Ivory tower innovation – bringing a new 3-in-1 cell analyser to market
An established microscopy and high content analysis (HCA) provider had developed a bench top cell analyser which they wanted to bring to market. By the time R&D presented the instrument to Marketing, the specs were already locked down and the beta version was about to go out to testers. At this late stage we were tasked with trying to find a unique angle that would differentiate the product in an already crowded market for cell analysers.

The instrument was the outcome of an R&D ideation process where the customer was completely absent. One can imagine the conversations within the development team going something like this: “So what instrument should we develop next?”
“Why don’t we take an existing platform and make it smaller, make a benchtop version – all scientists want their own benchtop cell imager, right?”
“Oh and we can add additional functionality like cell counting, cytometry as well as imaging to make it more attractive”.
When we first tested the concept with customers their immediate reaction was “we don’t want a hybrid instrument because it probably won’t do any one of these three things well”. The challenge was to find a customer problem that the instrument could solve in a differentiated way which didn’t call attention to it being a hybrid. We ran a series of focus groups to understand our potential customers better. What began to emerge was that cell biologists use multiple analysis instruments most during cell culture when they needed to regularly check the health of their cells so this is where we recommended the company position the instrument.

During our research we uncovered some additional requirements and opportunities. One key expectation in customers’ minds was that the instrument would handle a large range of routine applications like cell cycle analysis, cell count, apoptosis, common cell surface marker detection and viability. What the engineers had developed was an open software platform with only a small subset of these assays. The R&D team had to go back to the drawing board and develop the assays that the customers expected as part of a whole product offering. The open software did however present an opportunity to allow scientists to develop their own protocols and assays which we capitalised on by creating a user community on the company’s website where scientists could share their applications.

The project highlighted how easily development teams can get wrapped up in the technology and lose sight of the customer. Customer research helped us to uncover a customer need and market position but the company could have avoided having to develop additional assays at the last minute and gone to market much more quickly if the customer input had been there during the design phase. No retrofitted value proposition will be as good as one that’s developed from true customer insight.
Ivory tower innovation bringing a new instrument to market
“No retrofitted value proposition will be as good as one that’s developed from true customer insight.”