Welcome guest blogger and Friend of Bauman (FOB), Steve Rivkin of Rivkin & Associates, LLC. This article is the fourth and final in a four-part series on innovation.
New ideas are the true “capital” in capitalism. Because as management maestro Peter Drucker observed years ago in The Age of Discontinuity, “Every product, every process, every technology, every market eventually becomes old.” Why then do most new ideas, and most new products, die a quick death? Why does so much well-intentioned effort run off the road?
Our answer is that senior managers often fail to ask the right questions as new ideas percolate through their companies.
Here’s a look at the last of those four questions:
4. Do you have a competitive point of difference?
Any product, any service, any company can be differentiated. It’s what advertising pioneer Rosser Reeves called the “unique selling proposition.”
If your new idea makes sense in the context of its category, and if you have the credentials to make it believable, then you can stand out in the crowd.
- A hospital in Englewood, New Jersey, created safer “bloodless” surgery – less risk in the procedure itself, and no risk of receiving contaminated blood via a transfusion. This signature service created a destination hospital. Patients arrived from more than 30 states and 20 countries.
- The Butler Company introduced the first antibacterial toothbrush. Its replaceable bristles are treated with a clinically proven germ killer. Bottom line: Safer for your mouth, different on the shelf.
- No one knows more about umbrellas than the British, right? And what’s the best bumbershoot in Britain? It’s arguably the Brigg umbrella, which has been awarded the Royal Warrant as umbrella supplier to the Prince of Wales. The cachet of swinging the same umbrella as both Prince Charles and The Avengers’ John Steed will cost you. The Brigg sells for between $300 and $1,200, depending on your choice of materials. But if it’s good enough for the royals, it’s good enough for well-heeled consumers. Here’s how one of the founders of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, Stanley Resor, explained “preference” as a differentiating strategy: “We want to copy those whom we deem superior in taste or knowledge or experience.”
- But being different has to make sense in the real world of consumer usage. The next big thing isn’t always a better thing. The U.S. mint brought out the Susan B. Anthony $1 coin as a replacement for the $1 bill. To the mint, it was a big deal because it would save $50 million a year in printing and replacement costs. To the public, there were no perceived benefits. It looked like a quarter, it was ugly, and it was heavy. Goodbye, Susan.