So, What's it Take to Innovate Existing Products?


On Friday March 2nd, Kelley hosted its 66th Annual Business Conference in downtown Indy. I always look forward to attending this conference as it gives me a chance to take a deep breath and think about something more than what’s going on in my classes. But, this year I was especially excited given the theme of “Incite Innovation”. You know it’s going to be a great day when you start by hearing what John Kao and Ray Kurzweil are thinking (click on their names if you want to see what they are up to). And, they both had some very interesting and futuristic ideas to share. But as a marketer, I really enjoyed the luncheon talk by Don Knauss, Chairman of the Board and CEO of The Clorox Company. He shared several ideas that anyone working on their undergraduate marketing degree or marketing MBA needs to remember:

  1. It’s not competition that will kill your business, it’s not paying attention to customers that will kill it. So many companies seem to focus on what others are doing instead of understanding what customers are doing. Customers’ needs change. If you don’t keep up with them, they’ll find their own alternatives and fire you.
  2. In order to innovate, you have to start with what problem customers are trying to solve. Then, apply advanced technologies to help them solve that existing problem. My favorite example was how Clorox has improved Glad Bags. People want to send less plastic to landfills. But, trash bags that rip are a nightmare. So, Clorox borrowed collaborated with P&G to bring diaper technology to create a stretchy, thinner trash bag.
  3. Be careful when you are trying to understand what customers want. Often, they aren’t great at figuring out what they really want or need. But, they are great at complaining. So, figure out what problems are causing them to complain. We used to call this Problem Detection research. It’s still a great idea for existing products and services. Sometimes now, we refer to this as focusing on the Customer Experience.
  4. Let’s not forget the macroenvironmental trends. Since innovations are only good when people want to buy them, it helps to look forward at trends that might be impacting your customers. Clorox apparently looked at future trends and identified four that they think will affect their products: 1) Increasing concern for health and being healthy, 2) Making sure that what we are doing leads to a sustainable future, 3) Keeping products and services affordable (a nice way to say we are more price-sensitive), and 4) An increasingly multicultural US consumer. As they choose between innovations to move forward, they compare them to this set of trends and tweak their improvements or prioritize them against future potential.

Thanks, Don. It was great to be reminded about how to understand customers and innovate solutions to keep them happy and productive using our products. So marketers, let's create the innovations that add value and excite our customers to support our brands!