Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Process of Innovation

Today I begin walking through steps I regularly travel to discover something different that will impact our customers.  I work in the food industry, and people's tastes are my pursuit.  We make one of the world's oldest staples--sliced bread.  We sell it in all the major supermarkets including Walmart in New York, PA, and New England.  We also produce specialty cakes, cookies, and artisan products for resellers and specialty stores.

As a regional producer, we do not have the global resources and scale of our competitors in the bread aisle of the supermarket. Yet, we have three products in the top 50, and are ranked #5 by IRI in branded bread product sales in Buffalo-Rochester--our primary market.  How do we do this?

Where Innovation Begins

1.  We stay close to our customers to know when to create a new status quo.

The relationship of people and food is interesting. In life, people generally resist change.  As children, our parents tried to get us to try something new, and we puckered our faces and spit out anything that was not what we already liked. 

Many people buy the same food every week at the grocery store, order the same Starbucks coffee every morning, and order the same dish when they eat out at one of their few favorite places.  

Yet, market signals do appear from time to time that the thinking and tastes of consumers do indeed change.  When an American society struggling with obesity discovered you could lose weight by not eating bread, we had a major market signal.  WHAT HAVE YOU INNOVATED FOR US?

Here is the catch--we need to know these changes are coming before they actually happen.  This is what authors Clayton Christensen and Scott Anthony term the "innovator's paradox."  When times are good and we have the time and capital to innovate, we often do not.  When times turn bad, it is too late to innovate. 

Although people started eating bread again after Atkins, the market is still signaling we will eat two kinds of bread--indulgence bread and healthy bread.  More and more customers tell us through their food spend "we want to eat healthy." 

The innovator needs to get out in front and innovate, telling their customers "we have heard you, and we know the way."  

TODAY'S LESSON:  Are you one step ahead of your customer?  Are your customers sending you signals that they need a change?  Do you have what they will need ready to go?

Next time:

2.  Identify the problem the customer needs you to solve for them.

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