We live today in ever faster changing times. The industrial, technical and telecommunication revolution of the end of the last century are quickly being followed by the information and social connectivity revolutions. It has never been easier to learn, create and share. Whilst a lot has been written about deconstructing businesses and their business models. We have witnessed giants like Eastman Kodak, or Encyclopedia Britannica, who have failed to develop and market innovative products and services as their traditional business models were doomed were being destroyed. There are countless other examples of all sizes and national backgrounds; and they all share something in common: a failure to adapt to changing times, a failure to innovate. But you better get ready because the next revolution will be the innovation revolution.
But wait innovation “today “is not was it was 20 years ago, it has evolved. Perhaps the best example of a modern innovative company is Apple. Under Steve Job’s leadership, they explored and exploited other innovation dimensions such as customer experience through: design, quality, ease of use, shops and distribution. Innovation today is not only about new and improved products, it’s about the way we see our customers and how well we understand their needs and how we can serve them. Even if the foundation for any successful business is a quality product, there are many other aspects of our offering where a little innovation can gain us a competitive advantage. It would be foolish to ignore it.
So how to approach the innovation challenge?
Start by understanding “who” your customers are? It’s ok to serve everyone who wants your product, but its better if you know understand your customer’s buying patterns. Because when you understand, you can better target them with specials and offers that can boost your bottom line.
Once you know whom you are targeting, reflect on their needs. A good tool to help you put things into perspective is the KANO Model. By reflecting, categorizing and weighing and comparing your product/service attributes vs your competitors you can create a clear picture of where you stand. Because over time product attributes have a tendency to move down from delighters to performance and then basics, you can also use the tool to map your innovation strategy for each product over multiple product generation.
You a can also use the KANO tool for the next phase: mapping the results of your customer’s experience and that of your competitors.
The next phase is to reflect on your customer’s experience. Ask them for feedback and engage and prompt them to give you ideas; “put your self in their shoes”. This is can often be a problem as the contacts you have at your customers are rarely the ones using your products. You will have to put some effort into your initiative if you want real feedback for the users of your product. Sophisticated companies strive to understand the internal dynamics of their customers as to identify the influencers, stakeholders and decision makers with regards to their products. Not getting any complaints from the shop floor maybe the kind of minimal criteria needed to stay in the game, other times it requires a lot more than that. Whichever approach you pick, to learn about your customers and their organisations, it is important to remember that the rule here is not “More is better” but rather the opposite “less is more”. For it is important that your customers see actions out of your questions and survey; otherwise they will lose interest and won’t give feedback anymore; you are wasting their time. Just remember that when you ask for feedback you should give feedback in return.
The real news is that individuals and small business entrepreneurs can also use these tools to discover opportunities around them, services that are not being fulfilled or other innovative offerings. By playing to their strengths and turning their weaknesses into advantages they can carve niches out of otherwise saturated markets and distinguish themselves from their competitors just by thinking through their approach to innovation.