Innovation Evaluation Framework: Use Convenience
By Jeffrey Phillips
True innovation requires a more expansive evaluation than a traditional business case and needs to be considered with features and attributes that are more qualitative and driven more by emotion than logic. Seven components contribute to innovation success: choice/control, convenience, community, completeness, compatibility, coolness/communication and customer’s cost. These factors, used to evaluate an idea early in the process, can contribute to the success of a new product or service by improving adoption, reducing risk and building trust for the new product or service.
Convenience is anything that saves or simplifies work, adds to one’s ease or comfort. Why is convenience so important for a new product or service to succeed? There are at least two key reasons:
- People are busy – any solution is valuable when it eliminates an activity or reduces time commitments.
- People are resistant to change/fear learning something new.
Many people are exceptionally busy. For an innovation to succeed, it must offer more convenience than the existing solution. Yahoo and Google, for example, are innovations that added significant convenience over alternate search mechanisms for the Web, saving time and simplifying work. On the home front, the Swiffer saves time and effort over traditional brooms or mops. Whether a company’s target consumer or customer is a homemaker or an executive, innovations that improve convenience over existing solutions will attract attention.
Convenient From the Start
For success in any market, the convenience factor of an innovation needs to be fairly apparent from the outset. Since most consumers have little time to learn about, much less experiment with, a new product or service they must have a compelling convenience factor. Given the high resistance to switch products or brands, the convenience of a new product or service must be evident or easily discovered through samples or trial periods. Another factor – community – can help in this regard. If a consumer or customer can identify a community that has adopted the new innovation and can ascertain that the innovation is convenient and the switching costs are not too high, then he or she will be more willing to try the new innovation.
Example: Disposable Diaper
The disposable diaper is a great example of an innovation that had a significant impact in consumer convenience. In the 1960s, families relied on cloth diapers for their infants. Cloth diapers were “state of the art” but fairly inconvenient. Parents had two choices: washing, drying and reusing cloth diapers or using a diaper delivery service. Washing and drying diapers created a significant workload; diaper delivery services were more convenient but costly. The disposable diaper dramatically changed the diaper industry, mostly because of the convenience factor. Disposable diapers are exceptionally convenient for the consumer, since there is no washing required. Also, it is easy to sample the disposables before committing to the solution long-term. Finally, a community (moms and dads) exists that can attest to the time saving facet of disposable diapers The disposable diaper creates tremendous work savings for the parents of a newborn over traditional cloth diapers – a high convenience factor.
Another example of an innovation providing incredible convenience over existing solutions is the iPod. Apple was not the first firm to create an digital music player – several firms went to market before Apple. Apple’s real innovation was the combination of the iPod with iTunes, which made it convenient to find, download, manage and play music. Other MP3 players required the consumer to search through their CD collections and “rip” songs or risk the legality of trading or purchasing songs online. Due to its convenience, Apple’s iPod rapidly became the digital music product to own.
As demonstrated by the iPod, sometimes convenience is created by combining capabilities. The Swiffer is an example of an innovation that combines several capabilities, creating additional convenience. The Swiffer attacked a stagnant market by combining the best features of a broom with the best features of a mop. The Swiffer is more convenient, however, since the user does not have to clean the mop head or worry about storing the mop until the mop head dries out. The Swiffer may not clean as well as a regular mop, but due to its convenience, it is easier to use the Swiffer more frequently and it can be used in less time, with less hassle.
E-books provide a counter example. One of the reasons books are still so popular is their convenience. Inventors have tried for many years to invent a technological counterpart to the book, but have not succeeded due in part to the convenience factor. A book can go anywhere, does not require batteries, is durable and offers a comfortable, familiar form. In 2007, Amazon released the Kindle, a wireless reading device. It remains to be seen if the Kindle and its competitors will replace the book as the preferred reading media, but the Kindle still has many of the drawbacks of the older electronic book formats. What may tip the scales for the Kindle is its ability to surf the Internet along with providing a medium for e-books.
Innovation Convenience Beyond Consumer Goods
The convenience concept extends to all types of innovations, across all market segments. Packaging innovations can be more convenient if they offer the same protection but are easier to open or simpler to discard or recycle. Service innovations are almost always focused at providing the same or better levels of service for a customer while reducing their investment in resources or time, such as online banking and bill paying.
When a company develops a new product or service, it should consider the existing products or services it wishes to disrupt or replace. Does the innovation create more convenience for the consumer? Does it save time, reduce work or provide more ease or leisure? If not, what can be done to change the innovation to provide more convenience? The amount of convenience provided by the innovation will determine its impact on the market. An innovation that is only moderately more convenient than the existing solution will provide a moderate return, while an innovation like the Swiffer, that provides a dramatic increase in convenience, can disrupt a market segment.
Next, consider how the consumer will discover and interact with the innovation. Changing existing behaviors is difficult, so the convenience factor must be evident and easily understood, or the innovation must offer simple demonstrations or trial periods to prove the convenience to the potential user. Also understand the power of word of mouth and influence, and build or encourage a community that can demonstrate to other users the convenience of the new product or service.
Finally, a business must understand what a customer considers convenient and what value they place on the various components of convenience. Several large banks in the United States built more ATMs to provide more convenience to banking customers, only to find that the customers felt the banks had become less customer friendly since they had fewer tellers. The consumers wanted the convenience of an ATM for some transactions, but desired the personal interaction of a teller for other transactions, and felt the banks were using the additional ATMs to cut costs rather than increase convenience. In this case, the banks incorrectly believed that a lower transaction cost and more availability of banking services was valuable to all consumers.
As a business conceives new innovations, it must ask if they provide the prospective users significantly more convenience than the existing alternatives. A new innovation must demonstrate its convenience in a way that people can quickly grasp, or provide inexpensive trials or demonstrations to indicate the increase in convenience. Given that people do not like change and will adopt new products and services only when there is a significant benefit to them, the convenience of the new product or service must be evident in order for the innovation to succeed in the market.
About the Author:
Jeffrey Phillips is a vice president with OVO and responsible for marketing and for leading innovation projects with OVO’s clients. Mr. Phillips has extensive experience working in the innovation space, with a wide range of Fortune 500 firms. He has published articles for Harvard Management Update, DigitAll Magazine, Pure Insight and blogs about innovation at Innovate on Purpose. Contact Jeffrey Phillips at jphillips (at) ovoinnovation.com.