Customers don’t care if you’re innovative or not


Pop-Tarts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They don’t care about your business strategy, your marketing strategy, your supply chain, your approach to human resources; nothing.

They also don’t care about your latest innovation program. And, unless you’re Apple, they don’t care about your latest product extension. Seriously, they don’t.

A recent post on the Wall Street Journal has pretty much put it in perspective how executives are looking at innovation the wrong way: something that is innovative to them, not the customer.

Basically, the Wall Street Journal article shines a light on how diluted the definition of innovation has become. It’s become a marketing ploy. Before I addressed this here, a couple of bloggers beat me to it. Both addressed the mindlessness thinking that the article uses as an example. You should read both their posts (here and here).

Of course, innovation is a buzzword, this isn’t new. But seriously, the example they used in the article is common across many industries. The way companies want to innovate, or the reason they are investing in it, is because they are playing not to lose by out-featuring competitors.

Reactive mindset, not proactive.

When they act this way, they forget a very important principle about marketing: people don’t remember specific features, they remember the experience they had. Companies are confusing a product upgrade with innovation, and to believe that changing one thing is enough to make a splash is short-term-ism at its finest.

I love Pop-Tarts, but a different flavor of Pop-Tarts is not an innovation.

Don’t innovate to compete, innovate to change the game

Before the end of the year, and everyday after that, companies who are serious about innovation should ask themselves this question: how can we be the only ones who do what we do? The answer to that question isn’t about Big Data, or any other hot trend or topic; it is about what you are enabling customers to do.

The right way to think about innovation is this: how are we transforming customers? How are we helping them be innovative?

This is a different way of thinking about your value proposition, it’s about developing human capital in our customers. Not simply delivering a product or service “because that is what companies do”. Companies that believe that out-featuring competitors is the way to innovation riches are kidding themselves. You might feel that way in the short term, but you are simply adding more wood to the fire that creates a thick screen of smoke that distracts and annoys people.

At some point people will forget your latest flavor if you play not to lose.

Customers, people, users, are experiencing more chaos than ever. Too many choices are creating noise in their lives. This is a huge opportunity for both startups and established companies to make an impact in people’s lives. The sooner you rethink how you look at innovation, the faster you will orient your efforts towards really thinking about how you might transform your customers.

Actual innovation requires persistent experimentation and a willingness to take giant leaps forwards… or sideways… or even backwards. Not more of the same…

To finish, I’ll leave you with this last thought: the more you mention the word innovation, and the more you say you are innovative; you are not innovative.

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