Perhaps you’ve figured out that it’s harder and harder to differentiate your product or service in a world of seemingly endless choice and constant change. Perhaps you realize that even if your product IS better, commanding share of attention in an ever noisier world can be extraordinarily challenging.
The traditional approach to innovation is to assess customer dissatisfaction with current offerings and to then engineer a new and improved solution. If we address the sore points of the customer experience, the theory goes, incremental market share will come our way. Of course many have understood the limitations in this process, going back to Henry Ford’s apocryphal quotation about the customer’s ignorant desire for a faster horse.
The iPod was not invented because research unlocked consumer complaints that they had no way to carry around their vast music collection in their pocket. No focus group was held where those eagerly listening behind the glass heard a participant say “if I could only have instant access to every album I ever bought wherever I wanted. And oh, by the way, it’d be cool if it had a phone too.” There was no obvious customer sore point to be soothed.
What Steve Jobs “insanely great” design ethos brought to Apple was a focus on customer soar points. Completely new to the world approaches. Step functions in new utility. Products that were cool. Stuff that we wanted to talk about. Incremental improvement was not the goal.
For most brands this requires a fundamental re-think of what passes for innovation. For years, Apple was the outlier and it was easy to say that what they did was only appropriate for their segment–or that it was just too hard to replicate in other cultures. Ironically, today Apple has shifted its attention toward addressing customer sore points–battery life, screen size–and away from places where they can truly soar above the competition.
The world is becoming less of a place where an innovation strategy oriented toward rooting out customer annoyances or tweaking the design–going from 10 to the proverbial 11–can work. More and more, the emphasis needs to be on the remarkable, the unexpected, finding the place where the customer experience is truly elevated, not just enhanced.
Because when your customer soars, chances are your brand will follow.