Ideas to Innovation to Market Successful Innovation

Market Tested and Accepted Innovation is the goal of all Innovation process. There first appears the idea! That idea evolves through process to a product or service. That product is then placed in the marketplace and marketed to target groups. Some will buy on novelty, some on interest, some see their lives improved through the product.

When those products are deemed successful is when a customer repeats the purchase cycle or independently endorses the product to others. Many would claim this as to high a standard for innovation, not me. Over the last 5 plus years I have worked with innovation helping companies not only capture ideas but deliver on product R&D efforts.

Many times the one time buy or trial period at a discount is deemed success, truthfully without a customer commitment demonstrated through promotion or repurchase something is not right about the product. Many times it can be pricing or promotion that is outside the consumers’ price/value equation. Other times the product itself is a one-time curiosity purchase.

Then of course there is the product that never presents value enough for a consumer to trial it in manner. These are the difficult innovation failures to face as money, time, and heart has gone into them. Have had a couple of these myself, often there is a missing part of the value that is significant to the consumer. Today recovering that value and launching again is tough, consumers are more anti second chances as there are more options. The best strategy is to launch under a new brand entirely.

Many of the early efforts at innovation by companies are thought to be best if unbounded by process. This is wrong, the capture and evaluation of ideas is critical and must be systemic, complete and measured by the same yard stick each time. When ideas get variable measure innovators shy away from presenting ideas. Standing up for your idea in a politicalized environment is painful and empty even when accepted.

When your process is complete on the front end the ideas flow and evaluation is perceived as fair, and the company becomes a learning organization rather than politicized. Innovation that fails to deliver to the market an ROI to the company is wasteful. Where is your company Innovation? How are you, measuring and evaluating ideas, success and finally what have you learned?

Your Sample Value and “Bar Talk”

Professional focus group facilitators call it various terms like group think. When I was tending bar in NY putting myself through school I listened to folks in the bar pass around ideas or observations that spontaneously became facts.

How are you evaluating your UX or features? How big or diverse is you sample? Is your success with you MVP based on two very loyal early adopter friendlies?

There is a very trusted UX application vendor who I like but often tests in coffee shops based in a very technical town with an average age of 28. Not very diverse and a sample that thinks they are smarter than whomever developed the app. The result is predictable, ever first evaluation shows significant would needs to be done and guess who helps them out.

This is not planned fraud but also not a faithful review. We all have done it, just last year I had a board application I did used by three boards that already were using the governance school that I based it on. My MVP test was great but the market for the application was limited to Boards that already were faithful to a school of governance, the mass market potential was very limited.

Coffee shop or bar talk is limiting, like minded talk like minded. Courage is to stretch outside and broaden the scope of your sample. Broaden it in ways that define new personas both by demographics and technical perspective. Technically there are users of a competitive product, non-users you need to convert and technical phobic or friendly minds.

This is stuff that makes sense and we all trip up on. Testing needs to be robust, samples need to me deep and diverse. Testing both market and pressure is always the first thing deleted from the project plan when time lines compress. Just don’t do it!

Personas = Marketing or Product Management?

Based on product lifecycle, both! In the first half of a product lifecycle the Personas are similar but should be different because we use them for separate activities. After mainstream market the curves come together and the same data and customers can help with both activities.

Tell me where you stand before you tell me where you sit. This is one of my favorite phrases and helps to describe why early market product advocates/personas can be specific for Marketing or Product Management.

Think through the personality of the early adopter and innovator, they help you learn how to automate and which features are most valuable. They help you cross the chasm of adoption and finally they help you market your product through net promotion. However they are a small market segment and marketing needs to test messaging that delivers identifiable value to a larger group of people so what lifts the hearts of early adopter is not going to convert a mainstreamer.

Later in the LifeCycle of a product the lagers endorsement brings lagers. Late market personas that suggest the last features before sunset are describing the features that prove to other lagers that the product is finally mature and safe.

What’s in your Toolbox?

Some state that a great career is formed by the people you collect and the skills you develop. That is very true and great Product managers add to that a toolbox of experience with many processes, organizational structures and reporting configurations.

Product teams need to evolve with their products lifecycle cross tabbed with the companies lifecycle. Mastering the latest business book or process is not enough. The clear delineators are new products vs. mainstream, this is clear in similar company profiles. Start-ups are an all hands moment in time where process is face time and stand-ups, a just get it done attitude.

Mainstream adds cross functionality, compliance and analytics, recreating that start-up feeling with a tiger team, or evaluating features with ROI models and sales relationships in the market.

Start-ups can be like the first dates, easy to enter or walk away from. Just you and her until you introduce each other to friends or worse family! You can get just a little wet! Then you get investors and customers that are not strong allies, you get investors and some of those are friends.

Mature companies seem safer, spending others money or market equity, errors buffered by scale. BTW this is not true, when things go wrong somebody has to go to the corner. But this is also a challenge because your market thinks you are the expert, they expect you to remember anniversaries, birthdays and take the initiative. These customers expect hardened code, pressure tested products and for you to stand by them in the market, that is why they choose the big guy.

As a PM understanding where you are and which program of process has a bigger chance of success is key. The real fun comes when you are the platform integrating solutions from many partners. I am clearly biased but I challenge CEOs and investors all the time about structure and why organization structure is not built around your products and customers. If you call you company an Agile or Innovative company what does that mean?

Figure out a shared value or your value not your internal skills. Your company, team and R&D value is all parts of the puzzle but the value ultimately is what the market gains from you. It can me Innovation, it can be quality, it can be hardened bullet proof tech, whatever it is be sure it is what your customer want and experience. Embrace your reality and find customers who value the value you have or change your value to what the customers need.

Plan for Revenue

Strategies and analytics are essential to sustainable success. Break your strategies down to revenue streams that are quantified. What is the revenue mix and the personas ore channels that will deliver.

Portfolio product planning does not mean losing your agility or Lean edge. I am not sure where this idea comes from but it needs to be put away. “Big Company” planning and measurement is not anti-Lean/Agile start-up.

Working with investors, Boards and funds they want to see young companies’ decision making strengths. Planning and analysis is part of success for all companies, so pull up your big boy pants and put your best work on paper then commit.

So many think the pivot demonstrates their test respond cycle. This is partly true but only half the story. How do you know where to turn and how much and if you do what will that buy you?

It is intrinsic to long term success to be able to build strategies, plans, develop tactics. The tacking action part is easy, and if I hear ops we missed one more time without an analysis of where the estimates went off track I will scream!

A learning organization does not just make mistakes and be good with them. A learning product team stops making the same mistakes. Plan for Revenue and if at first you need users or market share great but conversions are essential to sustainability.

Holding the Vision

One more time and start at the top, says the band leader. There are so many conversations about vision, objectives, strategies, tactics and similar terms. We touched in the last post on, What are you as a company?

So many conversations on these topics because there are so many versions of the terms and who holds them. To a major degree the term and the activity is different at different levels of engagement with the success of the effort.

Founders hold a vision of their solution, second level leaders of the first multi-product direction and large company leaders of a multiple market company making many products in many markets.

Regardless of which stage you are working in we all yes even staff grunts hold a vision of success and the point on the horizon. My father a union truck driver had his vision on sustaining a family, his children going to college and a comfortable retirement after 30 years. He did not make the 30 years without being forced to change the tactics of working for one company and union safety net, but that is another story.

Holding a vision for the company is everyone’s responsibility. Founders hold the larger vision and learn to be flexible as the circle of leadership and market environmental conditions change. The vision that is all about you and your career no longer works in our fast moving world. Yes more than ever having skills that you can market across companies through your career is critical but what I am talking about is while in a role.

The duality of holding a vision for you as a Product Management Professional and the products in your responsibilities is not difficult. You as a professional need to develop and keep your awareness up on skills and trends in the profession. It is great to bring new ideas to your work enriching the process.

But the more difficult is to hold the vision for the product inside and outside your company. Owning something that is outside yourself and which may change abruptly is more difficult. One day you’re all in on one widget and next month something new. How to stay authentic is easy if you are embracing a vision.

Other team members will look to the Product Manger to hold that vision and will bring you the tests that come up in their minds and workday. If you are holding a vision, you are flexible enough to honestly evaluate new ideas. Rigid adherence is easy and not holding a vision, honest evaluation and willingness to adjust to new data is.

Your core competency as a company

So your solution is rocking the market! What is your company’s core value? Are you an application provider? A solution provider? Or an expert in a particular industry?

I look back on my medical shared desktop solution 5 years ago. When I exited at that time the team had come up with some great core solutions to some rough market/user issues. those solutions helped us accelerate to the top and exit but would not be cool today. Eight years ago voice to text conversion was a breakthrough add to our solution that made it user friendly. Today with more common and wireless broadband partnered with smartphones data entry would not be a user barrier it was.

Our core was shared medical desktop not the features and tech. Tech comes an goes, delivering user/market innovation is eternal.

Buying behavior think beyond the first answer!

The statement by Levitt that people buy holes not drills is evolving, The base level concept is true but today buyers segment and often choose No. One stands in front of the produce section at a grocery and wants fruit. What kind? Apple or pear? Organic or other? Prepared or just the fruit.

Out values on how we want to live have entered into the planning stage of buying more than historically true. There are those that want stuff but even in that “Got to get Flat screen” mode the buyer is socially aware, they look to reviews on brand, they look to features and price points.

With data and choice at our fingertips like never before Product Mangers need to add buying behaviors and values to the competitive environment thinking process. Personas are move complex driving a requirement to think beyond the hole to what the hole will do.

Is the hole to be filled with a bolt or a hook? Can the user buy predrilled wood or is that a service at the hardware store. Recently I bought wood at Home Depot over others because they have a great cutting service and for small jobs the 10 mile drive is easier than pulling out the tools then cleaning up. There is also another person there to check my measurements and choice of materials.

Services like wood cutting or precut fruit are key to what logistics and broad markets can provide. I have been eating fruit lately because I can now at whole foods buy precut and small portion mixed fruit. Yes not more buying one Pineapple then cutting a storing with other fruits until I OD on the taste or it goes bad.

We are enabled to amazing levels in modern society and while some automation seems to have the potential for dumbing us down, most can free the mind. Services are the additive one plus to any product consumer or business. Businesses pick vendors who are vested in their success through services and information which may be core to the product or not.

Opponent or Competitor based Leadership

Companies and countries reflect their leaders, how those leaders drive forward as people is how the company moves forward. We see this in our country today. For the first time in decades we have a leader who is opponent based, looking at the world in a finite Zero Sum manner. I win or you win, you see this in the leaders favorite sport basketball. This is a sport where I try to achieve a goal and you defend or block your turf. One on One is the apex of the sport for a star. Even other territorial sports are not best One on One, ever hear of one on one football?

Competitor based sports see the goal more the way a competitive market is in the business world where multiple players put their best foot forward to win market share. This is the act of winning over others with better ideas and execution.

Leaders in business fight on the field of ideas and execution to win market share. We pull the best from out teams to win hearts and minds of prospects. The old adage that negative advertising does not work is a truth, while recently we have seen some attempts at this with Apple and Mac even done cute it grates on our cultural norms over time. Recently Apple had that strategy turned on them by Samsung and one of the reasons it worked was they played on Apples earlier arrogance.

When a leader drives to pummel their opponent they are not focused on the market and customer, they are not fighting for you they are fighting for themselves. The focus is not innovation and solving problems the focus is their position relative to the other, Zero Sum thinking. Zero sum is not a future based mind set, there is no room for others there is only you and them.

How can someone join if the field is full, why would I join if it is all about you? Leading teams and winning hearts and minds is about taking your eye off yourself and seeing beyond what is there. This is where innovation happens. This action gains true support from your customers because it is inclusive

My sport is Cycling, individuals compete to be the best, they also know that without each other they can’t win. There are starts and support, there are differing skills required like climbers and sprinters. Many winners at various levels, teams, rookies, king of the mountain! Even Football had linemen and runners and receivers. We do talk about the quarterbacks but great QBs without the tools to receive are failures.

Think about how leadership works for you. Are you finite in your thinking or do you compete to be the best for your customer? When Coke and Pepsi changed their focus from opponents they both grew and innovated with new brands and I personally love the new multi-flavor dispensers.

Focus on the customer and be your best, Markets reward competitors especially when they are competing for them.