I’m a great believer in taking advantage of things that have been left undone or are not meeting needs as well as they might. I like to look for the soft innovation, the different slant or slight twist that makes a difference, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and create something new from scratch.
By way of a real-world example, I’m going to share with you how I implemented a soft innovation into one of my own “on the side” businesses which quite simply changed the game for us. I have a significant interest in a small boutique handmade confectionery business that specialises in the manufacture and distribution of premium confectionery (www.justgreatfudge.com). By the way, it’s worth noting how the business name and its purpose focuses on just one niche. And that’s really important because it’s one of the core principles behind my Quick, Small and Simple (QSS) startup model, which we will learn more about later.
As a small niche manufacturer we are not looking to produce every confectionery product under the sun, nor are we interested in attempting to serve every market. We produce a high-end premium product that tastes out of this world, no expense is spared on the ingredients or the time and attention to detail required throughout the handmade process, which makes it an expensive luxury product. Our customers are connoisseurs of luxury fudge, love what we do and are happy to pay a premium price for the best, and that’s our target market. Focusing on a single premium product range in a small niche has allowed us to extract ourselves from the saturated commodity price-driven market. This purposeful attitude and position has made many of our competitors irrelevant, but we wanted a way to differentiate ourselves even further. Yes we had developed our own unique recipes, yes we use the finest ingredients and yes we hand produce our products with love and attention, but then so do many other premium confectionery manufacturers. So how could we create stand out differentiation within an established and highly competitive market?
What we needed was an innovation to differentiate what we did and how we did it. We needed something over and above the quality and taste of our products that we could become uniquely known for. After some thought, research and customer feedback we introduced a simple twist to our offering that no one else was doing. This twist was a classic example of a soft innovation that went on to provide a valuable unique selling proposition. The most interesting thing about our small innovation was that we did not make a single change to the product range itself, the manufacturing process or the delivery mechanism. The innovation was a simple tweak in the customer experience. Unlike similar manufacturers within the premium confectionery industry who offer their customers a choice of two dozen or so standard flavours, we did something different.
justgreatfudge.com customers are no longer restricted to buying fudge flavours that we define. Our uniqueness and remarkability is that our customers can go online and create their own bespoke flavours. They have a choice of three base fudge types alongside a range of nuts, fruits, flavours and choices of chocolate and or confectionery pieces. Incidentally, we have been able to introduce this little innovative twist because we are leveraging the fact that we are a true premium “small batch” manufacturer, a position and differentiation that our larger competitors simply cannot compete with. Not only has this increased our brand awareness and made us the go-to experts for bespoke fudge, it’s also increased our revenue because we have been able to charge a premium for this custom service. A simple innovation with a big impact.
It could be said that this innovation is easily copied by our competitors, therefore negating any competitive advantage gained. Whilst that may be true, my thoughts on that argument are simple. Firstly, we innovated the idea and as such have claimed our market position as the experts in producing bespoke made to order fudge. Remember the innovator and first to the market with a particular idea, service or product generally wins. Imitators rarely outclass innovators. And secondly, coming up with new inventive ideas and ways of applying them is where innovation happens. Even if our idea was successfully copied, we would simply up the game and come up with new ways to innovate and differentiate what we do and how we do it. This demonstrates my point perfectly about those that innovate and those that imitate. Innovators continually lead the way, whilst imitators spend their time and resources continually chasing falling markets rather than creating new ones or better serving existing ones.
Startup Pro Insight: We did not reinvent the wheel, we just helped customers get exactly what they wanted. It’s a twist on a theme. I like to look at it this way. Don’t reinvent the wheel, just put a new tyre on it
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