Patricia Seybold, in her new book Outside Innovation: How Your Customers Will Co-Design Your Company’s Future, explains the difference between traditional “inside-out” innovation and “outside in” or customer-focused innovation:
Traditional innovation: “Traditional ‘inside-out’ approaches to innovation assume that our subject matter experts (within our company) invent and design innovative new products to meet needs customers may not even realized they had. Then our marketing and advertising departments make prospective customers aware of those needs, wrap a brand experience around our innovative products, package and price those offerings… and bring them to market.”
Outside-in/customer-focused innovation: “The ‘outside-in’ approach is to flip the innovation process around and assume that customers have outcomes that they want to achieve, they have deep knowledge about their own circumstances and contexts, and they are not happy about the way they have to do things today. They will innovate – with or without your help – to create better ways to do things or to design products and services that meet their specific needs.”
There’s obviously a big difference in these two approaches, but the impact to organizations who don’t understand that the game has changed is much larger. Just as the Consumer has begun to take control of media, they will also demand a starring role in co-creating your company’s products & services.
This is an evolution that makes perfect sense. In traditional innovation, we don’t really know what our customers want – we may think we do, but at best we’re shooting in the dark, and hoping we hit something. From a marketing and sales standpoint, our new products are “pushed” through the sales channel to the customer, who often has to be incentivized with discounts, rebates and other creative “carrots” to persuade them to buy. The result? These programs cut into gross margins and profits, and usually aren’t very effective.
In contrast, if you really understand not only your customers’ needs, but the critical outcomes they want to achieve, you can then work shoulder-to-shoulder with your key customers to “co-create” products that meet those needs. There’s no need to “push” your offerings, because customers will gladly pay a premium for products and services that make their lives easier and more profitable. The result? Higher margins and profits for the company.
I am just starting to read Patricia’s new book, but I can already tell I’m going to like it. Open innovation is one of the key trends in the world of business right now, and this book looks like a terrific guide to what it is and how to implement it in your company. This concept goes way beyond creating products that meet customer’s needs. Embracing the customer as a partner is a way to transform and elevate your brand. As competition increases and the ability to differentiate yourself decreases, are you asking your customers to help define your brand’s experience???