It’s clear. A company needs a vision. It has to know where it’s going, why it’s going, and it needs a plan to get there. Without purpose and passion though, a vision is just words on paper…a body without a soul. This is what separates the great companies from the good ones.
JohnDeere was a blacksmith in the 1830s and he built a new kind of plow to help the local farmers cut through the soil better. He envisioned a company that would supply midwestern farmers with reliable, affordable equipment. That simple vision was backed up by a passion for excellence that has driven his company for over 185 years. Reliability is so completely ingrained in the company and its culture, that no one questions the statement “nothing runs like a deere” because nothing does.
While Steve Jobs has been hailed as the greatest visionary of our times, it was his passion not his vision that made Apple the number one brand in the world. He was determined to build “insanely great products” and his never ending search for the next great product drove him and the company to greatness.
Though separated by 150 years, Deere and Jobs had a lot in common. While their competitors were busy copying their ideas and building tractors and computers, Deere and Jobs were busy looking for better solutions to their customers problems.
That’s what innovators do. They are never satisfied with just building more stuff or making more money. The focus is always on the customer, the customer’s needs and solving the next big problem…passionately.
I was taking a morning walk around the marina in New Bern the other day. Lots of folks were out for their morning coffee. There were joggers, walkers, talkers… It was a busy, summer morning and I encountered what seemed like an unusual number of attractive ladies. As they approached, each one broke into a huge smile, slowed down and said “good morning”, “so cute”, “awwww”. And not a single one was looking at my eyes. No, they were looking at Poppi, my daughter’s six year old YorkiePoo. Or maybe she’s a Pookie since she is more poodle than yorkie.
To be fair, Poppi is extremely cute and she has never met a stranger. Never. And she still acts like she’s three months old. But seriously, am I invisible? Shouldn’t I get a nod or something?
The answer, of course, is no.
People like what they like and ladies like cute little dogs way more than they like the cute little dog walkers. (That is, walkers of cute dogs.)
Too much of today’s marketing ignores this fundamental fact. People want what they want, even if they don’t know what they want. Too much of today’s marketing simply says “look at me, look at me” instead of just being so doggone irresistible that the buyer can’t help but look. Now, it’s not easy to be irresistible (unless your name is Poppi). It takes hard work to create an offering that cuts through the clutter and strikes a chord with the buyer. It takes effort to craft a message that speaks to the issues that the customer cares most about.
Take the time, do it right and it’s like walking around with a cute dog on a leash…only better.
I was in Cincinnati recently and saw a sign that intrigued me…. Doughby’s – Calzones, Crepes, and More. My wife loves crepes, so I thought I might pick one up on the way back to the hotel. As I got closer, I saw another sign…for sale. Doughby’s was out of business. No crepes today, so I ambled down the street to join my friends at the Hang Over Easy (HOE, for short). The breakfast was spectacular. The place was packed.
It’s easy, actually. When the Doughby team got together, they had an idea. It probably started with a great calzone. College kids love calzones. (They are one block from University of Cincinnati.) And then someone said, “Let’s sell crepes, too. They’re made with dough. ” And before you could say holy mozzarella, they had a menu that included calzones, crepes, wings, salads, cookies, and more.
Doughby’s mistake was trying to be everything for everyone. You can’t do it. You have to declare a position. You have to be proud of it. You have to own it and live it. Saying “we have everything” is the same as saying “we have nothing”. Plus, the idea that you’re making a calzone right next to my banana/nutella crepe is just plain creepy. Italy and France just don’t belong together. Chicken and waffles? That’s different.
Hang Over Easy, on the other hand, offers an easy reason to believe. They keep it simple (breakfast and lunch anytime) and they promise a big, hearty hunk of comfort food to make your hangover “easy”, if that’s your problem. If you just like comfort food, that’s okay, too.
Hang Over Easy actually offers more by promising less.
And because of that, they are making a lot of dough…a lot more than Doughby’s.
I can now watch every game in the NCAA Tournament on my iPhone or iPad or Computer. It’ free. It’s easy
and it’s innovation…in a retro kind of way.
This is BIG. Imagine an entertainment model where the product is delivered absolutely free to the viewer and it is paid for with advertising. Imagine the conversations at the NCAA and CBS when someone suggested such a radical idea. Imagine the BGO (blinding glimpse of the obvious) moment when someone said, “Hey, didn’t we used to do this with broadcast tv?”
OR we can make it hard.
Try to watch live TV on your phone right now. You download the apps, log into your cable or satellite account (if you can remember how), answer a magic question, enter a magic code while whistling the national anthem and standing on one foot. This was somebody’s idea of how to “allow” us to use our mobile devices to watch TV. And, by the way, you can only watch the latest episode or two, maybe.
Along comes the NCAA saying “We want more people watching the games. Why can’t they watch them in the airport, or in the back seat of the car, or sitting on the couch?” BAM! We got games. All of ‘em. I watched four games last weekend, on my phone, while riding on a train.
Or we can make it easy.
Somebody said, “Let’s make it easy and maybe more people will watch more. More people means more eyeballs, which means happier advertisers.” And that’s innovation. Give people what they want and they will reward you. I predict the highest viewership ever for the NCAA Tourney and I predict that this “broadcast” model can work right along side the “pay per view” model.
If the networks will just wake up and let it happen.
There’s only one problem with the March Madness thing.
Carolina is out and I’m losing interest. I am, however, ready for next year.
The old saying goes “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”…implying that all you have to do is find a better way of doing something and you’ll be a successful innovator.
Lots of better solutions fail everyday and they fail for two basic reasons: #1 – They aren’t really solutions. #2 – The marketing focuses on the “new and shiny” and neglects the customer’s needs.
Of course you don’t. The problem is NOT that you need to catch the little critters. The problem is that you don’t want them in your house at all. A truly better solution is the one that keeps the mice out in the first place. A cat, for instance, or a patch in the wall, or mouse repellant, or mouse poison are all better solutions for keeping the mice out.
True innovation gets to the root of the problem and offers a solution that is more than new and improved. It looks at the problem from a different perspective and offers something that makes the jobs easier, faster, better, cheaper, or whatever matters most to the end user.
If you want to innovate in your business, you have to start with your customer’s problems. Understand them, solve them and you will find innovation. Then and only then, are you ready to go to market.
We’ll talk about how you market that innovation next time.
This is a story about the little things. The little things that solve little problems that give customers what they want and bring success to the little thing innovator. Hewlett-Packard had great success with the handheld calculator but they did NOT invent the handheld calculator. That honor belongs to Texas Instruments. The first calculator was big and bulky and cost $2500.
That was 1967. By the 70’s, Hewlett-Packard and others had knocked off the idea and the price had dropped to about $75. Bill Hewlett was talking with the ad team of Dick Orkin and Bert Berdis about an ad campaign to sell more calculators. They asked “What makes your product special?” He replied, “Nothing. They all perform the same functions. They all cost about the same. Nothing.” And then he said, “…we do have one little thing. The problem with other calculators is that they are slick on the bottom and slide across your desk when you punch the keys. We added four little rubber feet to keep ours from sliding.”
Orkin and Berdis sat down on the curb outside Hewlett’s office and created a radio commercial that focused on the sliding problem and the little rubber feet. Sales of H-P calculators went through the roof. Those little rubber feet didn’t add 2 cents to the cost of the product but solved a serious problem that mattered to customers. The little innovation, and the marketing that went with it, made the difference for H-P.
Every problem is an opportunity for innovation. Solve the problem, tell people about it, and you’ll be a star.
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.
Innovation guru Doug Hall says that every business, every product, every service is on a continuum somewhere between Monopoly and Commodity. At one end, you own the market (for the moment) and at the other, you compete with the rest of the commodities. I think it is the difference between Distinction and Extinction. At the Distinction end of the spectrum, sales, margins, profits, market share and brand recognition are all high. At the other end, the opposite is true and when you compete on price, you never win long term. For the record, WalMart does NOT compete on price.* But that’s another post for another day.
Companies that offer true innovation offer unique solutions to customer problems, provide real value, and raise the bar for their industry. Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes. Some are stepping stones to larger innovations. Some (like the mouse, the mp3 player, and the touch screen) go unrealized until someone like Steve Jobs comes along. It’s not the size of the innovation that matters, it’s the relentless pursuit of innovation and the marketing of that innovation that yields results.
* A 2012 study by Bloomberg Industries showed that Target, Aldi, even Kroger, had better prices on many products.
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.
5. Sometimes the best view is behind you.
Often the view 180 degrees away from the sunset is even better than the sunset itself. Look for innovation in non-traditional places. Be prepared to be surprised.
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.