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The paradox of innovation in the tech sector

Tech companies are constantly releasing their latest product “innovations” as they attempt to find the growth that the sector craves. From new versions of tablets and smartphones to kitchen appliances, these aren’t the game-changing innovations that will halt market stagnation and prevent decline. Where is the growth in the tech sector going to come from?

Innovation is the route to growth

Innovation, in the true sense of the word, means finding new and different ways to solve customers’ problems. Genuine growth in the technology sector can only be achieved this way. If the prevailing approach of evolution rather than revolution persists, many of the companies that are around today will no longer exist in the next ten years. It’s not just me who thinks this. John Chambers, former CEO of CISCO, agrees: “If you don’t reinvent yourself; change your organization structure; if you don’t talk about speed of innovation, you’re going to get disrupted. And it’ll be a brutal disruption – the majority of companies will not exist in a meaningful way in 10 to 15 years from now.”

Technology is a competitive and disruptive industry. We’ve seen startups with the backing and funds threaten established players with ground-breaking innovations that change consumers’ lives for the better. They are meeting a need. Today’s Connected Consumers and B2B customers are more demanding, better educated and less forgiving than ever before. They’re hungry for genuinely new technology. And they are increasingly adept at identifying – and ignoring – slightly updated versions of technology they already have. This approach simply can’t generate the kind of sustainable growth that technology companies all over the world are trying to achieve. Put simply, product innovation is getting harder in this sector.

Innovate through the consumer, not the technology

So how exactly do you go about being innovative? The most important requirement arguably is to let go of the obsession with the product. For the longer you focus on the technology, the less likely you are to invent something that is genuinely innovative. The real route to innovation lies with the end customer. It is only by focusing on your target audience – whether domestic or business – that you will be able to create technology that is genuinely new, necessary, relevant and desirable.

We’re not just considering product innovation in this discussion. It’s worth remembering that innovation comes in many forms. You can innovate the experience, position or re-position a brand, optimize existing portfolios and invent new brand strategies, identify and target new markets, business models, channels and customers.

Three key elements to successful innovation

I believe there are three key elements to successful innovation:

  • First, you need a deep understanding of the end customer and the evolving market landscape. You need to be able to cut through the noise to capture where your potential customers and the market are heading.
  • Second, you need to craft meaningful and relevant propositions that resonate with buyers within your segment. Even the most original idea won’t succeed if it doesn’t meet a genuine need.
  • Third, you need to bring your proposition to life using “experience design”. Be sure to create a meaningful and memorable experience for customers.

Think like your end customer

Whether it’s for consumers or businesses, how you communicate your innovation is crucial. You must anticipate the different factors that enable adoption. An emotional connection with your innovation is every bit as important as the product itself, perhaps even more so. Get this right and you’ll have the “eureka” moment you’ve been waiting for. Get it wrong and your latest innovation won’t make it further than the early adopters and a review in the specialist press.

If there’s one thing that I would like the technology industry to remember it is this: customers, customers, customers. Whether you target the B2C or B2B market, if we’re more passionate about the technology than we are about the end users who will – or won’t – use it, then John Chambers’ doom-laden prediction may come true. I am more optimistic. I believe that together we can create the radical departures needed to reinvigorate the global technology sector. We can find genuine innovation that will lead to the growth we yearn for. But only if we can put the end customer – not the technology – at the heart of the creative process.

Karl Pfister-Kraxner is the Global Head of Technology at GfK. For more information or to share your thoughts, please email karl.pfister@gfk.com.

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