In their excellent book, The Innovator’s Solution, authors Clayton Christensen […]

In their excellent book, The Innovator’s Solution, authors Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor make the point that the most successful new products help customers do jobs better, faster or more efficiently than they could before. I recently came across two references to the changing face of customer-focused innovation, and how much of traditional marketing just doesn’t connect with what customers really want:

Creating a Killer Product is a book excerpt from The Innovator’s Solution that Forbes Magazine just published online this week. This paragraph is a great synopsis of what customer-focused innovation needs to accomplish — and how traditional marketing and research can miss these needs by a long shot:

“Much of the art of marketing focuses on identifying groups or segments of customers that are similar enough that the same product or service will appeal to all of them. Managers need to segment their markets to mirror the way their customers experience life–and not base decisions on irrelevant data that focus on customer attributes. Managers need to realize that customers, in effect, “hire” products to do specific ‘jobs.’ That’s one reason why retail formats like Home Depot and Lowe’s have become so successful: Their stores are literally organized around jobs to be done.”

In some cases, the disruptive innovations that meet these needs “enable new customers to do things they’ve always been trying to do, but to do them more conveniently and predictably.” In other cases, they may compete against non-consumption. In other words, existing products may have been too expensive or didn’t offer the right value proposition to make them worthy of consideration. This book excerpt does a great job of capsulizing this concept of customer-focused innovation. I highly recommend that you read it!

The To-Do List Customer: In his latest IndustryWeek column, entitled “Enlarge Your Marketing Plan Now,” John Brandt says that today’s customers want tailored solutions to their problems and needs, not “spam-style promises.” So much of consumer marketing and promotion literally screams at customers, trying with brute force to persuade them to buy products they’re not even sure they want. One of the societal shifts that Brandt says is responsible for consumers rejecting “old-fashioned, throw-it-against-the-wall marketing” (throw a bunch of stuff up against the wall and see how much of it sticks, figuratively speaking) is something he calls “the to-do list customer”:

“Another huge shift in consumer psychology has to do with the increasingly electronic management of projects and To-Do lists by PDAs and software. This widespread emphasis on prioritization and tasks has resulted in the creation of harried, overworked customers who increasingly view your product in the simplest of terms: Will this purchase/investment add TO my to task list, or will it subtract several To-Do’s FROM it? Only those total solutions that actually reduce customer workload and anxiety will get a hearing.”

In other words, Brandt’s explanation of this type of consumer (or business-to-business customer) gets at the same point as Christensen and Raynor are making in their book: Customers need to get a job done. Those products, services and solutions that save them time, money or aggravation are more likely to be successful than those that do not!