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  • Writer's pictureStewart Longhurst

5 tips for digital innovation success

Whilst there is no certainty of success with any innovation, digital or otherwise, there are some key steps or processes that, done properly, will increase your chances of producing a winning digital product; be it an app, a device or even a service. Sometimes these may go against formal gated innovation processes - usually put in place in large organisations to control research and development costs - but if you can spin digital projects out of those structures, even for a short trial period to prove the approach, the reward could be longer term trust with lighter governance.

1. Know your customer

Vital for any successful innovation is for it to solve an unmet customer need or insight. In my view this is even more important in the digital world where exciting developments in technology can carry innovation teams away on flights of fancy building something that may be groundbreaking but is of no real use to anyone. To generate these unmet needs and insights, you need to truly know your market, have it properly segmented and be able to identify which of those segments the innovation idea will target.

A real example from my own experience was the creation of a mobile app which used virtual reality technology to let paint customers "see" the walls of their rooms in different colours in live video rather than simply colouring a photograph. Clever and exciting technology yes, but more importantly we had known for some time that most paint customers are not able to visualise different colours, so giving them a tool to do so easily was key. This combination of clever tech solving an unmet need was what made this app award-winning and successful worldwide.

2. Steal with pride

Unless you are working in the kind of business that leads the way in digital innovation - in which case you're probably not reading this blog - there will likely be another industry sector or 'analagous market' which has trodden the ground before. Looking across to sectors where the customer mindset is the same or where a customer decision journey is similar can give you ideas as to how you might solve your own market's unmet needs. Identifying these analagous markets isn't always easy or obvious.

"Good artists copy, great artists steal" - Pablo Picasso

For example, again in the paint company, I used to look to the automotive industry. Both markets have fairly long and considered customer decision journeys. They involve both emotional decisions like brand and colour - and rational choices like functionality and performance. Unless you're painting a mansion, the costs will be very different but you can see the similarities and start to understand at what points in the customer decision journey companies provide digital tools and services to help.

3. Keep trying lots of things

A phrase that you'll hear often in the world of digital innovation is "fail fast". Whilst the underlying meaning is spot on, sadly the over-simplification into those two words gives ammunition to corporate traditionalists who don't like the idea of failure and for whom going fast is reckless. For me what it means is that you should be prepared to keep trying lots of different things but constantly review them and if they aren't working out down a particular path, STOP, learn what went wrong and either adapt the approach or start again. This brave decision must be made quickly so as not to compound the issue - however far down the path you've gone.

There's a great unattributed quote relevant to this which many people will recognise as happening routinely inside their organisations, especially where there is high-level sponsorship involved.

"Don't cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it"

4. Keep things simple

Another temptation that the world of digital technology innovation suffers from is complexity. You can do almost anything with technology but it doesn't mean that you should. Successful digital products have a simplicity and singularity of purpose without unnecessary functionality or "whistles and bells". It doesn't mean that it should only have one function but the key capability of it should be really easy to use and be unencumbered by huge menus or toolbars to confuse the user.

My favourite way of illustrating this point is this, the Wenger Giant Swiss Army knife. This isn't a Photoshop fake, you can actually buy this. It has 87 tools performing 141 functions - it is a Guinness World Record holder and is surely the ultimate multi-tool. BUT, it costs up to £1000, is 25cm long and weighs over 3kg making it really, really difficult to hold and use. Don't let your company's apps become like this.

5. Tell people about it

When your digital product is finished and tested and ready to launch to the world, you need a decent budget and communication plan to tell your customers. Several times in the past I've been involved in market research or have been presented with results where customers have expressed a wish for something we'd already launched but they were unaware of. Hearing"If only there was some kind of tool where I could..." is very frustrating when you know that there is such a tool and has been for some while. Don't let your digital product become the company's best kept secret.

Brand marketers usually put a really good comms plan around the launch of a physical product, especially a directly revenue-generating one, but this doesn't always apply to enabling tools and services. Engage with your marketers all the way through the innovation process and involve them in helping you work out what financial impact your digital product might have so that sufficient money is available to make sure customers know it exists. I've heard stories of allowing for as much as four times the cost of development on communication, which seems excessive, but it makes the point that money spent building a product is wasted if no one uses it.

Good luck on your digital innovation journey and in being able to establish just the right amount of governance on your processes. If you need help or advice at any stage of your project then feel free to get in touch - a conversation costs you nothing but could make a big difference to your digital success.

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