We Have an Innovation Problem, and It Is Miles and Miles of Indistinguishable Stuff

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I learned today that Axe Body Spray for Men is running an ad in Uruguay where readers sending an SMS to their address receive on their phone the missing bits of a picture of a beautiful woman. (Those bits are clothed, BTW.)

This tells me there’s nothing about Axe the product that is distinctive, and the ad, despite being fun and engaging (especially for teenaged and 20-something males), won’t do much to make people select Axe over one of the thirty other male scent products out there.

I started thinking about this after listening to Jonathan Salem Baskin’s neat Listrak webinar last week, entitled, “Marketing Ideas for the First Post-Brand Decade.” Baskin did a nice job of showing that while customers and markets have moved beyond the days of “Mad Men” – where a well-crafted, creative advertisement could influence us to buy the latest dish detergent or safety razor – marketers, by and large, have not. Even “social media marketing,” like, say, the Axe campaign, is taking the same old ideas and porting them to new technology.

Houston, we have a problem. Marketers are pushing the same old buttons to sell more variations of the same old products. It’s a negative-sum game. Variations increase cost without enlarging the overall market. Redundancy pushes down prices, invites private label competitors and overloads consumers’ minds.

Clearly, we’ve got to do something different. Marketing needs to pull back from its focus on distribution, packaging, and communication, and refocus on helping create great new products, that deliver distinctive value and make people’s lives better. Then it will be easy to communicate that to prospective customers.

Gary Hamel writes in “The Future of Management” that product & service innovation are near the bottom of the innovation hierarchy, and the pinnacle is “management innovation.” To Hamel, products are easily duplicated, quickly eliminating their added value. But as Roberto Verganti pointed out in “Design-Driven Innovation,” companies that create truly visionary products enjoy long periods of competitive advantage and profits.

Life is too difficult for many and too complex for everyone else. Everyone would like to have more fun. Therefore, there’s lots of need for products & services that allow us to manage our lives better or have diverting or engrossing experiences.

I’ve been reading “

Change by Design

,” by Tim Brown, and he asserts that companies need to adopt “design thinking” to create great new products and services. I can’t disagree with him, but also feel that design thinking is not that different from what great product managers and developers have been doing and should be doing. So, if your new-product group wants to hand over the reins to design thinkers, that’s their prerogative. For me, that’s the fun part of the job and I’d rather not outsource that.

Original Post: http://caddellinsightgroup.com/blog2/2009/10/we-have-an-innovation-problem-and-it-is-miles-and-miles-of-indistinguishable-stuff/