Short of offering entirely new products, there are changes that can be made to existing products and/or existing marketing models that can improve sales and not drain your resource pool in the process.
I view product design in a holistic way; it is more than the aesthetic or functional aspects we normally associate with design. This holistic view of product design includes how the product is presented to the customer, how it is supplied to the customer, how the customer perceives the value of the product and possibly most importantly, how the customer can feel connected to the product. These aspects present opportunities to enhance the value of a product in the market without expensive design revisions.
I’m going to use an example of “innovative design” from an entirely different industry, but the example holds for our industry as well; it is simply an example of thinking without false constraints.
Tractor seats are wonderfully fertile think tanks; moving at tractor speed my brain kicks into high gear. Likely because one of my boots was uncomfortable — since my feet are different sizes — I began to think about the potential business model that would allow a manufacturer to produce and supply customers with two shoes rather than a pair of shoes. I know there are companies that will sell mismatched shoes at a premium price, but that is not what I had in mind.
To probe this market potential, I unveiled this concept at a dinner with friends that evening. There were eight people at the table and to my surprise there were three who immediaely jumped on the idea; they share my problem.
Any shoe manufacture that has structured its manufacturing processes to produce pairs of shoes in lot size of one, has the potential to manufacture individual shoes rather than pairs of shoes. Yes, it would require changes in inventory management, order entry format, and packaging—but these are rather minor compared to the potential market impact this innovation could hold. I suspect the biggest hurdle is in the distribution network and that resistance is more rooted in unwillingness to change rather than in substantive hurdles to overcome. Unfortunately, unwillingness to change has sunk many potentially beneficial initiatives.
The point is that a market need seems to exist, although apparently not well recognized. The ability to leverage that need exists, although likely unrealized. However, everyone in that industry seems to be missing an opportunity to gain, at least in the short term, a major marketing advantage over their competition.
Our industry isn’t immune from similar self-imposed false constraints. Two key elements must come into play to leverage the value of market differentiation: recognize a need or desire on the part of the customer and then act on fulfilling that.
The key element in successfully implementing beneficial change is to understand your customers; what is important to them; what represents value to them. Do not make the mistake of hearing without learning. Customers might want something that you see as having no value; you aren’t the customer. Keep in mind, if the customers perceive value, they will also accept reasonable cost to add that value. Not all ideas that add value will come from the customer; simply because not all customers have tractors!