Launching a new product or concept is one of the biggest investments, and often the biggest gamble, any business can make. So how can you make sure you're backing a winner? First, you answer one question with absolute brutal honesty: “is it really better?”
Occasionally something is launched that creates a new market. The Model T Ford, the ZX81, the Sony Walkman. But the overwhelming majority of products and services are launched into a mature market with established competitors, and pretty quickly most of them disappear into the background noise. Under those circumstances, whether your launch quietly fails or dramatically succeeds will depend entirely on your ability to persuade customers that it is genuinely better than the alternatives.
Take BT's new TV service: a heavyweight marketing campaign can't make up for the fact that it appears to offer no meaningful benefit over Sky or Virgin, and unless that changes, the launch will fail. Sometimes new products are marginally better: Gillette bring out a 3-blade razor, Wilkinson Sword bring out a 4, so Gillette bring out a 5-blade with another blade on top. And the market share change tells us more about the advertising spend than about the innovation.
But sometimes a new launch brings something radically better, be it an iPod, a can of Red Bull, a Starbucks or a Dyson vacuum cleaner. Each signalled a re-birth or a step-change in their categories. They were riskier because they were radical, but they worked because they were genuinely better than what was there before.
Far too many businesses waste their time going through the motions, churning out launches that offer little or nothing that is genuinely better than what's already out there. We can't all invent a Dyson, but we can all ask ourselves “is it really better?”.
So look hard at your prospective launch, and ask yourself:
How is it better, and how can we articulate that simply and compellingly?
Will customers really “get it”, and what type of people will they be?
Of those that “get it”, who will want it?
Of those that want it, who will buy it?
Not only will the answers uncover your potential to succeed, they will define your launch and marketing strategy. Beyond that though, the questions themselves, if routinely asked, and answered with brutal honesty, will improve your whole approach to innovation.
Whether you trust focus groups, like the moderate innovators in the likes of P&G and Tesco, or your own instinct, like radical innovators James Dyson and the late Steve Jobs; getting, giving and acting on brutally honest answers to the simple question “is it really better” is the absolute bottom line for innovation success.