Start-ups are taking over. No matter how cornered you think you have the market, there is a small company out there thinking about how they can do it better. Too often business get ‘Fat, Dumb, and Happy’ syndrome: the tendency to become complacent with their own success. It happened to Microsoft, and then Apple came out of nowhere to become the leading seller of laptop computers. Microsoft has been playing catch up ever since.
When you stop embracing business innovation, then you start falling behind and no matter how established and successful your company is, you are still at risk of being outdone by another business. If you’ve been running a ‘business as usual’ model, you need to understand how to use innovation so you don’t get left in the dust.
Find your inspiration
Why did your company start? What idea was so exciting that the founders decided to pursue it as a business? What gap in the market were they seeking to fill?
Circle back to what inspired the business when it was new and determine whether you have achieved what was initially planned. If the company feels complacent then it may be time to start looking for a new challenge.
Consider how you can improve your service or offer new products that better reflect your buyers. What problems have come up since the company started and how can you address them? Think about the company’s vision and how you can expand it to breathe in new life.
Ask your customers
If you want to get inspired about business innovation, run a search for ’10 things you didn’t know you could do with a rubber band’ – you’re guaranteed to find something that surprises you.
For a fresh perspective on your own business, look at your products and services through the eyes of the people who use and spend their money on them. They are the people at ground-level who know your brand and know what they want from it. Send a survey to ask what they would like to see changed. Find out the ways they are using your products by asking for recipes (if you’re a food company) or photos of them in their favorite outfits (for fashion brands).
Not only will it give you fascinating insight into what your buyers need, it can also inspire future products that might be missing from your line!
Monitor the marketplace
In 2015, there are almost no obstacles to ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. If they were real people we could monitor their activity on social media sites, search engines, online shopping, and more. The challenges we face now are information overload and the fact that ‘the times’ simply move too fast.
What is working today may not work tomorrow, but the information you need to make things work tomorrow is available today. To keep up with innovation, your business needs to continuously monitor the market and keep an eye on trends lest you fall behind.
Encourage a culture of innovation
Established companies tend to fall on either side of the innovation spectrum: they completely encourage innovation or they stick to the status quo and see sales fall as a result, especially today when customers are expecting more and more out of brands.
It’s difficult to innovate when everyone is paid to stick with what works. Start giving your employees time to innovate – make it part of their job specifications. You don’t have to follow the Coca-Cola 70-20-10 (70% of their marketing budget goes towards ‘now’, 20% for ‘what’s new’, and 10% for ‘what’s next’) but reward employees who have new ideas. Little improvements accumulate over time and eventually become a revolution.
There’s no room for short sightedness when it comes to innovation – you have to think of the long-term big picture. Don’t get bogged down with chasing short-term targets and miss the forest for the trees.
Find ways to separate the possible successes from the rest
The opposite problem to complacently falling into a rut comes when innovative thinking goes on steroids. Becoming overly enamored by too many ideas can lead to lack of focus and brand confusion.
Ask your buyers which concepts most interest them, and listen to the results. If an idea that seems truly great fails to excite, understand why and see if it can be made more appealing.
Educating the market to like something they don’t understand might lead to differentiated success, but it’s important to know the challenges you may face and to plan for the needed marketing to support the dissemination process.
Review your brand
Don’t wait until you’re in a rut to think about whether your brand truly reflects what your business is about. Rebranding can bring a whole new life to a flailing business by improving your reputation and speaking more directly to consumers who use your products and services.
Businesses in the 21st century need to be dynamic, moving with the market and their buyers while staying true to what their brand is really about.
Colorado-based market research consultant Jennifer Cooper leads BuyerSynthesis, helping brands grow revenues by better understanding their buyers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.