The Blake Project, the brand consultancy behind Branding Strategy Insider, delivers interactive brand education workshops and keynote speeches designed to align marketers on essential concepts in brand management and empower them to release the full potential of the brands they manage.
Archive for September, 2011
When thinking about product and brand innovation– what seems to elude many executive leaders is a that people do not buy products, they buy into meanings.
Maybe the reason for this is simply the physics of most organizations inhibits radical innovation and the competitive advantage that results. What matters the most to people is not the function of a product, but their emotional, psychological and cultural connection to what a product means to them. The key to sustained competitive advantage for companies is to innovate around meanings rather than function and performance.
Radical Innovation does not happen when you bring people an incremental improvement of what they already know. Rather, radical innovation (and market leadership for that matter) is the result of “proposing” an unexpected meaning. This meaning, unsolicited by user needs, once discovered, turns out to be the very thing people where waiting for!
There are countless examples of companies who have mastered this. Of course, Apple is an easy one. And there are other compelling examples. Back in the early 80’s, Seiko and Casio were driving technological innovation in quartz watches, believing people wanted technical precision. However, a Swiss watchmaker realized people cared more about self-expression than technical precision. Swatch was born and proved to be a radical innovation of meaning that created radical market success. While Seiko and Casio were closely observing user needs and existing meanings, Swatch created new ones.
Forget user-centered innovation. With so many such examples in every industry to benchmark from, I am surprised most companies don’t seem to “get it”. Most are heavily invested in traditional market innovation – finding a consumer need and filling it. From our own experience working in early stage product and brand innovation, seemingly the conversation starts by the client explaining how their new product innovation has more buttons and is easier to use than the leading brand. A radical innovation of meaning rarely, if ever, comes from user-centered approaches.
In my view, this explains why so many high user involvement product categories are being commoditized. Most companies continue to improve incremental performance within existing market concepts leaving only a few visionary companies to gain competitive advantage (market leadership) by proposing new and different meanings. Did I mention Apple yet?
Good and Different. In his whiteboard book Zag, noted consultant and author Marty Neumeier outlines the fundamentals of good and different. The premise is simple–you can’t lead by following the leader. To remove uncertainty and hedge risk in innovation, many companies rely on focus group testing. While useful for certain kinds of learning, people in focus groups have a frame of reference that is based on what is currently known to them. Most people usually want more of what they currently know– only with more features and cheaper. This is not an effective venue for discovering new meanings or competitive advantage.
Today the marketplace is over-crowded with good. Good is expected. Good = the same! Different on the other hand, is more elusive. When a company proposes a radical innovation of meaning, it’s no surprise it will be first judged as crazy or impractical idea. Radical innovations of meaning don’t test well. A product that is radically different is always radically different than the current dominant meaning in the category. Think back to the Swatch example; personal expression trumps precision instrument. Indeed Swatch is still good and different.
What is your innovation strategy? In his book, Design-Driven Innovation, author Roberto Verganti outlines a framework for mapping strategy for innovation as a radical change in meanings. Check out his thinking in the diagram below:
Verganti describes the process of product innovation and competitive advantage as historically being the result of product performance enhanced by disruptive technology advances and intense analysis of users’ needs. Radical innovation, on the other hand, is more about baking the more elusive unexpected meaning into the product. People discover something unexpected that, when delivered, is somehow what people have been waiting for, just not asking for. Radical innovation is a proposal to people. Radical innovation is not about function and form, but about function and meaning– never driven by users.
As your company maps its innovation strategy, this distinction of radical innovation of meanings rather than features may be noteworthy in your product development. If you‘re not thinking about radical innovation right now, you can be sure your competitor is. Lead, follow, or get out of the way has never rang so true.
Sponsored By: The New Product Co-Creation Workshop
Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education
Brand perceptions are much more often created by the product or service experience itself than from marketing communication. Marketing communication is much more effective in building brand awareness than it is in creating or changing brand perceptions. That is not to say that marketing communication cannot be used to help change perceptions, but it can’t do it alone and it can’t do it in the absence of real changes in the product or service experience. So, when a brand perception is negative and requires a change, that change is likely to include one or more of the following:
- competitive strategy
- business model
- vertical or horizontal integration
- pricing strategy
- distribution strategy
- product functions, features and styling
- product line breadth and depth
- bundling/unbundling of products and services
- product/service customization
- customer service, including problem handling
- technical support
- internal culture
- employee hiring criteria
- employee training
- performance metrics
- common measures
- internal systems and procedures
- capital investments
No doubt about it change is hard. Humans resist change until they absolutely have to. Like a bad habit, you won’t kick it until it threatens your very existence. So it is with changing a brand’s perception in the minds of customers.
Once a customer’s mind is made up about a brand it’s next to impossible to change it. Marketers embarking on the journey of brand transformation must recognize it's an inside-out process not for the faint of heart.
Brands become what they have proven themselves to be. Mental perceptions are hardened by experience. People can’t form new perceptions without a new experience. Like the chicken or the egg, what comes first?
Brand owners are the first to resist change.
There is a long period of denial before brand owners will change their own thinking. It can take years of sales declines before brand owners will wake up and deal honestly with a brand that is losing ground. This is especially true of iconic brands that once were leaders.
There’s a sense of complacency that cripples organizational action. Long before the cash starts drying up, iconic brands lose relevancy and customers. It’s hard to see this happening in real time. The dynamics of organizational thinking tend to favor the status quo.
If you’re going to change brand perceptions, the process begins by changing from within.Read More
We are happy to answer marketing questions of all types here on Branding Strategy Insider. Today's question comes from Todd Longwell, a reporter for Variety Magazine in Los Angeles, California. He asks…
"How will the state of entertainment branding be different in 10 years? In recent times, the constant stream of new technology has created widespread fragmentation in the marketing space. Is the increasing interconnectivity between devices reversing that trend?"
Thanks for your question Todd. Ten years out is a very long time out for projections that are anywhere near accurate, especially given the accelerating rate of technological and market changes. Having said that, I am sure there will be mergers, acquisitions and consolidations leading to larger brands, especially regarding parent brands/owners. At the same time, the branding trend is to focus on increasingly tightly defined markets – super niches.
So channels such as Animal Planet, The Biography Channel, Smithsonian Channel, Comedy Central, Syfy, ExerciseTV, Wealth TV, etc. will only proliferate further based on market demands. And the programming will follow societal trends. So emerging interests, lifestyles, avocations and beliefs will likely result in their own programming and channels. There will not only be FoxNews, MSNBC, CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera, but also perhaps news channels catering to the Tea Party, Progressive Libertarians, etc. I think comedic/sarcastic news formats and programming (such as The Daily Show) might become increasingly popular as people tire of pessimism and fear mongering in their news intake.
In summary, I think there will be larger parent brands/owners that have grown organically and through M&A, perhaps divided along the lines of shared values (due to the owner’s point of view). At the same time, each of these parent brands will deliver an ever increasing number of channels and programming options that takes niche marketing to a whole new level of specificity.
BSI readers may have more to add on what the future holds…
Have a question related to branding? Just Ask…
Sponsored By: The Brand Positioning WorkshopRead More
Focus groups have been the go-to method many marketers employ to gain insight on how certain people think, feel and behave. In our social media connected world, are focus groups an effective forum for driving creativity and innovation in brand development and marketing?
Henry Ford said “if I gave people what they said they wanted, I would have made a faster horse”. Mr. Ford instinctively knew then what still holds true about people today–people simply don’t know what they want, or what form an innovative idea should come in to solve a problem they don’t yet know they have. Nobody needed a car. Yet once realized, the automobile was arguably the most significant game changing product innovation of the last century.
A more contemporary version of this example is alive and well at Apple. Apple never conducts focus group research to guide their product innovations or drive their marketing. Innovation isn’t about giving people what they say they want. Asking people want they want or need is not a very useful tactic in driving new ideas for innovation. Yet, many marketers continue to rely on this artificial “laboratory” research to gain insights into what specific segments of people might be thinking about, what products they may use, and why they favor one thing over another. Rarely will focus group research shed any useful light on the deeper needs people have that are, as yet, unrealized in their minds. If we assume this to be true, why do focus group research at all?
“I notice increasing reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgment; they rely too much on research, like a drunkard uses a lamp post for support rather than illumination”. – David OgilvyRead More