Innovation that focuses on the customer

Ideal Standard used to be a company led by the brains of the engineers and product development team, but now it is led by what customers need, according to Kerris Bright, chief marketing officer at the European bathroom brand.

Ceramix
Strategy turnaround: Once new products from Ideal Standard were the idea of engineers, now the are led by the needs of its customers, such as the CeraMix Blue tap (above).

Following the sale of the company to private equity company Bain Capital in 2007, the leadership team have been looking at the business to discover growth opportunities.

The business looked at how it could change from a manufacturing and technology-led company to a customer-focused company following a Brand Learning Radar assessment. Now the business thinks first about its end users – the plumbers, architects and interior designers – and new products result from that insight.

“We didn’t always understand the end user decision-making journey and how to design products and services that best suited the needs of customers,” says Bright.

Bright, who took on the role of chief marketing officer in early 2011, has been working with her team to gain more insight into consumer needs and ensuring this informs innovation and product development. There are several new products in the pipeline that will come to market later this year and in 2013, as a result of consumer insight. And while Bright won’t confirm what these innovations are, she says the culture of product development is already changing.

“Over the past year we’ve more than doubled the amount of products we have brought to market,” she claims, adding that these products have resulted in strong sales because they reflect bathroom fixtures and fittings that people want. “In the past year we’ve seen a much greater rate of incremental sales and sales that come from new products than we’ve seen in the past two or three years, so I think that’s early evidence that we’ve started the journey of transforming the company,” she adds.

One such innovation is the CeraMix Blue tap, a fitting with the technology to help save water and energy. Originally, engineers developed the technology used in the tap for another purpose, but the marketing team realised it could also save water and money. Bright explains: “Through the eyes of the end consumer we thought we had something powerful because consumers are really interested in saving water and energy.”

The product was launched last year, and the marketing team were key to this, explains Bright. “In the past, engineers and the product development team would have developed a product around the benefits they thought were important. Now we know what our end users want and can bring to market innovations based on this. It also means we can communicate the benefits of these products that people are really interested in.”

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