Innovate or die!
“Companies rarely die from moving too rapidly and they frequently die from moving too slowly”. It surely is a memorable quote by Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix. When listening to Professor Marion Debruyne passionately introducing her new book on crafting customer-centric strategies for enduring growth, one can only readily agree!
Our own CEO, Kristof De Wulf, threw in some less lady-like oneliners such as “When your eyes are only looking at the organization, your ass is facing the customer” (by Yudai), to kick off our London Smartees on Consumer-Activated Innovation.
Innovation comes with a small ‘i’ (aka incremental innovation) as well as with a big ‘I’ (the more radical version). But no matter the kind of innovation companies cater for, it will just not happen for them if they are only practicing skills-forward thinking: “We are really good at A, how can we further exploit A?” is the best way never to get to B.
No, we need to work backwards, starting from the customer needs, no matter how scary this may be. Think for example of an airline. The evident question for them to ask (in horizon 1) is what additional services they could offer to transfer zone passengers. In horizon 2, they might wonder about the full door-to-door traveler’s experience and whether there are unmet needs in this extended journey they could potentially address (think wake-up call, taxi service or fast luggage tracking). And if they were really brave, they would explore – for instance – the meeting technology space which could make business travel superfluous altogether in horizon 3.
Just as “customers were not buying film, but the ability to make memories”, they may indeed not buy an airline seat tomorrow but rather a personal connection with colleagues overseas. If we zoom in too much on what we are good at today, we are bound to be blind to opportunities (and threats) on the wider horizon. Or to put it differently: customers are rarely buying what companies think they are selling. And companies should get really serious about understanding what customers really need to thrive tomorrow.
Does this mean consumers should take the lead in our strategic business planning? Not quite. We do support Cristensen in his claim that some companies may even have lost their position of leadership precisely because they were too busy listening to their customers. So Ford was possibly right, stating that horse carriage owners would have come up with faster horses instead of cars.
But one should definitely closely connect with consumers, to understand not only how to evaluate the current offering and envisage optimization, but also to maximize the chances of detecting fresh insights and even co-create the future together.
So did Dorel. The company discovered that their flagship stroller brands Quinny and Maxi-Cosi were cannibalizing one another to some extent and wanted to reposition Quinny towards a brand for parents with an urban lifestyle. To discover universal insights in the context of urbanization and to translate them into actions for future Quinny innovations, Dorel decided to set up a Consumer Consulting Board. During a 3-week global research community an intensive dialogue was facilitated between the Quinny team and 120+ urban parents living in 7 major cities around the world (London, Berlin, Seoul, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Sao Paulo and New York). This immersion experience would result in a much better understanding of the daily struggles of their core city target group.
The project generated 6 Universal Insights, insights which evoke the same “Aha, this is me” feeling among people from different cultures around the globe. These insights are now the fundaments of today’s Quinny product innovations such as the ‘Longboard Stroller’. In other words: the consumer connect project fueled the innovation funnel on a global level.
No matter the expertise we have or the strategy we set out for the future, “if we don’t innovate, we don’t deserve to survive”. I’m not really sure which great mind came up with this verity, but I’m sure you’ll find out whilst reading Marion’s inspiring Customer Innovation book. Enjoy the read! And do join one of our upcoming Smartees to get inspired first-hand by cases on how to inject the consumer into your organization and maximize the chances of future success.
And remember to be brave and dare to challenge typical questions used today to ‘funnel’ (read: kill) potential innovation platforms: 1) How big is the opportunity? and 2) Does it fit with what we are good at? Being really serious about innovation starts with the willingness to step out of one’s comfort zone and to think beyond the present-day truths, capabilities and business practices.