Product, price, place, and promotion are the four Ps of marketing. These days, however, there's a frenetic obsession with promotion, confusion about place, and a hectic battle over price. Amid the chaos, that first P is often overlooked.

When product development is considered, it's often done so in a vacuum of internal research and development (R&D) or as a reflexive response to customer requests. There's nothing wrong with giving the people what they want—but if that's all you do, you're missing the chance for major innovations.

Here's why: If you ask people what they want, they will primarily give you responses based on what they've already seen. People are much better at processing and discussing what they know than they are at imagining new things. We can "want" only things that we have already seen or conceived of. So when you ask consumers what they want, you'll get only the tip of the iceberg of what's possible.

Think about a product like the Nintendo Wii. If you'd asked gamers what they wanted, no one would have said, "Less power, no backward compatibility, and a whole different type of controller." Not a one. They'd all have told you that they want more processor power, better graphics, more storage, etc.

But look at the monumental success of the Wii, and think about a lot of the responses to it when it first came out. People were surprised, delighted, and amazed. They never saw it coming, so they couldn't have told you they wanted it.

To get to the juiciest opportunities for product innovation, you have to roll up your sleeves and dig deeper. You have to study how consumers behave and interact with their needs and products. Then you can glean insights from what you've observed. Finally, you feed those insights to your marketing team in a creative environment—and watch the real innovation happen.

At this point you may be thinking, "That sounds great, but how would I actually do it?" Here are three core techniques to use:

1. Find the highs and the lows. Rather than asking consumers what they want, ask them about what they already have. What do they like about current products? What don't they like? They'll be able to give you much more useful information when they are drawing from personal experience.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeff Greenhouse is a 15-year digital marketing veteran, agency founder, and serial entrepreneur. He blogs about marketing, creativity, innovation, and technology. Reach him via Twitter (@JeffGreenhouse).