To be honest, I LOVE to strategize. But, planning by itself is boring. In the last few weeks, I’ve been asked to look at a few business ideas and projects. The central question being: Does the plan look like it is in order?
Them: What’s missing?
Me: Why are you doing this? What’s your purpose? Why is this cool? Are you waking up everyday to follow a script?
Creating a new category. The Holy Grail of Innovation. The Holy Grail of entrepreneurs. It’s when you can create a new category that you command the skies. Think of the iPad. Is it a new category?
It is. But not because people think it is, but because Apple defined it as such. Experts characterized the iPad as a tablet, but customers did not. That’s all that matters.
Other examples of category creation exist. For example Gatorade created the sports drink category. Chrysler created the minivan. Toyota created the Prius. Each had a good amount of time before any competitor entered the space.
So why is it that you should embrace creating new categories?…
It all starts with the question: How can I make this better?
Framing is important and when talking about innovation that usually means deciding between incremental and radical change. Yet for most businesses, they don’t want to hear about change. They want the world they exist in just the way it is, especially if they’ve had some level of success.
But which is the more practical approach? Better or different?…
Recently I was in Mexico to have lunch with a friend. I went to pick him up from from a meeting but had to wait a few minutes outside of his offices. As I was waiting for him I parked in front of a pharmacy and it dawned on me that in this particular area there where five pharmacies in about a half mile radius. These pharmacies all looked alike, they were not from the same brand and the only distinction was the color of their walls. I have no doubt they operate the same way. It got me thinking about how I could differentiate one from the others…
Experience innovation is a difference maker
Innovating an experience improves or reinvents the customer experience in the purchase or usage of a product or service. Companies such as Disney stand out as a prime example of what it means to innovate a customer experience. Apple is right there too with their Apple store. The reason both stand out is because they’ve created an alternate reality, says Scott Gould.
Another great example of a company that stands out is Umpqua. We all know what a traditional bank looks like, well Umpqua does the opposite:
Umpqua’s 15-year track record of growth has little to do with the products it markets, which are virtually identical to the products offered by other banks. What’s distinctive about Umpqua has to do with how it offers those products — its commitment to reimagining the experience of interacting with a bank. Davis puts is this way: “If you took a person, blindfolded them, sent them to a bank, and took the blindfold off, 99% percent of them would say, ‘I’m in some bank somewhere.’ We want our customers to say, ‘I’m in an Umpqua bank.’ We don’t want the experience of banking here to feel like banking anywhere else.”
That’s why Umpqua designs its branches to appeal to all five human senses.
What Umpqua understands it that to be and stay relevant, you have to be different in every sense of the word. Not just ‘be different’ as marketing ploy, but ‘do different’ and make a difference. In the video below, Fast Company Co-founder, Bill Taylor starts talking about Umpqua around the 9 minute mark to help clarify my point (watch the whole talk, it’s worth it):
See what I mean?
What Not to be
Slice Perfect is another fine example. They’re not your typical pizza place. Just like Umpqua they started by asking ‘what not to be’. The result is a different kind of pizza place that goes deeper than just looks. When searching for a sustainable competitive advantage, experiences are the hardest to copy. No experience is the same. How many have tried to copy Disney and failed? Starbucks?
The Killer App of Trust
Trust is an often overlooked competitive advantage. The Ritz Carlton knows this very well and have been creating trust with it customers for a long long time. They understand than innovation is human behavior delivers sustainable competitive advantage. This means that that by creating a level of trust between a companies employees and it’s customers, authentic value in the form of better service can be delivered. That’s not manufactured value, it’s real authentic. Zappos also understands that by empowering employees to develop their own customer relationship breakthroughs it makes the customer experience more authentic. The result is more trust with customers.
Experience innovation is also difficult to accomplish. Jeffrey Phillips of OVO Innovation says:
Customer experience innovation requires understanding what customers value in the “touch points” and interactions with your products, services and your firm, and placing the right investments on the most important and valuable touch points. Customer experience needs to consider each “channel” a customer may use to interact with your firm: retail locations, telephone, web, email, direct mail, advertising, etc. The total customer experience cuts across a number of vertical silos within many organizations, including sales, marketing, products and customer support and service.
Authenticity is the result of human innovation
If you’re familiar with the Experience Economy, then all of the above is nothing new. But if you’re not, in the video below Joseph Pine talks about how customers really want an authentic experience:
So how do you start thinking about innovating your own experience?
@Futurescape wrote a great presentation of the 4 practical steps he took to create the Ayurvedic MediSpa Experience. You can use the customer experience cycle map to look at where a ‘shake up’ might come useful to deliver a better experience to the customer. Once you identify those critical touch points you have your challenge that needs to be addressed, it’s time to go to the What Works Matrix and start searching for alternatives that you can the bring over and implement yourself.
Though going through these steps will not result in instant results, it’s an exercise in opening your mind on how your customers experience you. Once your mind is open you’ll be a lot more concerned about your customer experience and start thinking up ideas in no time.
Remember: Empathy drives experience innovation
Break out of orbit!
Disney, Apple, Ritz Carlton, Starbucks all provide a distinct experience when compared with the ‘old way’ of doing things. If you sell commodities (like Starbucks) you can change how your customers purchase or use your products or services to create a distinct customer experience.
The point is to understand this. Ask yourself: What don’t you want to be? Do you want to be like your competitors?
When I see questions such as these I cringe. Well of course it is! Seriously, why would anybody want to work at a place that makes them unhappy? I understand answering this questions is a lot more complicated because it deals with human nature, but it really doesn’t have to be. Grab a pen and paper, an important idea is coming up…
A recent Fast Company article backs this up. According to a study by David Rand of Harvard: People who spend time with happy people are more likely to become happy themselves.
Think about that for a second. Is that something too complex to understand? Do we really need this type of research to understand something so human? No. We don’t really need this type of research to know that hanging out with happy people will makes us more happy. Or that making unhappy people happy makes us happier. It’s common sense!
And that’s not all. Even more telling is that sadness is twice as infectious as happiness. No surprise here either, as an unhappy customer is more likely to tell five people how much your product or services sucks as opposed to telling just one. And by the way, this also includes your employees. Their part of the equation too.
With so much at stake, why can’t we get our heads around that happiness is actually simple?
Here’s the problem: Organizations have a lot of ‘business sense’ but not a lot of ‘common sense’.
Simply understanding that happiness and sadness are contagious should be enough for any organization to treat their people and their customers with decency. Would you rather be know for spreading sadness than happiness? Didn’t think so!
The BIG idea is very simple then: make people happy. Why? Because if your employees are are happy then your customers will be happy. It’s a win-win scenario. Everyone is happy and it all originated from you. That’s what people will remember, trust me
Last week I was dinning at an Italian restaurant with my family. Our waiter was very courteous, by pure observation I could tell he stood out from the rest of the waiters in that restaurant. Two days later I dined at a ‘similar’ Italian restaurant with a few friends, and to my surprise got served by the same waiter that served me days earlier at the other restaurant.