No One Ever Buys a Product: The Innovator’s Edge

I’m always happy to receive a copy of The Colorado Innovation Newsletter from my friend Gary Lundquist, and often find it my most thought-provoking email. Here’s the latest issue, about how to establish your Innovator’s Edge, and it’s well worth your time too…
Would you go dancing with your feet tied together? Or sightseeing with blinders on? No? If not when relaxing, then why would you wear mental blinders at work? Perhaps you don�t, but people and organizations compete every day while hobbled by their own mindsets. Even simple misunderstandings can blunt our edge and weaken our performance. And worst of all, we rarely know that such problems exist.
I lost an INC 500 company because I didn�t know. It was a rocket ride to the stars that crashed without warning, in large part because the whole company had mindset problems. I�ve been driven ever since to look for the blinders and hobbles we wear because we just don�t know any better. Frankly, the problems are endemic. Almost everyone has them.
That opens a big door to opportunity. You can develop better products with higher productivity and then create greater impact on your markets. All it takes is acting on three very fundamental concepts. Let�s call them “The Innovator�s Edgetm

The Edge begins with bold assertions:
No one ever buys a product.
• How is not the most important question.
• Product brochures are not about products.
Value: We buy products every day� or do we? Is it the mousetrap? or fewer mice? The drill bit? or round holes. Loudspeakers? or rich sound. Once we start looking, we find that we always have something else in mind when we make a purchase.
Let�s expand. No one ever�
  –   buys a product.
  –   funds research or development.
  –   licenses a technology.
  –   invests in a new business.
  –   acquires a company.
  –   pays for work done.
Think about that for a moment. You�ll find each one to be intuitively true. We have something else in mind for every investment, no matter the type or size. So why do we continue to organize, staff, and manage to drive sales of our �products?� We haven�t learned a very powerful lesson.
The solution to this �Aha!� is simplicity itself. We all buy value, from soup to soup-making companies. Not the product, but the value. Value isn�t in the product. Value happens when products are used successfully. Value is the sum of benefits received over time. Benefits are cumulative results of meeting needs over time. We always buy the value of meeting our needs.
Take a day; walk a mall. For every product you see, conceive of elements of value for that store�s target customers. Your value mindset will grow with every store. Take an evening; review the R&D portfolio of your company. For every project, develop a value-based return on investment your management would want. Then define the value of R&D to your company.
And take a good long look at yourself. Are you focused on �products� for your �customers?� Or do you see the value first, then innovate? I hope value comes first.
The Innovator�s Edge: Define winning value, then innovate �products� to deliver that specific value better than any alternative in your price range. Apply that mindset to everything from yourself as an employee to your team, products, and company.
The Innovator�s Principle: Value precedes product. Become value driven.
The Innovator�s Tool: Needs-benefits analysis
Innovator�s Value: �Products� that outperform and outsell alternatives
Strategy: When offered an opportunity, what is your first response once you understand the offer? For most of us, �How?� comes to mind. It feels good to figure out how to do or build something. School, military service, and early employment are all about �How?� As best we can tell, our job is to figure out how to satisfy teachers, drill sergeants, and managers. �How?� naturally becomes a way of life.
While �How?� is drummed in, �Why?� is drummed out. As kids, �Why?� from parents was almost always an accusation. In business, �Why?� isn�t well accepted. It�s rude, unfriendly, a question that puts people on the defensive. �Why?� challenges authority and threatens the norm.
Nevertheless and in spite of all that, �Why?� is a core necessity for innovation. � � � (Are you asking yourself, �Why?� Try it. Say it out loud. �Why?� Challenge my assertion! Ask yourself, �Why the hell is Why? is a core necessity in business?�)
The answer� Asking �Why?� is the core skill of strategists and leaders. Asking �How?� is the core skill of tacticians and managers. We need both, yet in the rush to compete, we all too often forget to ask �Why?� In the process, we all to often forget to lead. A purely tactical approach may be elegant in the short term, yet almost always leads to waste, inefficiency, and frustration over time.
Take an evening. Read your strategic plan. Does it show evidence of �Why?� Does it answer �Why are we in business?� Take a chance. Start a habit. When told of an opportunity, begin with why, not how. With should, not could. Do it gently. Say, �Let�s take a moment to think about why we would engage that opportunity.� You�ll begin to sound strategic. You�ll be treated as thoughtful, a leader, a visionary.
The Innovator�s Edge: Connect every action to goals and objectives. If goals are not clear, stop to define them.
The Innovator�s Principle: Do it for a reason! Become strategic.
The Innovator�s Tool: GOSPA � Goals, Objectives, Strategies, Plans, Actions
Innovator�s Value: Productivity � doing the right things and doing them right
Communications: We may have our internal act together. We may be value-driven and strategic, yet our communications may not match up. We may fall into the trap of selling rather than creating relationships.
That is, we make our communications all about us and our stuff. After all, we worked ourselves to the bone to define, design, develop, produce, and deliver our �product.� It is our baby. Of course the world wants to know all about it and how we did it. And most of all, we want to tell them� in detail� in our business plans, project proposals, product brochures, user meetings, trade shows, and sales calls.
That style really doesn�t work! Our audiences don�t care about our �product.� (We just learned that above.) And they run powerful filters. Less than half a second to reject an ad. Less than six seconds to reject a trade show booth. Less than a minute to tune out of a sales presentation.
Still, almost everyone communicates that way. Take an hour. Thumb through your favorite business magazine. Which ads resonate with you? Which ones don�t? What�s the difference?
The difference is elegantly simple. It�s about the �center.� We can write self-centered communications that speak about what we care about. Or we can innovate audience-centered communications that speak about what our audience cares about. Simple.
Try that magazine again. Find the center of each ad. Realize that the great ads may not speak to you personally, because you are not their target audience. Still, think from the perspective of that target audience. Look for the connection. Then connect with your customers this way. Start by touching needs, frustrations, and fears. Perhaps touch needs your audience never knew they had. Then provoke hope with a vision of needs being met, in ways and at costs they can manage. Finally, persuade preference for your solution. Connect by putting solution into context of a believable vision of needs being met just the way they like.
The Innovator�s Edge: Communicate about what your audience cares about. Do that with in-house and external communications, to formal and informal communications, to leading, managing, and initiating change, and to every business relationship.
The Innovator�s Principle: Center on �customers.� Become �customer� centered.
The Innovator�s Tool: The three themes: Need, vision, solution
Innovator�s Value: Impact � powerful ability to influence choices
The Innovator�s Edge: These three �Aha!�s will dramatically improve your products, productivity, and impact. They are keys to innovation. As fundamental principles for innovators, that is cooool!
Still, your advantage isn�t enough. Share these ideas with your partners, teammates, colleagues, and managers. Create an Innovator�s Edge for your projects, departments, businesses, and corporations. Individually, you compete for opportunities and advantage. Collectively, you face the same issues. One innovator isn�t enough. You need a critical mass.
So help your own company to become� Strategic! Value Driven! Customer Centered! Make those five words a mantra. In meetings, in planning, in product design and development, and in every aspect of marketing and sales. Develop strategic, value-driven, customer-centered teams that contribute to a strategic, value-driven, customer-centered company.
Why bother? Better products! Higher productivity! Greater impact! Not bad for three simple �Aha!�s.
Author Gary Lundquist (GaryL at Market-Engineering dot com) accelerates both innovation and branding by helping management and project teams make essential decisions early in processes. Through “strategic pre-planning” of innovation visions and shared strategies, he accelerates both wealth creation and consistent increases in the win-win value of relationships with customers, investors, and allies. Lundquist serves clients through services, speaking, and training.

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