Based on my personal experience with clients, and confirmed by hundreds of discussions with product leaders attempting to respond to innovation challenges, here are the five essential philosophies to building Lovable Innovation practices that lead to lovable products and customer devotion:
- Marry Your Customers. The first philosophy is to commit to your customers. A colleague of mine, Jean-Claude Balland of JCB and Associates challenges his clients to “marry” their customers. This is an important commitment to be with your customer through thick and thin. It means you’ve pledged to listen to them, learn their needs and desires and find solutions to their problems. This requires you to earn their trust and so they will be more open to sharing challenges and revealing the Love Elements that will win their hearts. Learning more quickly about big problems can give you the edge on discovering major opportunities like the SUV that require radical innovation, but also provides a vast array of insight into smaller Love Elements where you can apply incremental innovation. I hear many companies say something similar to, “We don’t have access to our customers!” Yes, sometimes it does take time, new thinking, and even some creativity to gain direct access to both current and potential customers to gain this insight. Smart companies are creating customer insight systems that create channels of feedback through customer panels, online tools, and customer visits. Quicken is fabled for beating the mighty Microsoft by following customers home to watch them install and use their accounting software to gain this insight.
- Become a Love Psychologist. The second philosophy is learning how to listen. The second thing I often hear is “Customers can’t tell us what they want!” Once you have your customer’s ear, listening is not enough. It takes unique skills to gain real customer insight and determine if you’ve uncovered the right Love Elements. Exploring customers’ minds successfully requires repeatable techniques such as in-depth customer interviews, observation, or other appropriate research methods. These activities shouldn’t always be outsourced to market research agencies as obtaining on-going, high quality insight requires that you build a relationship with your customers. As an exercise, find a customer, sit down with her for an hour and really try to listen versus talking to her about your plans. As you establish a trusting relationship, you will be able to get beyond her surface needs and obvious wishes. You may need to learn new methods to gain this insight, but with practice and dedication you will be able to get inside customers’ heads. These techniques are generally referred to as Voice of the Customer (VOC) and are used by top innovators such as P&G and Toyota to define Lovable Innovations. But you don’t need the resources of a Fortune 100 company to conduct good customer discussions. One small health consultant in Oregon uses surveys to track customer desires and then follows up with those customers who want to talk about her products. This consistent feedback allows her to focus on new services that her customers want instead of what she, as an expert in her field, thinks they want (And it’s often surprisingly different!) The result? A thriving business because she is always on top of the latest products that her customers care about.
- Make Tough Love Decisions. The third philosophy is to make tough decisions that are guided by what customers really care about. Once you’ve uncovered Love Elements that will win customers’ hearts, it’s time to make difficult tradeoffs. Lovable Innovation decisions range from big strategic decisions such as “should we develop a plug-in car at all?” to detailed feature decisions, such as “how long should the cord be to plug it in?” Without having the tools and methods to rank, prioritize, and quantify your elements, it’s easy to want to solve every need and meet every want. But you won’t be able to. Successful products have a clear emphasis on the most important Love Elements that only you and your customers can decide. Develop clear methods that focus your innovation efforts on your customers’ top Love Elements, such as feature trade-off analysis and other quantitative research tools to make tough decisions. Nintendo was forced to make difficult trade-off decisions between performance, design, and applications when they chose to focus on a new video game experience targeted to families. In the process they had to abdicate the hard-core gamer market to Sony and Microsoft. The decisions have paid off with Wii’s success.
- Go Deep with Your Commitment. The fourth philosophy is to get the details right. Once you’ve made tough decisions to focus on the top Love Elements, it’s now time to get the whole product right. Think about the products we love - they all deliver a small set of Love Elements really well, such as enabling web services on the iPhone, and then making the experience lovable for customers. This commitment to the details allows your team to focus on making the experience of these critical product or service attributes even better… and more lovable. For example, the iPod delivers the top Love Elements and has gone deeper to get the details right on the overall music experience, from opening the box, to the feel of the device, to downloading music with ease (I think it also has a calendar… but who cares?). Netflix has gone deep into creating an online movie ordering system complete with a range of recommendation tools and simple mailing procedures. Love Element details don’t stop at the product, but may also include better customer service, useful accessories, and set-up improvements. Lost a part to your LEGO Power Miner set? For a nominal fee, LEGO will send you just the missing part, thus avoiding your next toddler tantrum. It’s all in the details.
- Upset Your Development Team - They Will Love You for It. The last philosophy is following through on your commitment. If you have successfully married your customers and know what they will love (and buy), you may think you don’t have the resources, skills, and commitment to meet those needs. Do not let these challenges limit you. If it is important to your customers (including potential customers), take a stand and challenge your development team to find solutions. Instead of hearing “We can’t do that,” find creative ways to answer, “How can we do that?” such as finding external experts, purchasing technology, or refocusing resources from less important projects. Solving really tough problems leads to radical innovation and big leaps in market advantage. Development teams thrive on tough problems and savor the recognition for solving them. The most common refrain I hear from Apple employees? “It’s the toughest job I’ve ever loved.” That cool touch screen with expanding web pages on the Apple iPhone didn’t come without engineering angst.
The results of adhering to these five essential philosophies? The ability to direct all innovation efforts, incremental, radical, and otherwise on products your customers will love.
The Bottom Line
Lovable Innovation requires a place as a standard business process in any company that wants the long term benefit of loyal customers and great brands. Companies must focus their innovation efforts on products and services that customers really want and then deliver the goods to earn their love. Global competition is only getting tougher and if your company cannot deliver lovable products, your competitors certainly will.
About the Author: Dorian Simpson founded Planning Innovations in 2002 to help technology-driven companies launch successful products and services through focused innovation management and planning. He has significant experience in both engineering and marketing to help build the bridge between these two critical innovation functions.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website at www.planninginnovations.com.
Learn More about the innovation process!
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June 17th, 2010 at 9 AM
Effective Use of Online Survey Tools in the Innovation Process
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