When we talk about breakthrough products, we are often focused on what a product does. In fact, that idea is at the heart of the definition I most frequently use when asked to discuss transformational innovation:
Breakthrough products allow consumers to do things that cannot otherwise easily be done, via introducing a new consumer value or a new benefit, at the cost of increased uncertainty.
Okay, it’s not really my definition, exactly, I stole most of it from Professor Steve Hoeffler (seen here talking about marketing radically new products), then modified a few words. We are always looking for a new benefit, for something that cannot otherwise easily be done that we can bring to consumers.
But too often, we (meaning me, but maybe you, too) skip the part about “new consumer value.” What does that mean, exactly? It means looking at how something makes a consumer feel, which is actually at the heart of most breakthrough innovations. Let me illustrate the point I’m trying to make with a couple with parallel stories.
This Part of the Greek Economy is Booming
Take Greek yogurt, which seems to be a category I end up talking about wherever I go. At some level, you could make the argument that it’s really just another flavor of yogurt (though Chobani could offer a billion dollars’ worth of reasons why that assessment is wrong), but here’s what I would say:
- It created a new flavor and texture profile that appealed in a way that traditional yogurt did not and could not.
- Consumers, at least initially, viewed it as a new category or at least a sub-category.
- It arguably provided new health benefits – or at least came with a health halo.
- Most importantly, I’d argue it also created a change in the self-perceptions of the person consuming the Greek yogurt, that they were now trendier or more in-the-know than the traditional yogurt consumer. In short, it made them feel different.
You Say Ice Cream, I Say Gelato
The growth of gelato appears to me, at least on the surface, to mirror the rise of Greek yogurt (though clearly on a smaller scale). Familiar product, but different texture, different flavors, different health profile, more adult and cosmopolitan (at least to my Midwest sensibilities). It gives consumers permission to change behavior, and permission to feel differently about themselves.
In some ways, I’d also argue that it’s the opposite of what we normally do (as is Greek yogurt, for that matter). Quite often, we look at adult (or all family) products and figure out how to make variants for kids. Here, we’re looking at more kid-oriented products and trying to create an offer designed to appeal to adults.
Consumers Need to Feel It
Whether CPG innovations like Greek yogurt or gelato, or more technologically driven innovations like the computer tablet, the curved television (which I totally want, though I don’t know why – and isn’t that exactly what we’re talking about here), or the electric car, it’s not enough to have a great product. That product has got to make consumers feel like something is missing if they don’t have it. And deliver a great experience, too; but that’s just a detail.
When we look to introduce products that allow consumers to do things that can’t easily be done, we can’t forget to make them feel something extraordinary as well.