Mar 7, 2012

Disruptive innovation or conservative approach?

What happens when you have a great product idea that want to develop, but it's a little different from what people are used to? You can either develop it to make it stand out of the crowd instantly, or you can make it look like a regular product with additive features.

Today, we'll talk about two situations that we often see with our clients that will help you identify when it is better to apply disruptive innovation, or to rather use a more conservative approach.

Disruptive innovation
Picture taken from
We humans are creatures of habits. After we find something that makes our life easier and more comfortable, we like to keep it that way even if a better choice appears. We often prefer to avoid investing  our time on learning curves, and stick to the known. Later, we wait for early adopters to switch to the new alternative, try it, give us feedback, and only then we'll invest some time on understanding and implementation. It happens with cars, school systems, banks, and pretty much everything around us. For decades, Mexicans were comfortable with traditional grocery stores ran by local community members, and when convenience stores like OXXO appeared, it took some time for them to take off, especially in small cities.

The same happens with products for everyday use. If we are going to develop a really innovative, disruptive concept, we have to make sure of a number of things before launching it:
  1. We have to be crystal clear about new features and functions, making them particularly easy to identify and understand by users, even without using the product itself.
  2. That we are able to supply the product or service whenever our potential client has decided he/she wants to try it.
Regardless of how much we love our product's new features, they have to be "readable" to the audience. They have to feel able to use them. The harder the features are to understand, the closer identification our clients must have to our brand. Otherwise, they'll just move to the simpler neighbor. 

Microsoft developed touch screen interfaces
long  before Apple, but its conservative
approach created an opportunity for the iPad

(Picture from
Conservative approach 
Here's a little story: during the development of a product for one of our clients, they suggested that instead of investing upfront a substantial amount of money, we should make a cheaper version of the product, with limited functions and cheaper materials. If the product sold well, it would then be ready for a bigger investment. Are they planning an appropriate test-drive for the audience?

Such approach minimizes risks indeed. However, in today's competitive markets it poses a couple serious disadvantages: 
  1. It lets our competitors see exactly what we're doing, and since that product is a limited version of the definitive one, the window of opportunity is open for them to introduce a newer product with the improvements we planned for further releases.
  2. It settles customers' mindset on a cheaper, simpler product, making it difficult to introduce the improved versions that usually carry a higher price tag.

There are no simple answers or quick shortcuts when it comes to deciding features for our products. User surveys provide useful information, but they show only a small part of the picture. At interloft we always apply strategic planning for products, foreseeing possible contexts and putting special emphasize on  user interface.

We hope next time you need to implement innovation on products or services, these questions offer some guidelines for your product strategy road map.

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