At Galway Business School, you can take up a Certificate in Innovation and New Enterprise Development course, as part of our degree programmer. Innovation is often driven by consumers - but someone needs to act as an interpreter.
At some point in history, someone somewhere looked at the undercarriage of a cow and said ‘whatever comes out when I pull those, I’m going to drink it’.
There was no defined ‘user need’ for cows’ milk. No customer feedback that suggested that bovine protein was the Next Big Thing. Someone recognised a problem (thirst, hunger) and had a solution for it.
They may well have had some problem persuading others to follow their lead - the issue then was the power of the persuasion - that the innovation had provided a manageable solution for a significant problem (lactose intolerance notwithstanding for this entirely speculative process). Early human’s first steps in product innovation, branding and customer feedback.
In the recorded world, few products come from so far out of left field as that, but some products can lead markets rather than follow (think Model T Ford, iPad, Netflix) - ones built from requirements we didn’t know we had.
But perhaps especially then, the key role in the innovation and creation of those products is that someone interpreted a customer requirement - and it is this role that is crucial in true innovation - the person who defines something that a market has not fully articulated, and had the vision of a product and the definition of what it does and who wants it.
What that person does in that process is to be the voice of the user - someone to say that such a product would be useful, and especially so if it could be refined in a number of ways. Rubbing user need up against user experience to get a product which both does what it needs to (milk to quench thirst) but does so in a way which works for the consumer (it’s packaged up in deliverable units, negating the need for most people to own a cow).
The role is, in short, that of a Product Manager, the customer whisperer who listens to what is required and explains what is needed to the organisation.
Even that role has a lineage: it all starts with the famous ‘brand man’ memo from Proctor and Gamble’s Neil McElroy in 1931, which defined the role of brand manager, and revolutionised his industry - and, in the end, other industries too.