A better mousetrap is not enough

The six-stage process that all successful innovations must go through

Dr. Lynda Falkenstein

You’ve invented a better mousetrap. Maybe it’s a totally new, innovative concept that will solve important problems for people. It may even solve problems people didn’t know they had. Everyone you’ve shown it to or told about it loves your new widget. You know it will be a success. But then reality sets in and you realize that there is a lot of distance between your innovation and your target audience, assuming you’re clear about who that audience is in the first place. The good news is that research is very clear that all successful innovations go through the same six-stage process from concept to customer.

What this means for you is that if you don’t apply each step completely, your innovation will be deep-sixed and may never reach the light of day. If it does reach, it won’t stay there long. So whether you’re running a political campaign, introducing a self-driving car or selling a magic watch, the following six stages are critical to your innovation’s success.

1 – Awareness

The most basic “billboard” level. In order to buy your innovation, your customers must know you exist. At this level they don’t have to love you, but they must know your widget exists. Over the years, I’ve had scores of clients come in bemoaning that their widget hasn’t been successful in the marketplace. I ask a simple question that reveals a major part of their problem: How aware of your innovation’s mere existence is your audience? Bottom line, invisible doesn’t sell, no matter how great your widget.

2 – Trial

In order to buy, people must have an experience of some kind with your innovation. This is what I call the “yogurt” test. For example, you go into a frozen yogurt store and sample. You have an experience with the product or service. Not every product lends itself to the kind of sampling frozen yogurt does, but one way or another, your marketing must allow potential customers to experience your new mousetrap.

3 – Evaluation

Once people have experience with your innovation, they are able to assess whether this new product is for them. Trial and evaluation often happen so close together it is hard to separate them, but separate you must. Each requires that your customer has a specific experience so they can decide “yes” or “no.”

4 – Adoption

You’ve carefully made sure each of the earlier levels of innovation are in place, but you can’t stop yet. This is the level where your customers “buy in” – literally. Time to enter their credit card information and buy; no more trial or evaluation. They’ve decided.

5 – Adaption

Among the most important of our levels of innovation, adaption occurs when customers decide your widget is user-friendly. It is flexible and malleable enough to address the nuances of the customer’s situation. At this point, your product truly becomes theirs. You are nearly indispensable. If your innovation can’t adapt to the customer’s environment, like the dinosaur, it will go extinct.

6 – Maintenance

This level is the difference between a one-time customer and lucrative return trade, regardless of what innovation you’re bringing to market. It is also one of the easiest to implement and, ironically, it appears to be the easiest to forget. Here we’re talking about the obvious need to take care of your precious customers – the people who directly or indirectly are your best sales force. “Taking care” means you’re in front of them regularly, never allowing yourself to become invisible.

The implications of these six levels of innovation are clear:

  • Each level requires a unique marketing strategy.
  • Each level must be in operation continuously.
  • Like bricks in an arch, each level supports the others. Omit one and crash and burn.
  • From roll-out to maintenance, your innovation requires nothing less than a strategic mindset, ensuring that each of our six levels will have a chance to flourish.

By regularly subjecting your new widget to a test at each level, you will quickly see where your innovation is on its way to your customer. This means that you can shore up any issues before calamity claims your effort, ingenuity and resources. Start now. On a scale of 1-10 scale, with 10 being highest, rate your own innovation at each of the six levels. How did you do?

Dr. Lynda Falkenstein is a business consultant and author of NICHECRAFT: Using Your Specialness to Focus Your Business, Corner Your Market, and Make Customers Seek You Out. She can be reached at 503.781.0966.

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