Innovation in Consumer Healthcare

A question for today's marketers is:
"What lies beyond line extensions in a world with so few switches?

Dr. Riker assesses the past, present and future "state of the shelf" to reveal trends in consumer healthcare innovation.  Over the years marketing management has relied on Dr. Riker's vision and technical assessment for many breakthrough innovations including the naproxen (Aleve®) and omeprazole (Prilosec OTC®) switches and clinical assessment of non-sedating antihistamines as switch candidates.  Moreover, the  emergence of TENS devices as a new segment of the OTC analgesic category originated with his 2005 vision that TENS devices ought to be available to consumers.

Those of us in the consumer business have seen product concepts come and go often to be rediscovered by new brand managers. The time value of a concept has a fast-eroding value. Most advice in articulating new product concepts is to ignore the technical and regulatory barriers to entry and let your imagination fly. Yet another source of new ideas comes from imagining how technology might be adapted to a business or brand. The latter comes not from the consumer or marketer, but from those with a leg into current technology. In either case acceptance and investment into new products requires further at-risk development to meet consumer need and financial opportunity. But what if technology has not yet arrived or has evolved to underpin a great marketing concept? You might call this the “technology gap”. In my experience in consumer healthcare, I can recall three examples of such gaps. In all 3 cases as technology became available each of these concepts became actionable, albeit decades later.

What is innovation? Nobel Prize winner Albert Szent-Györgyi famously answered: "Discovery is seeing what everybody else has seen, and thinking what nobody else has thought". Innovation is then taking that discovery and acting upon it. Thus, innovation requires two actions: vision and execution. Execution is a process; vision is an event. Companies should be well organized to do the former; but their ability to do the latter is often compromised by risk intolerance and ironically their necessary focus on process and execution. So can the two truly co-exist without mutual interference?

Innovation is much talked of, but often not described. How does an inventive concept come about? At its heart inventive innovation is an individual event. In the preceding installment we listed a handful of luminaries of inventive innovation. Notwithstanding, and despite anecdote, many believe that invention is a team effort, or at least can be. That is to conflate the inventive insight with correlative events and post-inventive processes and methods. Let's examine the evidence in the "The Riker Hourglass Model of Innovation" meant to capture the act of inventive innovation or discovery.

The most exciting and unexpected saltatory innovations arise precisely because they are less a process and more a singular inventive event. True to Szent-Györgyi's dictum it is imagining something no one else imagined and acting on it. In a world of shrinking switch opportunities saltatory inventive innovations must be encouraged.

As discussed previously acquisitive innovation is the act of acquiring assets that are partially, or wholly, developed outside the acquirer such that the time to market and business risk is diminished. Acquisitive innovation is most often employed by companies, or brands, seeking assets that are rapidly incremental to their established business. Spurts of brand acquisition are often driven by third-party divestitures due to industry consolidation and mergers. Less frequently platform technology might be purchased, or licensed, that provides brands with ownable superiority over competitors. Rarely do major players launch wholly new brands relying instead on brand extension and upgrades. These behaviors suggest the least risky path to growth is acquisition.

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