Often there’s suddenly an urgent need for something new. We need to innovate. But what are we looking for? If that’s unclear, how can you come up with new concepts that will make everybody happy?

You should never start an innovation expedition unprepared. Good preparation increases the chances for success because it creates priorities, direction and the drive to succeed. That’s why it is essential to start your innovation journey with a clear and concrete innovation assignment. Starting with an assignment obligates senior management to be concrete about the target market group for which the innovations must be developed and the criteria that must be met. This forms the guidelines for your ideation team when you are underway. In chapter three of my new book ‘The Innovation Expedition’, which you can download at the top of this article, there’s a handy format to formulate the innovation assignment with the help of the following six questions:

  1. Why? (Why do we want to innovate?);
  2. Who? (Who is the target group?);
  3. Where? (For which distribution channels, countries, regions or continents)
  4. What? (Evolutionary or revolutionary: products, services or business models)
  5. When? (Intended year of introduction)
  6. Which? (Which criteria should the new concepts meet?)

The purpose of an innovation focus workshop is to answer the questions above together with senior management. Often your board has not yet defined the criteria the new concepts should meet. Then it helps to ask some questions. In practice you will go a long way with the following eight questions:

  1. Turnover. How much turnover must the new concept realize during the first three years? Or, if new products compete with existing products, how much extra turnover must be realized?
  2. Profit. What profit margin should the new concept realize?
  3. New. Should the new concept be new to the market, new to the country or new to the world?
  4. Appeal. How attractive and pioneering to the target group does the new product concept need to be?
  5. Promotion. To what extent do we want the product concept to create buzz and hype among potential customers?
  6. Positioning. To what extent should the new product concept fit the current brand positioning?
  7. Production. Do we produce the new product ourselves (with our own manufacturing facilities) or can we form production partnerships?
  8. Strategic fit. To what extent should the new product concept fit the business strategy of the organization?

So in your discussion with senior management, you will collectively formulate the criteria for the new product concepts as well as determine the ambition levels.

Below, is an actual case from an innovation assignment for Sanoma Media Netherlands. Sanoma is a leading European group in the field of media with operations in 20 countries and a turnover of€ 3 billion. Libelle and Margriet, two leading women’s weekly magazines in the Netherlands, are both important brands for the bottom-line of Sanoma Media Netherlands. Unfortunately, the market for printed magazines has reached its peak and is declining. That’s more than enough reason to look beyond the next 12-months. This is also why Sanoma wants to explore how to extend these popular brands beyond the current media market. Will it be feasible to use the Libelle and Margriet brands to launch new concepts in a completely new market? Sanoma drafted a very concrete assignment at the start of their innovation process.

Case – innovation assignment for Sanoma Media

Ideate new products and/or services for Sanoma Media to introduce successfully in the Netherlands; using the brands Margriet and Libelle in new or existing consumer markets with existing brand values for the present target group of women.

We are looking for at least three new concepts which individually will realize an annual sales potential of € 25 million with a profit margin of at least 25 percent. The new concepts should fulfill a concrete need and be attractive, distinctive and reliable to the target group. They should fit the brand values of Margriet and Libelle. They must be feasible and the business risk should be within manageable limits. To realize the new concepts and increase feasibility; partnerships or joint ventures with other companies will likely be forged. Our aim is to introduce new concepts in the market within two years

This innovation assignment gives clear objectives and perfectly communicates the expectations of senior management to the members of the innovation team. If you download the chapter you find a handy format to formulate your own innovation assignment. Good luck.

By Gijs van Wulfen

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About the author

Gijs van Wulfen (The Netherlands, 1960) helps organizations to start innovation effectively as author, speaker and facilitator.
He is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. With FORTH he create attractive innovative products and services with great internal support with a multidisciplinary team. In his latest book ‘The Innovation Expedition’ he makes innovation very accessible by telling the story in a visual way. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organizations. Gijs also trains and certifies facilitators in his method.

He is a keynote speaker at international innovation conferences and was chosen by LinkedIn as one of their 150 Thought Leaders.

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