Innovation in the Most Unlikely of Places

Innovation is on my mind this week as my Twitter feed, Facebook updates and general news watching is filled with updates from the annual Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas. I’ve worked on enough products to know that coming up with the next great idea can often be an exercise in frustration.

The list of new ideas are quickly dismissed as too hard to implement, not valuable enough or not exciting. I would have loved to have been in the meeting where Skip Hop’s “Complete Sheet” was brought up as an idea.

Innovation at its simplest.

Beyond the thread count revolution, there has been very few innovations in sheets. They have become larger to adapt bigger mattresses, utlilized different materials and sold in value sets. Nothing that would be described as revolutionary.

Skip Hop has just turned the baby bedding industry upside down and, yes, their idea is patent pending.  If you haven’t been looking at crib sheets lately, here’s the genius in the Skip Hop Complete Sheet–the decorative side panels.  I bet at this point–you’re saying “that’s it?”   Therein lies the genius, it’s so simple that it was overlooked.  Today experts frown up any decorative materials in the crib due to the risk of SIDS.   What every new mom wants is the House Beautiful nursery.   Yet, they aren’t able to decorate the crib with the traditional bumpers.  The new Complete Sheet now brings some of that decorating flare back to the central part of the nursery–the crib.

Back to the meeting where this idea was discussed.   Someone probably said that it would be too hard to do with the different types of mattresses, or the material needs to be just right so the panels fit nicely around the edges and doesn’t shrink.  Thankfully any objections were overruled and now there’s these cool new sheets, which by the way, will cost almost twice as much as the standard crib sheet.

The quest for innovation is not only about customer satisfaction, but it is also about finding an attribute to charge a premium for and bring more dollars to the bottom line.   Right now it seems like the technology industry is struggling to understand what consumers really want.    Prices have been declining on most accessories and the economic free fall seems to have no end in sight.   However, I think the challenge to product development organizations is to bring customers true innovation and then the price premiums will return.

One final thought is that a great product needs to be heard and seen.   I’m not sure how long these sheets have been out, but I only discovered them because Skip Hop had an end cap at Target.   The ideal marketing program will include good distribution and consumer demand generation–which is often not supported in small and mid-size organizations.

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Innovation Through Insight

Tomorrow I am giving a talk on  “Innovation Enablement through Customer Insights”.   The description is “use customer intelligence to enhance product development, sales, marketing and retention efforts”.  This panel is part of a two-day conference on Relationship Optimization, sponsored by the Altamont Group.

Just like anything else, there are trends in marketing.  For while it was customer relationship management [CRM] software.  Then, NetPromoter scores were all the rage.  Guerrilla marketing.  Banner ads.  And, of course, the last couple of years have been all about social media.   Part of the reason I love marketing is that there are so many ways to slice and dice.  Yet, what always needs to remain at the core of any strategy or tactics is your customer.

I often feel that the customer is forgotten in many marketing pursuits.   A trend lately on Facebook pages is that you have to “like” the brand before you can see the content underneath it.    I hate this tactic as sometimes it’s a new brand that I want to explore and don’t want to commit to “liking” it, but I know that some e-marketing person has been forced to justify their existence by increasing the brand’s likability.

After looking at the agenda, I agreed to give the talk because I believe in providing the grounding voice in an organization.  I like intricate processes and systems as much as the next guy, but I also believe in simplicity.  Sometimes we, as marketeers, get too busy and don’t make time for the fundamentals.

For those who click on this link after hearing my talk, I hope you got three things out of the presentation.

Rule #1   Stop!  Eliminate the focus group of one. 

I am very thankful that I live in area that is filled with visionary and innovative people who keep creating gadgets that I didn’t even know I needed.  However, I wish that once in awhile they’d realize that Silicon Valley isn’t like everywhere else.  Two years ago I went to a family reunion on the Eastern seaboard and brought a portable iPod dock with me.   No one had seen one like it before.  They were familiar with the stationary docks, but this was cool.  Yet, the conversations we kept having back at headquarters were around the fact that the category was old–and everyone had a dock.   Yet, one look at shipment numbers of docks to the number of iPods/iPhones sold would tell you that there was still a long way to go to even get to a thirty percent attachment rate.   What we needed to do a better job at was segmenting our market and understanding who we needed to create new products for, and who we needed to just make aware that the products existed.

Rule #2 Listen!   Talk to each other.

I love this quote from Dave Frankland of Forrester Research, “We live in an age of big data, in which firms are data-rich but insight poor.”   Information overload is a reality for most busy professionals.  The amount of emails every day almost guarantees ADD-like thoughts around even the most important topics.  Yet, organizations need to ensure that they carve out time to have discussions around customer activities.  Events, whether they are user conferences, trade shows or in-store demonstrations, are rich with customer interaction.  The anecdotes and inferences from the events need to be expressed, and ideally, in a group of people to debate and decide what is relevant to future developments

Rule #3 Look!  Put a different frame around it.

Innovation shouldn’t stop at just the product or service.   Innovation can also occur within the marketing mix.  Understand the customer’s journey to discover new ways of communicating, distributing or promoting the product.   If you need inspiration, check out Adrian Ott’s The 24-Hour Customer.   She has an interesting thesis on time versus money that may help you think about how you can innovate your product or service for today’s economy.

Enough words for today.  I’ll post my presentation and any comments and insights from the discussion later this week.