Finding innovative new uses for successful products and services can clearly increase your market size and, as a result, sales. Here are some tips from Jeffrey Baumgartner on how to apply this strategy to your firm

If you manufacture or distribute products, you probably have very clear ideas about how your products are used. However, the chances are that you are only partially right.

We human beings are great improvisers, especially when it can save us time. A classic example is the person who needs to reach something on top of a tall bookcase. She has the choice of running off to fetch a ladder or she can grab the nearest chair. Chairs also frequently function as coat racks (with jackets draped over their backs) and occasionally as locks (jammed under a doorknob to prevent a door being opened) and even weapons (smashed over someone’s head). For a child, a chair can be the seat of an imaginary racing car or rocket. Yet, few chair designers consider these alternative uses when creating new designs. As a result, they are missing out on some interesting marketing opportunities.

Clearly, it would benefit you to know different ways people use your products. Fortunately, this is a relatively easy thing to do. An ideas campaign among your staff and customers should reveal all kinds of alternative uses for your products. And in order to maximize the creativity of your results, you should also invite people to contribute extreme ideas about how they could use your products.

There are three advantages to this exercise. The first and most obvious advantage is that you may discover new markets and ways to market your products. A chair designer, for instance, might make a combination chair-mini-step-ladder for kitchens.

The second advantage is you might discover that with simple modifications, your product could target a new market or might simply become far more appealing to an existing market. For example, a children’s chair with a detachable toy control panel would give your children’s chairs a competitive edge over the competitions’ for sitting-only chairs.

The third advantage is a bit more obscure, but could help you prevent your customers injuring themselves or worse ­ which can also save your firm from expensive and reputation damaging law suits. If people make product suggestions which are not only unsuitable for your product, but are also dangerous, you can provide product warnings on your packaging which can help prevent customers from injuring themselves and reduce your liability in the event customers do not read the warning labels.

To a lesser extent, service providers can also run an ideas campaign for new product ideas. In this case, you should solicit and capture ideas on what new services you could offer your customers based on your teams’ combined skill-set and your customers’ needs. If you run a creative thinking consulting service, you could easily offer training services, coaching services, detailed reports and other services. Less obviously, you might do a television or radio series on creativity, design and market toys that help people be more creative or develop and patent your own creative ideas in order to resell them.

Finding new uses for successful products and services can clearly increase your market size and, as a result, sales. Finding new uses for unsuccessful products and services, on the other hand, can turn a dud into a winner of a product.

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

About the author

Jeffrey Baumgartner is the author of the book, The Way of the Innovation Master; the author/editor of Report 103, a popular newsletter on creativity and innovation in business. He is currently developing and running workshops around the world on Anticonventional Thinking, a new approach to achieving goals through creativity.

Photo: Businessman making a puzzle from