Sunday, June 21, 2009

Innovation - on the fly

Brands constantly need to innovate to stay fresh and relevant to their customers. But innovation, especially new concept design can very expensive. How can you create a new product or service in an area of your business that is unproven while minimizing your risk?

Well, according to IDEO, the iconic global design consultancy, you don’t wait for perfection but you do what software companies have been doing successfully for years - you “launch and learn”. This means conducting short experiments where you involve your customers, get their feedback, tweek and refine on the fly, in real-time. It’s a never ending process.

“With ever-increasing competition, innovative businesses are finding that in order to stay competitive their offerings need to constantly evolve. And that to improve their offerings is to encourage consumer participation. This helps them build a competitive advantage by constantly revisiting what they deliver and how they deliver it. They know that traditional market testing will only validate their past successes. To understand the next big thing, companies have to engage with customers and react to their needs”.

In Seattle, an innovative food company called Sugar Mountain is taking this approach to heart by prototyping a new food concept – Maximus/Minimus. It’s basically a pig mobile that sells gourmet pulled pork sandwiches. It’s usually found parked at 2nd and Pike (near Pike Place Market), but since it’s mobile, you never know where it will show up – unless you follow “The Pig” on Twitter.

Clover Food Lab is another example of grassroots experimentation that I found on IDEO’s website (which you need to visit). It’s a vegetarian restaurant in a mobile truck. Instead of hiring a chef to create a menu and test it with focus groups, the menu changes daily. The truck is parked outside of MIT and customers are updated about daily specials through text and through the Clover blog. Learning and shaping his menu along the way, Ayr is prototyping his way into expanding into more trucks as well as developing permanent sites.

How can you engage current and potential customers to help you innovate while receiving timely and cost effective feedback? How can you make innovation part of what you do everyday?

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