Lovable Innovation Part 2: Looking for Love Essential Philosophies to Deliver Lovable Products with Lessons from Apple to GM

The challenge for companies that desire to implement Lovable Innovation practices is that Love Elements for a given product or service may be different for each customer. It is up to companies to identify, aggregate, and quantify these Love Elements and then make tough decisions on which ones they should focus on to deliver lovable products to target customers.  And since the only people who can tell companies if they’ve gotten the Love Elements right are customers, it only makes sense to discover these Love Elements from customers before products are developed and delivered.

Unfortunately, many companies have not yet figured out how to consistently work with customers to discover and then deliver the Love Elements that make their products truly stand out in the marketplace. Many companies, such as Motorola, Kodak, Xerox, and Schwinn have been publicly chided for their inability to focus innovation efforts on products customers love. Many others are playing catch up and only time will determine their fate. Blackberry is responding to the iPhone. Blockbuster is way behind Netflix in electronic delivery of movies (and behind Redbox in kiosk DVD delivery). And MySpace is struggling to regain leadership in online communities.

All of these companies have a lot of work to do in order to deliver new products and services that regain customers’ admiration. One whole segment that has an immediate need to retool their innovation efforts is the American auto industry. While all three US automakers have struggled recently, one of them has had a spotlight on their innovation challenges.

Take GM. (Please.)

Not to pick on General Motors, since most of us want them to succeed, but their current woes provide a good casestudy on the innovation trials facing many companies today. We all know that GM largely ignored the quality movement in the 1970’s, opening wide the door for Japan and others, but they also made a wide range of product decisions that failed to earn customer adoration - the uninspiring “new” Chevy Malibu, the spurious Cadillac Cimarron, the poorly executed Pontiac Aztek, etc., etc.

Throughout their history, even during profitable periods, GM has struggled to deliver lovable products in their attempt to balance engineering, design, quality, and operations needs.

But isn’t GM Innovative Today?

In recent decades, GM has invested consistently in both radical and incremental innovation, but unfortunately they did not focus on the Love Elements that customers desired most, leading to mostly unlovable cars.  GM invented the On-Star system. Clever, but low on the list of what customers want.  They were proud to have invented the Norstar engine for the Cadillac. What is it?  Who cares? GM was also way ahead with the EV (the first Electric Vehicle), that did create enough passion in customers to inspire not only a full-length documentary, but conspiracy theories on why it was killed, only to abandon it with short-sighted financial decisions. Now we’re left waiting to see the results from their latest effort in plug-in electric cars as well as their massive investment in hydrogen cars.

Even GM’s tremendous quality improvement efforts have not enabled them to deliver lovable products since these efforts focused on low product defects. Unfortunately, a low defect rate may have been a significant Love Element in 1983, but in 2009 this doesn’t count as a Love Element because customers expect defect-free products. Time, technology, and competition are always raising the bar on the Love Elements that win customers’ affection.

A Family Car Purchasing Experience

Let me share my own experience. My growing family decided to buy a car last year (yes, an SUV). My wife and I discussed the major Love Elements we required in a product we would love: thoughtful roominess, ample seating, great performance, extreme safety, and whisper quiet. But we also both had many more Love Elements that were less obvious and unstated. She needed unfettered access to add and remove children. I wanted to look cool. She needed a way to perfectly nestle her venti latte and I wanted the stereo to be velvet to my ears.  In short, we wanted our new car company to understand us completely and to deliver to us a product we would love, at a price we could justify.

We started our search and test drove them all, American and foreign alike. The inquisition was fierce: “Why is this piece plastic?” “Did that one seem louder?” “Why did they put that there?” We had dozens of factors to weigh… good, bad, and neutral. We tried to focus on what we considered the most important Love Elements, but even the smaller Love Elements we didn’t think about at first, such as interior details and the sound of the doors closing, affected us. After weighing all of these Love Elements, it was a foreign-made vehicle that stole our “love” away from the American choices.

The Good News!

The good news is that many companies do practice Lovable Innovation at their core and consistently deliver worthy, lovable products. The Apple argument starts and ends with two words:  iPod and iPhone. There were six other major MP3 competitors on the market before Apple got the Love Elements right.  Amazon has been a .com survivor by continuing to build on their lovable online book service (and every other product service now). Many companies such as P&G, Google, Hallmark, LEGO and others have fully integrated Lovable Innovation practices into their processes and are being rewarded with great products, valuable brands, loyal customers, and growing profits.

The Bad News!

The bad news, at least for current market leaders, is that emerging foreign competitors in Asia and Eastern Europe are quickly applying these Lovable Innovation lessons. Just like Japan in the 1960’s, China is starting with a blank piece of paper and is willing to learn how to deliver truly remarkable products. I regularly conduct product innovation workshops in Shanghai and see aggressive Chinese companies building Lovable Innovation practices to deliver products Americans will love, just as we experienced with Japan. For example, US Car companies lost hybrid car dominance to the Toyota Prius because Toyota got the Love Elements right first. Don’t be surprised if a Chinese company wins your first electric vehicle purchase… and your heart.

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 [email protected] or through his website at www.planninginnovations.com.

Learn More about the innovation process!

Please join Survey Analytics and Planning Innovations Dorian Simpson for this one-hour webinar on how cost-effective online tools can be used throughout the innovation process to identify needs, explore solutions, and validate concepts.

June 17th, 2010 at 9 AM

Effective Use of Online Survey Tools in the Innovation Process

Click here to register now: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/513450435