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How to Avoid “Your Baby is Ugly” Syndrome

When research yields problems and highlights issues that need fixing, don't run from them. Here's a list of how to handle constructive criticism in a way that betters your product, and future endeavors.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Aihui Ong will be speaking at IIeX North America 2019 in Austin, TX. If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX North America. Click here to learn more. 

Let’s face the truth. The goals for consumer research, especially in the consumer packaged good (CPG) industry, is not to confirm how awesome a product is. The goal is to find problems and areas for improvement.  Many companies are eager to get consumer insights after some kind of intensive user testing/research. Instead of good news, in reality, most companies always have to listen to a long list of why their baby is ugly. Companies tend to become very attached to the fruits of their labors, so hearing criticism of their work can be very difficult. Here are some proactive measures to take to turn “your baby is ugly” conversation to a “your baby is not that ugly” situation.

When Developing a New Product

New product development process includes four stages – (1) identify the core idea, (2) bring core idea to life, (3) messaging the promise and (4) delivering the product promise. While it is not necessary to collect consumer insights at every single stage, it’s important to gather consumers feedback at these stages:

Bring Core Idea to Life – Important to test the concept with core audience to evaluate appeal, purchase interest, flavors, key benefits and barriers without mentioning the brand.

Messaging/Product Promise – Test multiple packaging or messaging with core audience and to test products against a competitor to get a good performance benchmark.

When developing and launching a new product, the key things are to identify strengths, points of difference and avoid fatal flaws.

1) Have an Open Mind

It’s hard to hear when someone tells you “your baby is extremely ugly”. While most companies may take the news well, some may blame the panel or how the test was being conducted.

If the product is already perfect, then why spend the money on consumer research. Most companies have formed a hypothesis on their product’s problems, the results may uncover more than their initial assumptions. So, have an open mind to hear the good, the bad and also the ugly. Try to understand your audience, who provided good feedback vs who didn’t. Identify the different segments of customers based on their feedback and successfully turn these insights into actions by having an open mind.

2) Do Not Blame the Bad News on the Panel

It’s hard to dispute negative findings when they are provided by hundreds of participants. These participants have no vested interest in the product, hence their feedback and opinions are 100% unbiased. Whenever possible, conduct parts of the research in a quantitative manner. This way, the findings are always backed by numbers. Use the metrics to make future product improvements.

3) Always Ask What Areas Needed to Be Improved

Be involved in the research, from defining the characteristics of the participants to the crafting of the questions. It’s important to ask your key audience what are their favorite and least favorite attributes about your products. Insights like these can help you improve on your product and create a “your baby is not that ugly” product.

4) Take Actions and Repeat

Napolean Bonaparte once said “War is 90% information”. The rest of the 10% is action. You may have an open mind, you may not blame the panel for a slew of bad news, consumers may tell you what improvements to make and yet, you may choose to DO NOTHING as long as you are ok with “your baby is ugly”. Turning data into actionable insights and constant repeating of consumer research are key ingredients to convert from “your baby is ugly” to “your baby is not that ugly”.


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Aihui Ong

Aihui Ong

SVP of Tech, SnackNation