You have launched. It’s exciting. Your idea for a product or service has come to fruition. The goal now is to grow. You have to market, market, market. And technology will help you do this. And you are gaining a customer base.
Now, how will you expand your customer base? What new ideas will you generate that will bring greater value propositions to customers and attract new ones? As you scale, you will need to innovate beyond your initial product/service – either with additional products/services or with lateral enhancements to the products/services you have.
No company that becomes a success does so without innovating. Accept it, and plan for it.
Here are some strategies and tips that other businesses have used in becoming innovative that will give you ideas for your own innovation efforts as you move forward.
When you launched, you had a clear mission. Along with that mission, you had a value proposition – the benefit and value you were going to bring to the marketplace that would attract customers. Using that value proposition, you have garnered a customer base. Now you want to expand that base and keep current customers engaged. This call for innovations.
Two Types of Innovation
There are two things that companies can do to innovate.
- They can design new products and services that will bring new value propositions to current and potential customers.
- They can enhance the services that they bring to the table, so that customers’ experiences are improved.
Innovation does not have to come from some R&D department. Most small businesses, in fact, will not have such a department. Innovation comes from a collaborative team that thinks “outside of the box,” that continues to generate new ideas, and that is willing to “test” those ideas in the marketplace.
Designing New Products or Services
Consider Amazon over the years. It began as a site that sold books. It opened its doors in July, 1995, and consisted of some people boxing up and shipping books out of a garage. Twenty-one years later, it is one of the largest retailers in the world, selling everything from those original books to virtually any product a consumer could want – diapers to refrigerators. And it continues to innovate with new products and services – same day delivery of fresh grocery items, experimentation with drone delivery, and so on. This is a company that will never stop innovating.
You may not be an Amazon. You may be a small business looking to scale through product innovation. The process is the same as that of Amazon. You need to tap into your team and test new ideas as they are generated. Here is an example on a smaller scale:
Case Study: Dollar Shave Club
In July, 2011, Michael Dubin and Mark Levine launched an idea – a subscription-based razor club. Customer could sign up for the subscription, pay a monthly fee, and have razors delivered right to their door like clockwork. No more running out of razors and having to use an old, dirty razor; no more having to remember to get to the store on the way home from work to pick up more razors. The value proposition? Convenience for the customer, of course! The company, through some innovative marketing (check out the video on the company’s landing page), experienced a rapid growth.
The company could have remained a subscription razor service, primarily for males, or it could decide to expand through innovation. It took the latter course. Today, Dollar Shave Club markets to female customers and has also developed a line of personal grooming products that have become hugely popular along with the razors. These are also sold on a subscription or single-purchase basis.
The point is this: you may begin with a specific value proposition – delivering razors to busy men. But, as Thomas Lawton, professor at The Open University Business School recently stated, in an interview with SME for Growth:
“The value proposition is something which comes in between in some senses in that it is only really when you go out into the market, test your product or service against the intended customers with competitor contestation happening at the same time, that you can get a real sense about what is our value propositions? Which customers are taking this up, which customers are really attracted in to us by this value proposition and how do we reconfigure that because you will need to reconfigure it. Whatever you’re thinking from day one, by day one hundred, or day three hundred, is going to be very different once you have tested it in your intended market place.”
So, Dollar Shave Club knew it had a winner with its initial value proposition. But it then began to re-think how it could expand that value proposition and gain an even larger market share. Amazon did the same thing.
Businesses that remain stagnant do not survive in the long haul. They either expand their product/service line or they enhance their customer experiences.
Innovations Based Upon Customer Experience
Many companies like to stick with the products or services they currently offer and are not interested in coming up with new products. Their innovations will occur in lateral endeavors. These are innovations that relate to customer experiences, such as the following:
- free shipping
- painless one-click shopping such as Amazon has set up
- customer service innovations that allow for self-service rather than sitting on hold
- personalized messaging/push notifications
- free shipping on returns
- video presentations of products so that consumers have a complete 360-degree view and see the product in use
- Augmented and virtual realities that allow consumers to “experience” a product prior to purchase. Companies such as Looksar now make it possible for companies to showcase their products with augmented reality video imbedded into their labels.
- Innovations that demonstrate social responsibility. Millennials and the generation that follows them are highly attuned to doing business with companies that are environmentally friendly and that commit to causes. Companies that can innovate in this realm will find new and loyal customers. Check out Toms Shoes and Headbands of Hope for examples of companies who innovate in social responsibility.
These types of innovations will continue to evolve as technology does. Companies that want to remain competitive will embrace them and provide enhanced customer experiences.
Innovations Are Social Above All
Companies must see innovation as an ongoing process that involves people – not special, genius people – but ordinary team members who see value in proposing ideas and who can “kick” those ideas around and move them into value propositions that will attract and retain customers. The universe never runs out of new ideas.