Zen and the Art of Innovation Maintenance

Innovation is not something that comes by itself. Just like a relationship it needs to be nurtured and maintained over time. Innovation is dependent of development and development is dependent of design in a continuously revolving and evolving process of iterations and improvements based on experience from the previous attempt. Each time a product reaches its end user it has the potential to lead to a deeper understanding of both user and product.

Who keeps track of how the products are really used?

That is of course provided you have any idea what so ever, who the end user is and what they do with the product once purchased. And that is exactly the problem, because once the product leaves the factory, who keeps track of how it is really used?

The manufacturer will probably have records on product batch or serial numbers for each distributor, and the distributer will also have records of product batch or serial numbers for each retail store. A retail store on the other hand mostly only registers when the product is sold and not to whom. The consumer (who is presumably the end user, unless they buy the product as a gift,) will simply just have to cling on to their receipt to claim any refunds or warranty replacement, and then they disappear into oblivion. And even if the retail store records the identity of the purchaser, that information will never be passed on all the way back to the manufacturer, if not for other reasons, then because their Privacy Policy prohibits them to do so. And even if they could, the retail store would never bother a customers for no apparent reason, just because some manufacturer wants to know how customer likes the product.

Does the manufacturer know who the customer is and how they like the product?

Some simply just don’t know, but the ones that do want to know will have to contact a distributer and/or retailer to get them to setup contact with a customer. If we disregard the weak empirical basis this approach will generate, this often means the persons in question will have some relation to someone in the sales channel (= biased), but even if it isn’t the second cousin of the sales manager, then they most likely have been into contact with customer service (= biased), or they have volunteered for a customer survey (= biased), and they will be interviewed in unfamiliar surroundings different from the user situation (= biased). I’m sure you catch my drift here!
It is hard to know if the user expresses their relationship to the product or customer service or something entirely different. Even though interview techniques have been developed to filter out these kinds of misinterpretations customers often don’t even know or notice how they use the product. Customers might tell you how they wished things were, and describe the benefits they hoped they would gain from the product instead of reality, because we want life to be good, we want our choices to make sense. Customer surveys and the processes involved are both costly and time consuming and the amount of data generated is neither comprehensive nor particularly trustworthy. In other words, there is room for improvement!

What does the wise man do then?

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” as Benjamin Franklin so eloquently put it.

We should be preparing during the development phase for a new kind of “ROI” – the Return Of Information. I deliberately call it “ROI” because this is simply good business and probably the best return of investment a company can achieve.
The information is available and obtainable thanks to modern technology, even more than ever with the “Internet of Things” wave and constantly improved tools for Big Data handling. A whole range of methods can be used to return user information like product registration benefit programs, online connectivity, cloud services, user forums, blogs, social media connectivity – the possibilities are immense and to this point mostly unattended for some reason. Imagine what could be done with comprehensive and unbiased data about the user and their use of every previously released product from the company. Anonymized of course – trust is the foundation of all trade – it is never good business to invade people’s privacy!

Marketing department must rock in the fast lane

To harvest the data properly and gain the benefits that follows, it is necessary to rethink how marketing is placed in the value chain and how marketing integrates with product lifecycle. Instead of seeing marketing as a support function for sale it should be regarded as the backbone of the entire product lifecycle from cradle to grave.

When creating new concepts the company should not just focus on market survey input into the conceptualization and design phase, marketing should also focus and understand the importance of clean segmented data and use this data on next product development. If we so to speak build marketing into the product itself, so it becomes the primary market survey tool, then we can truly close the circle. In this way design creates the knowledge about the customers’ needs that development needs in order to couple knowledge about technology and customer needs into innovation.
We have created an Innovation engine!

The product becomes a kind of product usability self-diagnose system. And it doesn’t just stop with usability, think of how useful information could be about shelf time, distribution patterns, intensity of use, time of disposal, product refurbishing and perhaps even product life as a pre-owned product.

By reshaping marketing to define, collect and utilize this new Return Of Informationin all parts of the organization, shaping the product to better fit customer needs, and improving methods of communicating the product to the market, the company can create a whole new generation of smarter products – the adaptable product generation.

Lars Pedersen, Solution Manager, PLM Group Danmark A/S