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Marketers often practice innovation by searching for product superiority…tastes better, removes stains better, stays hotter longer…my contention is that this doesn’t lead to true innovation but to marketing incrementalism…marginally better products that others, including store brands eventually match.

The key to true innovation is PROMISE superiority.  Create amazing offers that promise truly unique benefits and experiences and deliver on the promise…the concept of product superiority won’t really come into the equation because there is nothing on the market that is anything like what you are offering.

Some examples. iPod, iTunes, iPad, i-anything really. iPad made an amazing promise and just delivered on it.  Swiffer…again, an amazing promise and it just delivered on the promise. Is Twitter “better” than Facebook?  No, neither is better than the other but they each make a distinct promise and deliver on it.

Let me give you two strong pieces of evidence to support the theory that true innovation comes from PROMISE superiority.  For over 10 years, I ran The NPD Group’s  competitor to BASES, called The ESP (estimating sales potential) model.  In conducting hundreds of concept product tests, I always saw the exact same pattern.  There was always…ALWAYS a strong correlation between an individual respondent’s purchase intent at concept and RE-purchase intent after use.  That is, those who buy into the concept (definitely would buy) are much more likely to react favorably to the same product given to them for free than those who weren’t as sold at concept (e.g. “might or might not buy”). The implication is that you win the war at concept…as long as you deliver what you promise.

In 2004, Patrick Barwise wrote a book called “Simply Better”.  His theory was that all that matters to achieving marketing advantage is to make a product that is “simply better” on the basics…in other words, product superiority was the answer.  Conclusive evidence that this was wrong came from a simple statistical analysis I did.  I correlated Consumer Reports ratings of brands in vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, and dishwashers to actual market shares as tracked by The NPD Group (provides sales and market share currency for those categories).  The correlation was anemic…approximately 0.2.  A particular example of why the correlation was so low was Dyson…rated low by Consumer Reports on performance but was crushing the vacuum cleaner market in reality.  Apparently “simply better” is “simply not enough”!

The concept of promise superiority as a route to innovation maps more closely to the book Blue Ocean Strategy.  They argue that most marketers compete for market share and create bloody red oceans which is ultimately a losing game of fighting over a shrinking profit pool…the authors argue that lasting success comes not from battling competitors, but from creating “blue oceans”—untapped new market spaces ripe for growth. Is Cirque du Soleil a superior circus to Ringling Bros? They are so fundamentally different that they cannot be compared but each makes a promise that they deliver on.

I love the movie, “Searching for Bobby Fischer”.  At one point, Josh (the young phenom) was having a tough time solving a chess problem.  His mentor played by Ben Kingsley said, “Here, I’ll make it easy for you” and he sweeps all the pieces off the chess board.  At first Josh was shocked, but unfettered by what already existed on the board, he saw the solution. Marketers’ innovation teams need to do this.  Don’t start with what is, as that will only anchor you in the backward thinking of existing offerings and produce incrementalism.

Research needs to help marketers wipe the chess board clean. Start with a blank slate of how people live their lives, the moments of need and innovate against that landscape.  To do this, research needs to leverage two approaches.  First, segment and target moments…unaddressed situations of need that are similar in terms of what people are trying to accomplish and how they make their choices.  Secondly, use social media listening as an integral part of your innovation process; what people are talking about in social media leads marketer thinking while survey attribute lists from researchers tend to trail consumers.

Find the relationship between product experience and media use because the innovation might actually come from the media part of the experience.  Is “Nike plus a better sneaker? Even asking if it is a superior product would totally miss the point, wouldn’t it?

The route to true marketing innovation and breaking the curse of incrementalism is to find PROMISE superiority and then deliver against that which you have promised.


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One Response to “Breaking the curse of marketing incrementalism”

  1. You have drawn a nice pic of your article