After Your New Product Innovation
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
Congratulations! You and your team have come up with a bold new product idea and it has been approved by top management. Go ahead and celebrate with a glass of champagne, but then you need to get back to innovating or your competitors will quickly overtake you.
Here are some of the things you need to think about from the moment your product idea is approved.
1. How much of an advantage does your new idea give you over the competition?
If your idea could readily be copied by the competition, then you need to push that idea further. Particularly if your competitors are better at marketing than you are. I saw this when I was developing and marketing idea management software. If I announced a new feature that was simple to copy, competitors quickly did so.
2. How much of a head start does your new idea give you?
Consider: you have a great new idea to improve your product. However, it is clear that the competitors could implement a similar idea within 12 months. That means you need to improve upon your original innovation within 12 months in order to retain a lead over the competition. The faster you improve, the greater lead. So, don't get complacent. Continue innovating.
Blackberry famously launched a mobile device for email. But, they failed to continue innovating and when the Smartphone came out, it proved even better for email, not to mention phone calls, web browsing, following maps, playing games and a gazillion other things.
3. How long will it take you to implement your new idea?
The implementation period leaves a window during which the competition could launch a similar idea (either because they learned about your idea or, more likely, because they had a similar idea themselves). What options do you have during the implementation period? For example, consider an innovative series of product modifications. Is it better to take more time and implement all of the modifications in one go; or is it better to implement a few of the modifications at a time and launch a series of improved products? In the first scenario you have the advantage of surprise and perception of greater innovation. In the second scenario, you give the impression of continuous innovative improvement and give less time for the competition to launch their own innovative improvements.
4. At what time do you announce your innovation?
Traditionally, innovations are announced after they are implemented. The theory is that this prevents the competition from copying your idea. But what if the competition has a similar new product idea and announces their innovation before you have launched your new product? In some cases it might be better to announce your new product first – before you launch it – in order to be identified by the public as the inventor of the innovative new product idea. If you run a good marketing machine, announcing the product to gain first mover's advantage may be worth it – even if it gives your competitors forewarning of your innovative ideas.
5. More broadly, how do you market and promote an innovative new product or product improvement?
If you use the same marketing communications tools, themes and approaches you have used for years – there is a danger that your customers will not recognise the value your innovative new product offers. Hence it is critical to be as innovative in marketing your new product as you were in developing your new product. Post-It notes took a long time to take off, in part because the marketing people did not know how to promote the new product.
Second, consider the competition's ideas. After all, if they are as into innovation as you are, they are also working on innovative new ideas. And probably the most annoying experience in business is to be out-innovated by the competition.
6. How do you react to your competitor's innovative new product ideas?
You have three choices:
a) Try to copy their idea. This can backfire, however. Market leaders do not copy. They lead! And being a copycat does not give you first mover's advantage – unless you have an excellent marketing communications team and you are willing to lie.
b) Ignore their idea and argue that your existing product is better. Sometimes, telling clients that the new idea is not good and that your more established product is a better buy can be a safe bet. However, this can also backfire, particularly if used more than once or twice. If your customers see that your competitor is consistently being more innovative than you, they will eventually take a close look at the competition's offering. And may will buy into that offering.
c) Innovate an even better product. This is the most challenging, but probably best option. If your competitors develop a better product than what you offer, make your product even better than theirs. A structured innovation process that focuses on continuous product development and improvement (among other kinds of innovation), is necessary to keep ahead of an innovative competitor.
7. How do you react to your competitors' reaction to your idea?
This may sound convoluted. But think about it. You launch an innovative new product. Your competitors could take any of the actions described in point six above. How do you respond? It is wise to be prepared for any of their responses and this requires some creative thinking.
One way to react is to sue your competitors. This is a particular favourite in the US market, witness Apple's and Samsung's back and forth law suits around smartphone innovations.
8. How will you react if your competitor has a disruptive idea?
What will you do if your competitor, or more likely a hitherto unknown company, launches an idea so innovative it transforms the industry and leaves your products looking obsolete? This happens. Digital photography has been disastrous to film firms like Kodak and Fuji although, to their credit, both have succeeded in adopting digital photography – but not without a lot of pain, loss of income and loss of jobs along the way.
Indeed, this last question can be a great approach for a creative exercise. Ask your colleagues, “What innovative new product might our competitors develop that would be our worst nightmare?” Not only do you generate ideas about coping with radical innovation from your competitors, but you also may generate that radical idea first – and become your competitors' worst nightmare. And, let's face it, it is far better to be your competitor's nightmare than the other way around.
An innovative new product idea only the beginning of your innovation process
An innovative new product idea is not the end of your innovation journey. It is only the beginning. You need to bear in mind that if your competitors are not working on a similar idea, they will begin doing so as soon as they learn about yours. This means that once you have a great idea and decide to move forward with it, it is already time to start thinking about further improvements and new products. At the same time, you should also be focusing on constantly improving your internal processes and marketing efforts. After all, the most sustainable form of innovation is continuous innovation.
This is an edited version of an article that appeared in the 2 January 2007 issue of Report 103
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