A looming recession feels like a big challenge for product managers & innovators. However, innovating in a recession will lead your brand, product, and business to grow. So, how do you turn the downturn into a creative opportunity? This week, Product Talk Host & Willow Innovations, Inc VP of Product, Melissa Pickering, interviews Ooni Pizza Ovens Fmr Head of Product Ben Diamant on strategies for product innovation in recessions.

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On the impact of recessions on product innovation

Having unlimited recourses and money isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes, it can lead us to make reckless decisions that lead to poor business outcomes. Recessions are often when product innovation thrives. Product leaders are forced to think creatively to solve problems for their customers. Check out what Ben and Melissa had to say about product innovation in a recession: 

Ben says, “it’s our job as product managers to find innovative solutions to those challenges that we have in a recession. I see a recession as an opportunity for new innovation, new methods of business, and new sustainable products.”

Melissa says, “it’s not necessarily an advantage to have unlimited resources and money. We have to force ourselves to think in different ways.”

Ben says, “it’s always easier to innovate under constraint like it’s as soon as you draw a box around a problem, inventors and designers find solutions to those challenges.”

On leading product innovation on your teams

Being a product leader means not only being an innovator but leading product innovation on your teams. It is essential that you encourage your teams to be creative and think outside the box. So, how do you lead product innovation on your teams? This is what Ben had to say:

“It’s a really essential product in my house, I have little kids. And the fact is, they eat more food if it’s slathered in ketchup. But a bottle of Heinz ketchup costs about four pounds. That’s quite a lot of money. So, what we would do in a workshop is ask: how can my business be more like Heinz ketchup?”

“Here are a few options, we might include in our creativity session. Number one is what would happen if we did our own branded version? You would have less margin because you’ve only got the brand and the retail, you haven’t got a leading brand in there. And that will give a lower price to our consumers.” 

“Or, we could go for smaller bottles. A cheaper initial purchase can make your product into smaller size products, which means that it’s an easier purchase for our consumer.” 

“So, from that, if you were Heinz ketchup, how would you deliver your business to that budget-conscious consumer using that business model canvas? And it might be that your business is to do a range of different things to your products online to make it viable in the recession?”

On the importance of understanding how customer behavior is changing

What drives this innovation? Our customers. At the end of the day, everything starts with the consumer. It’s increasingly important to understand how your customer is behaving to increase product innovation. Here is what Ben had to say about the importance of understanding how customer behavior is changing:

“Everything starts with a consumer. So, understand how her behavior is changing, what she needs, and does your portfolio meet that. So, if you’re a premium brand, you still need to have premium products that are aspirational, and that she can still afford. You may not reduce your price point, if you’re someone like Dyson, you may want to maintain that.” 

“If you’re a mid-range brand, you’re going to need to be thinking about: do you have the stretch? Do you have your hero products? Do you also have a value product that can meet consumers that are at the lower end of their pocket?” 

“You could take last year’s product and value and improve it to bring out cost, or you lower the margin of it. And it means you can retain those consumers who would otherwise lose. It’s a great excuse to cherry-pick your SKU counts. You can get rid of product lines that are just not driving as much value.”

About the speaker
Ben Diamant aire innovations, Innovation Director Member
About the host
Melissa Pickering Willow Innovations, VP of Product Management

I'm a purpose-driven change agent with a track record of building & leading cross-functional teams to develop & launch products for kids. From Disney Imagineering, to EdTech startup founder, to product innovation at The LEGO Group, I have spent over a decade building and leading product teams to innovate kids' play and learning experiences. Most recently, I have joined another purpose-driven mission at Willow Innovations to bring more joy to motherhood, building products to make moms' lives easier.

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