional market research is focused on gaining insights from relatively homogenous audiences. For example, it is quite effective to use focus groups when you’re developing advertising concepts or marketing messages that will resonate with most luxury car buyers.

With Innovation Panels, the intent is almost the opposite. These unique sessions bring together divergent viewpoints with fresh perspectives inside and outside your market. The addition of these external viewpoints helps to evoke new thinking to solve marketplace challenges and often spark breakthrough ideas. Several studies have shown that the best “problem solvers” often come from outside the expected field of expertise.

“When the stakes are high and you’re betting on the future, it’s worth hearing from divergent viewpoints for breakthrough insights.”

– Scott Berman, CEO & Founder, HawkPartners

2. Diverse Thinking = New Insights

Diversity is needed when we’re seeking innovative approaches and new ways of thinking. A Harvard Business Review study found companies with more “acquired” diversity (traits gained from a variety of experiences) were 45% more likely to have market share growth and 70% more likely to have captured a new market.

“(People with) different backgrounds challenge each other more. Diversity creates dissent, and you need that. Without it, you’re not going to get any deep inquiry or breakthroughs.”

– Paul Block, CEO, Merisant, McKinsey’s 2015 Diversity Matters Report

Designed with this insight in mind, Innovation Panels  bring together a “brain trust of experts” from varied experiences. This diversity of participants – who hail from various industries and expertise areas – is the key to the group uncovering new ideas and approaching problems in new ways. HawkPartners adapted Innovation Panels from the Delphi method developed in the 1950s based on a similar premise to tap diverse experts to provide new insights on future scenarios.

3. Future Outlook

Having led Innovation Panels across multiple industries, one constant has remained: few other research methodologies are as good at providing insights when you need a future outlook.

When companies need to anticipate trends and shifting market dynamics, these varied experts can build off of each other to identify which scenarios are more likely to play out and why. Additionally, when developing a long-term strategy, it’s useful to develop contingency plans for a few possible scenarios so your team can course-correct quickly. As we lead these discussions, we always hear fresh insights on how things may change in the future, generating actionable insights that help teams become more agile.

“Innovation Panels enabled us to strategize on future market scenarios that would impact our product in ways we hadn’t considered before. It prepared us to think through the implications and better plan our approach and response.”

– Wendy Mayer, VP Strategy & New Business, Innovative Pharma, Leading Pharma Company

4. Deeper Insights – “Brainstorming on Steroids”

As researchers, most of us have seen that similar audiences usually share similar ideas, rarely challenge peers and may be vested in the status quo. When seeking clarity on marketing messages, it’s reassuring when the majority of your audience comes to consensus. Yet we’ve seen far too many times when researchers are desperate to capture “new ideas” from a focus group with similar audiences. It produces an extremely frustrating experience, about as effective as fighting gravity.

Innovation Panels delve deeper to uncover new ideas and perspectives that you likely haven’t heard before. A brand manager who has participated in our Innovation Panels once described it as “brainstorming on steroids.” Inviting an alternative viewpoint to participate, such as a priest talking about sexual health, generates insights that make you sit up and take notice. As the “aha’s” begin to surface, it’s key to allow these experts time to “connect the dots” in new ways.

“Very valuable! Innovation Panels uncover proprietary insights, competitors won’t have… an effective ‘outside in’ look at trends for long range planning. Lets your team step back to see the bigger picture.”

– Stacey Symonds, Senior Director, Customer Experience & Insights, Expedia

5. Higher Engagement

Another fundamental difference is the level of team engagement, especially among senior management. We seek out fascinating experts that most people don’t typically interact with, such as venture capitalists, network TV anchors or anthropologists. In our experience running these panels, internal teams are incredibly curious to participate; it’s not uncommon to have standing room only. These panels provide an entry to engaging with senior leaders on future strategy, and teams leave approaching problems in ways they haven’t thought of before.

Let’s look at examples that show how Innovation Panels helped clients anticipate key trends:

Anticipating Changes in Social and Cultural Norms Related to Sexual Health

In 2004, HawkPartners conducted Innovation Panels to understand future changes in social norms related to sexual health for a top pharmaceutical company. It was an intriguing panel of experts, including an actor, an adult pleasure shop owner and a priest, bringing new insights that were useful in long-range planning for current and new product lines.

INSIGHT – This panel anticipated a future trend for “more negotiated sex with the interest being in one evening and not building a long-term relationship. There will be more shopping around for partners, and less social stigma tied to casual sex.” And concluded, “an increase in female empowerment where women will expect men to be better prepared to meet their sexual needs.”

FAST FORWARD – We’ve seen more than a few examples of this today, including the popularity of Tinder, a dating app launched in 2012 with a reputation for “no strings hookups,” which now has an estimated 50 million active users who make 1.6 billion swipes daily with potential partners. This change is similarly reflected across the entertainment industry, such as in TV series like Broad City and Girls, that speak to trends in female empowerment.

Assessing the Adoption of Digital TV and the Future of Set-top Boxes

In 2005 when analog TV usage was still widespread, HawkPartners conducted a panel to assess future adoption levels of digital TV. A top 3 broadcast media company needed to evaluate if an investment in set-top conversion boxes was required to maintain viewership levels after the phase out of analog TV.

INSIGHT – Contrary to the prevailing view at the time, our panel envisioned that “consumers would quickly adopt digital TVs once available in the marketplace, and the analog-to-digital conversion would cause little disruption in TV viewership.” HawkPartners concluded that, “there would be no need to invest in HD converter boxes to maintain viewership levels.”

FAST FORWARD – By June 2009, 98% of US households were ready for the analog-to-digital transition, higher numbers than forecasted. TV stations only experienced an 8% decline the first week of the conversion, a minimal dip that quickly returned to pre-transition levels.

Innovation Panels offer contrasting points of view, from inside and outside your market, stretching the realm of insights. When the stakes are high or you need a future outlook, consider Innovation Panels. It may become your new “go-to” research tool.