How to Identify White Space Opportunities
Without the right guardrails to guide innovation thinking, a mindset can quickly shift from exciting to overwhelming for many teams. But where do you begin? How do you identify areas with the highest potential that aren’t just “me too” offerings?
Through white space identification, your innovation efforts will have the capacity to focus on true untapped opportunity that aligns with consumer needs and organizational fit. Let’s learn how.
Assess the competition and the market, so you know what you’re up against
Look outside your organization to understand what your competitors are doing and how it’s being received by the market. Are they offering new products or services, communicating new positioning or messaging, or introducing new brands? When reviewing these competitor innovations, examine with these thoughts in mind:
- What audience(s) are they targeting (existing, new)?
- What needs are they aiming to fulfill?
- How are consumers reacting?
Beyond the ‘usual suspects,’ take note of any new entrants that could be disrupting your category overall, as well as leading-edge organizations in parallel industries. Key items to understand include:
- How are they challenging the status quo?
- Are they delivering on consumer needs in new/different ways?
- Are the needs they’re fulfilling/benefits they’re providing new to the category?
- How are consumers reacting?
From a big-picture perspective, stay up to date on societal shifts and megatrends to be on the forefront of spotting new trends and corresponding consumer needs that will need to be fulfilled. Consider keeping a pulse via:
- Leading edge bloggers
- Influencers in your space
- Industry publications
- Adjacent category news (through same avenues noted above)
Talk to consumers to see what they like, or are missing, with their current options
Leverage a human-centered design mindset, immersing in consumers’ lives and uncovering unmet or under-met needs. To discover more holistically, you’ll need to be prepared to do more than just ask, but also:
- Observe: workarounds, body language, and habits
- Explore: their environments, surroundings, and social cues
- Empathize: understand their motivations and emotions
Allow space in your discovery to gain deep understanding of consumers’ lifestyles and experiences both within and outside your category to identify pain points and changes that could present new needs – and opportunities to deliver new benefits.
In addition to identifying new, unmet needs, continue to keep a pulse on known needs, as the best way to deliver on them may change over time with consumers’ evolving lives.
Combine your market and consumer needs together to reveal the white space
With an understanding of consumer needs and the broader competitive landscape, map the delivery of needs relative to the competitive set. Determine which needs are being fully delivered on, which are under met, and which are completely unmet by competition to identify where the biggest white space opportunity exists. From there, cross reference under-met and unmet needs relative to broader market trends, strength, and size of need to guide your innovation focus.
Finally, remember to align opportunities with brand equity
Beyond the consumer and market perspectives, consider which identified opportunities best align with your brand equity, and identify where brand building is necessary for success. Key reflection questions include:
- Does this align with what our brand stands for?
- How much of a “stretch” will this be for our brand? Does the brand have consumer permission to stretch this much?
- How and why are we uniquely positioned to deliver against this need (compared to our competition)?
White space identification in real life: Consumer demand for convenience and wellness have been pushing brands to think about how to deliver heathy food conveniently. By following these food trends, we have seen evolution in even the simplest and one of the most popular foods, peanut butter. Taking a hint from health and beauty categories, we see changes in packaging – everything from squeezable tubes to individual serving sizes that include dipping sticks or crackers. Taking it further, brands have also created portable sandwiches and snacks designed to be eaten directly from the package.
It is important to keep in mind that this process is not “one-and-done.” Reflect on your current innovation process and pipeline and consider ways to embed this type of competitive intel, market trend, and consumer need exploration into your everyday to ensure your organization is not missing out on the next great white space innovation opportunity.