Simon Sinek in Start With Why says innovation is revolutionary. It changes industries, changes the way we do things. According to Sinek, innovation is a BIG DEAL. He is right. And he is wrong.
Innovation is a big deal about 2 percent of the time. 98 percent of the time though, innovation goes unnoticed by most of the world. Most innovations are small, simple ideas that by themselves, don’t make a big difference. (more…)
I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, recently and “discovered” The Art of Shaving. It’s an upscale mall store that is dedicated to one thing and one thing only…the perfect shave for men. As it turns out, I could have discovered it in any one of dozens of malls nationwide. The company has been around since 1996 and its history is the perfect example of the power of innovation.
That’s how good innovation starts. Co-founder Eric Malka said to his wife, “There’s got to be a better way to shave,” and the two of them set about finding it. Over time, they developed a four step system that lubricates, lathers, shaves, moisturizes, and turns the entire shaving ritual into something a man can actually look forward to. When I am finished shaving, my face feels so good I wish I could shave again. Sometimes I do.
People are willing to pay more for real solutions, especially one-of-a-kind solutions. AoS virtually owns the high-end shaving market and they get a premium for their products. This is the real value of innovation. Higher margins, better sales, and loyal customers. In 2009, Procter and Gamble (owners of Gillette) bought The Art of Shaving and the company continues to grow.
Like I said, innovation is worth more.
Thought Leadership may be the fastest growing “sub-industry” in the world. There are over 150 million blogs covering every subject under the sun. Everyone is clamoring to be THE Thought Leader in their respective fields. (Including yours truly, of course.)
In a popular 1960’s TV show “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” the hapless hero, Dobie would find himself in the shadow of The Thinker statue while he contemplated his life. Week after week, he “thought”. Week after week, his life, his love, his troubles remained the same. He never changed. This happens a lot in business. We think, we study, we assign committees, we study some more…..
Companies that are change leaders are as much about doing as thinking. They actively search for problems to solve…their problems and their customers’ problems. When they solve one problem, they quickly move on to the next. Like a shark, they never stop moving. They never stop changing and innovating. Never. Companies that look for stability or equilibrium soon find themselves falling behind the change leaders. They start to look for ways to “save” rather than ways to “make”. And as my friend Chuck Verrett often says, “you can’t cut your way to success”. Once they start down the path of cost cutting and price cutting, they soon become a commodity, margins shrink, sales shrink, customers leave. Ironically, they stop providing the quality and service that made them successful in the first place.
Whether your business is young and fresh or old and mature, there is opportunity for innovation and change. We’ve seen it with mop manufacturers, banks, industrial contractors, and oil heating products. You just have to look for it. Start by looking for problems. Solve them creatively and you’re on your way to being a change leader.
I spend a lot of time on a sailboat so I’ve seen my share of sunsets. Glorious sunsets. Average sunsets. Lots of sunsets. It occurred to me recently that innovation is a lot like a sunset.
1. Sunsets can surprise you.
You know the sunset is coming but you never know how it will appear until it happens. You have to always be on the lookout for innovation.
2. Sunsets appear and then they are gone.
If you aren’t paying attention, you’ll miss the insight that leads to innovation.
3. Sunsets can be average. They can be spectacular.
Innovation is not always earth shattering. Small innovations can be valuable, too.
4. No two sunsets are alike.
Save all your innovation ideas. Compare and contrast them. Build upon them.
6. Sometimes a sunset can distract and take you off course.
A flashy idea can sometimes obscure an even better idea or solution. Don’t let a pretty or easy idea distract you from your primary problem.
7. Sunsets are a lot like sunrises. Just different.
Sunsets mark the end of the day. Sunrises mark the beginning. Some innovations solve problems. Some cause problems. Make sure your innovation fits your overall vision and mission and adds value to your offering.
Innovation opportunities exist in every business, in every product or service. If you look for it, you will find it and you’ll have something to market that will really matter to your customers. When you market innovation, it’s like a beautiful sunset. Everyone that sees it likes it and wants more of it.
One of the best ad campaigns of all time was unveiled the day Avis declared “We’re number two, we try harder.” Avis was immediately propelled from the back lot of the airport parking deck to the “front row” in the minds of the car renting public. It was brilliant. Hertz dominated the market and, until that campaign, was the only brand that most people could recall without help. As good a campaign as it was though, Avis never advanced past that number two slot.
Enterprise looked at the rental car market and saw an opportunity. They opened offices away from the airports and offered to “pick us up.” With all the money they saved from lower real estate costs, they were able to invest heavily in a simple, not-so-clever ad campaign that resonated with an unmet need in the market. “My car is in the shop and I need a ride, and I don’t really want to go to the airport to get a car.” So simple, yet so innovative that Enterprise quickly passed Hertz to become the largest car rental company in America. They now own National and Alamo and they are still growing. Avis, meanwhile, is a solid number three… and slipping. Maybe they should try harder to innovate.
It’s a simple fact: Your customers have to pay for your marketing…and they don’t mind at all.
When you market innovation, you are offering a unique solution to your customer’s problems. You are making their lives easier, better, faster, more comfortable and they are happy to pay for that. So, not only do you have to put the cost of marketing into your product, you have to make sure you put enough in there to do the job right.
Companies like Lexus, Apple, Sonos, and Marriott get this. They work with margins that allow for aggressive product develop, exceptional customer service, and (of course) brilliant marketing. It’s the philosophy that “I have to charge you enough to give you the product or service that you deserve.” When you subscribe to this philosophy, you are focused on the customer and the customer experience and not the bottom line. You know that the bottom line will take care of itself.
And there’s more!
The added bonus to all this customer-focused innovation marketing is that the brand is automatically elevated in the marketplace and your customer is even MORE satisfied with her purchase. It’s further confirmation that she made the right decision and confidence that the product and brand will continue to provide value in the future.
So, put enough margin into your product to expand your offering and tell your story completely. We’ll gladly pay for it.
Innovation is the buzzword of the century and, while it is laudable to want to be like Apple or Amazon, it’s hardly necessary to reinvent your industry to find success. It IS necessary to market innovation.
Why marketing innovation works.
Simply put, innovation is a creative solution to a customer problem. Big problems, little problems, everybody has them and they all need solutions. Every business is capable of this kind of innovation and most are innovating every day. They just fail to realize or act on that innovation and most importantly, they fail to market it.
Customers want more than just solutions to their problems, they want NEW solutions. They will ALWAYS want new solutions. Tide laundry detergent has been “new and improved” more than 80 times in the past 75 years. Most of those innovations were not earth shattering, but they were significant enough that Tide has maintained its dominance in its category. Look around your company. You have innovation opportunities everywhere. Solve your customers’ problems and then tell them about it. Your brand, market share, sales growth, and profit margin will all follow.
You know the stories of the great innovators. Amazon, Apple, Google are the superstar innovation companies of the day. Their stocks, their sales, their margins, their profits, and their brands all reflect the benefits of innovation. But what happens if you DON’T innovate?
You wake up one day and you are closing 120 stores. You are Sears.
Sears used to be a great innovator. The mail order catalog. The money-back guarantee. The best tools on the planet. What have they innovated lately? They put blue shirts on their tires guys and called them The Blue Team. (For the record, that is NOT innovation.)
Sears stopped investing in innovation many years ago. Their competition didn’t. Today they are paying the price.
There’s an ad agency in Michigan that has adopted the tagline “Mutate or die!”. The owner (a friend of mine) reasons that the world is changing, his clients have to change too or they will be out of business.
The truth is, the world is changing because of the innovators. That is true today. It was true when the first cave man turned a rock into a wheel. It will always be true. Only innovating is innovating.
The answer to the question:
Innovate or become irrelevant.