<trp-post-container data-trp-post-id='25529'>Placer the consumer at heart from innovation

Interview on innovation with Laurent Ponthou, Director of Transformation at Orange

In the 90s, when the French were asked what they thought of a wireless telephone for communicating in the street, they said it would never work: when it comes to innovation, we can't rely on consumers like we used to?

If consumers in the 90s said that a cordless phone wouldn't work, it was perhaps because they imagined it as a bulky, heavy and impractical device that would basically do the same thing as what they were already doing. Why bother, and no doubt pay a lot of money, when there were phone boxes everywhere to make calls, with all the comforts to encourage intimate conversation? Why put a value on being able to be reached at any time, when there was no such thing? Except perhaps in extreme emergencies?

Nor did he imagine the extent to which society would evolve as a result of the Internet and its multiplicity of services. And he certainly didn't imagine a new Swiss Army knife and its new uses, and how access to these new services could simplify his life, or at least change it so profoundly that it would make this link with others almost indispensable.

Consumers often find it difficult to project themselves into a radically new use, because it is still outside the realm of their imagination. To give an opinion on an object that doesn't exist, they have to go back to the references they know in order to judge and express their desires, but also their fears and anxieties.

But as soon as wireless phones could be mass-produced and miniaturised, and services marketed to the general public, real use became established. And very quickly, consumers began to express the view that the main advantage of the mobile phone was the increased freedom it offered, the key to its success with the public.

The example of wireless telephony is an extreme case, however, because it is a disruptive innovation in which many of the parameters for the future were not readily apparent to consumers.

In most cases, innovations are part of an existing ecosystem, with which the consumer is already familiar. So they can judge and give their opinion based on their own experience.

To innovate, you need to be constantly attentive to the customer throughout the innovation process, otherwise you risk offering them a product that is unsuitable or of no value to them. And it is increasingly easy and less costly to simulate and test a new product and its anticipated uses, or even to put a product on the market and continually develop it in line with customer feedback.

So it's quite the opposite: the consumer is now at the heart of a whole host of innovations!
It's simply that the way in which we interact with consumers has been turned on its head.


Traditional tools can no longer be used to innovate: what methods do you find effective today? There's a lot of talk about Design Thinking...

Design Thinking is an innovation approach that places the user experience at the heart of product design. It was theorised by Tim Brown and Stanford University. It grew out of his work at IDEO, one of the world's leading design companies, best known for its work on the Palm V and the Apple mouse.

It is particularly well-suited to complex issues, i.e. where it is not clear what customers want, or where a large number of parameters need to be integrated into the new product or service. By taking the whole system into account, it aims in particular to find solutions that are feasible, viable and desirable for the customer.

Starting with customer issues, it involves a series of stages: research and analysis of information on these issues, reformulation of the need as seen by the customer, for example in the form of a scenario experienced by personas, who are archetypes of target customers or users. Then come the ideation, prototyping and testing phases. These phases can follow one another, culminating in a first version that will be put on the market, generally to be tested in a real-life context, and then marketed as soon as the level of quality acceptable to the user and desired by the company has been reached.

This method is based on concrete elements, such as scenarios embodied in personas, mock-ups and prototypes, to which customers can react, as well as project teams, their governance and stakeholders.

These approaches are now widely used, from large companies to start-ups, because they enable ideas to be put into practice and presented very quickly. With digital tools, it is now almost within everyone's reach to be able to simulate the building blocks of products and services, which increasingly incorporate software, whose interfaces and screen sequences, whether for a telephone or a computer screen, are fairly easy to simulate...


These days, consumers are bombarded with innovations: how can they be sure that an innovation is relevant, that they won't pick it up? The iPhone was a global success, the iPad much less so, and the iWatch ... not at all!

You have to be extremely modest when it comes to predicting success: the slightest grain of sand can turn a new product into a failure.

Indeed, in the case of the iWatch and its competitors, consumers have mainly pointed out that they have not yet been seduced by a 'killer application' that makes it indispensable. Above all, the iWatch offers access to services already available on mobile phones, by transferring them to the watch, making them easier to access. On the other hand, there is a strong attachment to 'one's' watch, and not all consumers want to give up their own watch for a technological tool. But the second version has only just been released, and let's not forget that the first version of the iPhone had neither 3G nor even the concept of an 'application store'! It remains to be seen whether future versions, which will take into account customer feedback from emerging uses, will allow this type of object to find its place, or whether it will eventually disappear. Either directly from Apple, or via partners in the watch ecosystem, who will reinforce its value to customers.

The user-centric approach is a must today, but many other factors will contribute to making it a success for customers, from the price naturally, to the integration into an ecosystem that will enrich it and make it evolve.

They we have fact confidence. Discover our achievements