The Five Essentials of Lovable Innovation

Earlier this week, we posted Part 1 and Part 2 on our series of Lovable Innovation. In Part 1 we defined what Lovable Innovation was and the importance of adding it to your business dictionary. In Part 2 we illustrated what it means to make products consumers truly love with a case study by GM.

Today, we are wrapping up our series by discussing the five essential elements of Lovable Innovation. All companies, at some point or another, seek to innovate and create positive change. In order to do this, they must apply Lovable Innovation practices and focus their innovation efforts on products and services that customers really want. The result of adhering to these 5 principles? The ability to direct all innovation efforts, incremental, radical and otherwise on products your customers will love.

Rule #1: Marry Your Customers

One simple way to create the right mindset to deliver Lovable Innovation is to "marry" your customers. This is an important commitment; to be with your customers through thick and thin. It means you've pledged to listen to their problems, learn their needs and desires and find solutions to their problems. When customers realize this, you will earn their trust and 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 to discover major opportunities that require radical innovation, but also provides a vast array of insight into smaller Love Elements where you can apply incremental innovation as well.

We often hear companies say, "Our customers don't want to talk with us." This indicates a poor customer relationship. In order to learn from your customers, you must be approachable. You must open the communication loop so people feel welcome to share their thoughts, and then you must listen to what they have to say.

Rule #2: Become a Love Psychologist

Once your customers have your 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 customer's minds successfully requires repeatable techniques such as in-depth customer interviews, observation, or other appropriate research methods. These activities should not always be outsourced to big, full-service market research agencies, as obtaining ongoing high quality insight requires that you build a relationship with your customers.

As an exercise, find a customer and sit down with them for an hour (or less) and really try to listen versus talking to her or him about your plans. As you establish a trusting relationship, you will be able to get beyond the 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 customer's heads.

Consider using surveys as a way to track customer desires and open the communication loop. Then you can follow up with those customers who wish to talk further. This consistent feedback allows you to focus on what they want, rather than what you think they want (and it's often surprisingly different!) The result? A thriving business that's always on top of the latest products that customers care about.

Rule #3: Make Tough Love Decisions

Once you've uncovered Love Elements that will win customer's hearts, it's time to make difficult decisions. These decisions range from big strategic decisions such as, "Should we develop a plug-in car at all?" to detailed feature decision 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 on.

One tip for doing this is to develop clear methods such as feature trade-off analysis and other quantitative research tools to make tough decisions, focusing your innovation efforts on your customer's top Love Elements.

Rule #4: How Deep is Your Commitment?

Once you've made tough decisions to focus on the top Love Elements, now it's time to get the details right. Think about the products that you already love - they all deliver a set of Love Elements very well. This commitment to the details allows your team to focus on making the experience of these critical product attributes even better...and more lovable!

Love Element details don't stop at the product, they continue throughout the entire life cycle of the customer. They may include excellent customer service, useful accessories, and set-up improvements. LEGO goes the extra mile to keep their customers happy. If you lose a part to your LEGO set, they will send you the missing part, thus avoiding the next toddler tantrum. It's all in the details.

Rule #5: Upset Your Development Team... They Will Love You For It

Lastly, 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, take a stand and challenge your development team to find the 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 huge leaps in market advantage. Development teams thrive on tough problems and savor the recognition for solving them. The result of adhering to these five principles? The ability to direct all your innovation efforts, whether they be radical, incremental or otherwise, on products that your customers will love.

Dorian Simpson is Managing Director of Planning Innovations Group, a leading product innovation training and consulting group based out of Portland, Oregon. Dorian was kind enough to provide us with his recent essay on "Lovable Innovation" that inspired this post.

Check out more from Dorian at

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