It’s not that I believe that there’s nothing new under the sun. But, when I hear entrepreneurs in the startup community say, “we don’t have any competitors,” I can’t help but be skeptical. Everybody is competing with someone or something, whether it’s competing with an old way of doing things (think Casper vs. the old mattress store) or competing with the very problem the startup is looking to solve (like Gallant, a company combating premature aging of our dogs using stem cell science). Either way, they’re competing with something the consumer has been (or will be) forced to accept due to the lack of choice. There’s an art and science to innovation for future needs.
In all cases, that competition helps highlight what space will be potentially left available for a new product or service – that’s how you figure out what need you can fill. But that doesn’t necessarily solve the other part of the innovation puzzle: how to present or talk about the product or service so that it has staying power.
It’s a two-pronged challenge. Of course you have to push the limits of your industry to create something new, but one of the other classic decisions companies face is whether to present the value proposition via a particular feature or a benefit. It can get more complicated when you add in the possible value of the origin story of the new product, or the founder’s backstory, or how the product is made, or many other narratives that could possibly compel the audience toward any new innovation. It can get unwieldy, fast.
Finding the right goal for a product or service that’s never seen the light of day can be like kicking a field goal while wearing a blindfold. As such, you have to take it one step at a time.
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Here’s how to create a future-proofed innovation that not only does something new but tells the right story:
Set the right expectations
User expectations can make or break a product, so you can’t come up with an idea in a vacuum. Look at culture today, not only to see where there’s a product need, but also to identify trends in society’s expectations.
When approached in this way, expectations can pave a road of potential opportunity. For example, the growth of “on-demand-everything” perpetuated by Netflix, Hulu and Amazon and an endless, upcoming wave of similar platforms, creates a growing expectation that we should get anything we want, whenever we want it – nothing more, nothing less.
That simple observation of what we expect out of our experiences today (and how that will shape tomorrow) underlines an opportunity for every product or service that is not currently available to make sure it’s providing value at a moment’s notice.
Make it easy
In today’s western culture, we have a surplus of easy-to-use technologies available for virtually any experience we can imagine. Cumbersome, annoying, arduous experiences simply have no excuse, except that the right team of entrepreneurs with the right expertise haven’t launched the solution yet. That’s an opportunity for innovation that will never go out of style.
Waiting five hours at the emergency room, the encyclopedia-length document that representative seems to be typing when checking you into a hotel room — there’s simply no need for these practices in today’s (or tomorrow’s) world. Just like Uber made it so that you don’t need to argue with another taxi cab driver about taking a credit card, look for painful real-world experiences and create a solution that removes the pain.
Don’t forget to delight
“Surprise and delight” is not a new consideration when trying to distinguish your company or product, but these kinds of tactics stick around for good reason.
I remember checking into Double Tree hotels as a kid and being greeted by that ridiculously good free chocolate chip cookie. Was it even that good, or was it just the “bonus” that tasted so good? Creating delight inside of experiences we’ve become accustomed to is fertile ground for innovation.
Whatever you believe about where we came from and why we’re here, you can’t deny that constant innovation is built into everything: our DNA, our evolution as a society and our universe.
Problem solving, improvement and innovation is at the core of our impulse to create. It is the lifeblood of our existence. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that the very thing that has moved societies forward is the same thing that our businesses require.
The question is: what is the right innovation for you, what is the right message, and how do you build a business that truly lasts?