Co-founder and Managing Partner
For the past several years I’ve been doing research for a book focused on how the innovation that drives market growth is changing in fundamental and dramatic ways. There’s strong evidence that disruption is not due to product-based innovations, which quickly become obsolete but, rather, innovations that prompt a shift in consumer behavior. It is no longer a matter of coming up with a shiny new object, but about reimagining a new way of doing the things we do. Today’s most successful market innovators are those looking at and re-thinking the “how” of our lives, not the “what.” In other words, they are achieving market advantage by transforming the stuff consumers do, not the stuff they buy.
A recent, personal experience provides a good example. At the risk of dating myself, it’s likely that if you remember one thing about the old movie, The Graduate, it’s a very young Dustin Hoffman zooming up and down the California highways in an Alfa Romeo 1600 Duetto Spider in his quest to win the girl of this dreams. With the vague hope for any semblance of romantic opportunity, I bought myself a used Alfa Romeo when I was in my early 20s thinking that, at the very least, I’d look cool cruising to the beaches on the weekend.
What I found out very quickly was that my Alfa Romeo was not the reliable chick-magnet I’d hoped it would be and, more significantly, it was an incredibly unreliable car, in general. The only relationships it served to foster were those with auto repair shops in and around the greater New York area.
In my efforts to keep my car on the road, I experienced the entire spectrum of auto repair options available at the time, generally similar to those available today. I took it to the Alfa dealership, to mid-size foreign car specialists, and to local, family-owned repair shops in Brooklyn, Queens, and Westchester County. No matter where I took it, be it the impressive dealership or the neighborhood garage, the process was almost always the same. I did my best to explain the issue, or the strange noise that had me concerned, and was told to leave the car. When I returned a few days later, I was given a bill with a list of whatever it was they did, be it to the alternator, brakes, belts, radiator, or what have you and, despite having uncertainties about the verity of what wasn’t working and how they fixed it, I took their word for it and paid the bill.
This is the way the auto repair business has functioned for years, a segment of the market seemingly unchanged, and unquestioned. Until someone questioned it. My Alfa Romeo now a distant memory, I recently left my Audi with the dealership for its 10,000-mile check-up. A couple of hours after arriving home, I received a text from the dealership with an attached “video tour” of what the dealer’s service technicians were doing as they went about their inspection. I was able to see under the chassis, the breaks , tires and shocks , all with a voiceover explaining what the technicians were looking at, what they found, and what needed – or didn’t need – attention. The video concluded a view of my license plate, so I’d be assured the car was mine.
The Audi dealer was using a Quik Video system which makes use of existing technology on a smartphone to send personalized videos to customers. This marketing innovation takes advantage of a simple, existing mobile app by which technicians can record a short clip showing customers, in real time, the state of the vehicle’s health. It is sent to the customer for review and approval of recommendations. The videos are short, done in a single take, with information relayed in layman’s terms. This straightforward, intuitive, and user-friendly automotive health care and repair system offers benefits to both the service providers and the customers. From a provider’s perspective, the transparency boosts customer trust, satisfaction, loyalty and retention. From a customer perspective, it increases the understanding of any issues, empowering customers to make informed decisions, thus mitigating confusion and anxiety. In essence, it takes the heretofore mystery out of the experience of having your car serviced or repaired. Someone saw how it had been done, and how it should – and could - be done, and changed the it up for the better. No shiny, new object required. Just a shiny new way of looking at and rethinking a solution to a consumer problem.
Experience innovation as a marketplace success factor is our present and our future. We ride in Lyfts and stay with our families in Airbnb residences. We buy our pets their food and supplies through Chewy, spend evenings binge-watching Netflix, afternoons with Spotify playing background music, turn to Warby Parker when in need of new eyeglasses, and Dollar Shave Club when we’re out of razor blades. Our friends show us automobiles purchased from Carvana. We use Expensify to scan receipts, track expenses and, then, sync information with Quickbooks for more efficient review. We set up meetings with Calendly and hold meetings on Zoom. College kids buy clothing on StitchFix and, when they’re busy studying, get their food from DoorDash.
It used to be to be that to grow brands, the answer was product-based. You’d go to the lab or the research and development team and wait for the “Come here, Watson” eureka moment. More and more of the innovation today is about taking what we already do – ride, invest, travel, shop – and transforming it by using off-the-shelf products and technology. Today’s market disruptors look to find a relevantly distinctive way to make the stuff of daily life different, better and easier. They are doing this by rethinking the “how,” not the “what.” And, in doing so, through this innovation evolution, they are setting themselves up for sustainable growth.
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by Chip Walker