Opening Up The Innovation Engine

Corporate and product identity is important in helping customers narrow options and make choices in a flooded marketplace (Malan and Bredemeyer, June 2005).  Identity is a market simplifier. And it means that we have to think about markets and marketing differently. Take the iPod. It is all about identity. The iPod is cool, the iPod is at the innovation edge, the choice to go iPod is a no-brainer. Give your teenager or 20-something college kid another MP-3 player and you’ll whither in dismay at the ungratefulness of the progeny you raised.

Tom Asacker goes even further. He makes the point that in a world characterized by information flood, people make decisions based on gut feel. “You’re not in the real goods business any longer; you’re in the feel goods business.”

The important point is that in marketing and product development, we are going to have to pay attention to how consumers really make product choices, and factor that into our product and product family design, not just our marketing strategy. We can’t expect marketing to create brand miracles no matter what products we create, and we can’t expect our sales force to create customer relationships and sell our products even if they deliver a poor customer experience.

Customer experience is important in a world where direct referral (whether through blogs or personal relationships) is a major force in purchase decisions. Architects need to understand these factors; it is not just the role of marketing to sort out how to make products competitive. It is the role of the multi-functional team involved in product (and service) innovation.

We have to break down the walls that prevent us from thinking about customer experience, product and company identity, and features, holistically. Serializing requirements (marketing), architecture (architects), and detailed design and implementation (software developers) with over-the-wall hand-offs between phases and disciplines is (like wires) “so yesterday”—it is a mechanistic process for a simpler, slower, more rationalized age.

To compete today, we have to be differentiated in customers’ perception. And in today’s complex world filled with overwhelming choice, perception is shaped by subjective experience, stories, feelings—not a rationalized conjoint analysis of the feature set. We architects need to take this into account; great software, that is software that makes products and services great, is not just a technical matter any more. We have to integrate customer experience into our value-cost strategy and design decisions.

Here’s some blog posts on innovation and break-through thinking:

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