Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Where to focus your innovation effort

OVO has done a fair amount of innovation work in the banking and financial sector.  As such I would not call us "experts" in the banking or financial services space, but we've spent time there and we are always interested in new ideas that are percolating in the industry.  It was with great interest that I read a synopsis of a presentation given at Forum 2015, by the wonderfully named Jeffry Pilcher, who is the CEO/President and Founder of The Financial Brand.  His talk to the conference was on a key innovation target.  Not customers, not needs, not products, but on saving people time by reducing complexity.

Many, many times clients have debated about the best innovation opportunities, from opening a new market segment to creating a disruptive product.  But many of these factors miss a key point:  the vast majority of customers, as Geoffrey Moore and others have demonstrated, are early or late majority, unlikely to change and unwilling to change unless there is a really powerful value proposition.  In that case, while we as innovators need to think about compelling new products and services, we ought to first decide which of three or four key factors we want to solve that really matter in people's lives.  Pilcher does an excellent job explaining why saving time is so valuable.  His argument is that banking is complex and takes far too much time, when people are already overwhelmed and want more time for themselves.

Key factors to improve

So, if time is one key factor to improve, what are the others?  I'll argue that it is a relatively short list:

  • Saving time (dramatic savings, not just shaving a few seconds here or there)
  • Reducing complexity, simplifying usage
  • Improving customer experience
  • Improving usability or design to create intuitive solutions
  • Integrating disparate but dependent activities

Pilcher has dealt nicely with saving time, and argues that the way to do so is to remove complexity.  I'd have gone farther in the banking space to argue that improving customer experience, in all channels and in all interactions, is vital to improving experience and saving time.

Apple has proven that design and intuitive solutions are valuable innovations, since they simplify consumers lives and make adopting new products or services far more easy to accomplish.  Apple (with iTunes) and others have demonstrated the power of integration - combining disparate activities that were important but difficult to accomplish in one hopefully simpler, more integrated solution.

In the end, most people are trying to solve fundamentally simple problems that are typically based around these issues.  Many innovators often have a hard time differentiating between symptoms and the real underlying illness, if I can use a medical analogy here.

Innovation Outcomes

Beyond confusion of symptoms and illnesses, there are other unfortunate perspectives that corporations introduce.  Many corporate innovators put the cart before the horse.  They suggest that they need a new widget or product that will generate $X amount of revenue or profit, and argue that they can get this return because the idea will add more value or features for consumers.  Instead, they should build their assertions starting with the most basic outcome for consumers.  The new widget will save time, reduce complexity and improve customer experience, attracting new customers and winning over customers from other vendors, leading to new revenue and new profits.  Where you start your thinking, what you base your outcomes on, matters in the end.  Innovation to drive new revenue and profits is an internally focused activity that will be shaped by internal needs.  Innovation to change lives or experiences is an externally focused activity that will be viewed and understood as such by consumers, and will be shaped as such through the innovation process.

What does this do for the consumer?

The first question we should be asking, then, is what does the consumer want to overcome or resolve?  Yes, the consumer has a "job to be done" and can do it in many different ways.  But ultimately innovation should reduce the workload, reduce the complexity, reduce the uncertainty.  We at OVO always talk about innovating from the customer's perspective.  The customers don't necessarily want new stuff, they want better lives, more time and interesting experiences.  Use these as your starting point for defining your innovations, and let that lead you to new products or services.

Where in the customer's experience is the greatest amount of needless complexity?  What factors or features consume time but don't provide equivalent value?  What disparate capabilities or needs do people have that must be accomplished that could be easily combined?  If you want to know where to focus your time as an innovator, there are worse places to start.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:18 AM


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