The Innovation Engine

Are Your Customers Cheating on You?


"What a kid I got. I told him about the birds and the bees, and he told me about the butcher and my wife." —Rodney Dangerfield

Everyone who cringed when Dr. Ruth Westheimer would describe sexy things you could do in the bedroom (and elsewhere), please raise your hand. Yep, we're with you. The idea of new techniques, new roles, or new underwear as the cure for decreased interest or potential infidelity tends to turn folks off—particularly when the good doctor with the odd accent is explaining it in lurid detail.

Yet Dr. Ruth's advice held great truths, in regard to not only sexual relationships but also brand loyalty: "Ven he seems to be less interested, do something crazy. Ask him vhat he vants and then give it to him. If you don't, someone else vill."

We'll concede that marketers outside of Victoria's Secret don't usually introduce new products in this way. But many do think of new product development as sexy. And so do your customers. In fact, so many similarities exist that we're going to have trouble writing this article without double entendres.

All too often, relationships degenerate into a means for merely handling problems as they happen. And you do have to do that. But how much better would it be if you resolved all problems with a smile—and also actually gave customers something they wanted (sometimes before they even knew they wanted it)?

Customer Needs

This may qualify as the ultimate form of providing service, and that, of course, is what introducing a successful new product does. You satisfy (an often inchoate) customer need. That benefits you as well as them, since it gives you a greater share of your customers' hearts and wallets.

Almost all your customers are cheating on you. They are not giving you all of their attention. Their eyes, like their wallets, are wandering. They are spending at least part of their budget on someone else, purchasing a certain percentage of their needs from your competitors. If they can't get what they want from you, they will find it elsewhere.

New products have sex appeal. They allow you to get a greater share of your customers' attention. That is a very good thing for two reasons.

First, your sales and earnings increase. Customers are buying more from you. Second, if they are getting more from you, they are getting less from your competition. The result: You're more satisfied, and your competitors are less satisfied. That means your market share is increasing.

So, by offering sexy new things, you give your customers less of a reason to "cheat," because you offer them the opportunity to get what they are looking for from you. You gain more loyalty this way. And you get more frequency of, uh, purchase.

And that is no small point.

Losing Appeal

Everybody's customer base is in a steady state of decline. It's like skin cells. Left to its own devices, your skin would slowly—but relentlessly—wither away and die, because you lose skin cells every day. Sadly, we would grow wrinkled and less attractive. If not for the constant regeneration of skin cells programmed into our DNA, this would happen much more quickly. Yikes!

It is the same with marketing. Left to their own devices, all brands would eventually die off, because our products and services are steadily losing customer appeal every day. The reasons:

• The customers literally die;

• A certain number of them are going to grow dissatisfied with what we are offering them, either because our quality diminishes or their needs change. (They started using our product in their 20s, before having kids and worrying about their weight. Now they have matured and our product no longer seems very relevant, so they go searching for something else.);

• They grow bored;

• They turn their attention to another brand that promises to meet their needs better.

So at the very least, you need to introduce new products successfully in order to replace the customers you are going to lose as a matter of course due to death, lack of interest, or the allure of other products.

Innovate Against Decline

Here's the point: If you can innovate—be it by improving your customers' existing experience or coming up with a new one—you can slow, if not eliminate altogether, the natural attrition that occurs as your customers' needs change over time. You can keep them from having to go someplace else.

You are a great partner indeed.

Back to Dr. Ruth. The most charming thing about her is that she talked openly about the stuff that for years had remained taboo. She made it O.K. to try new things and often insisted that a good relationship meant listening for (and she didn't put it this way but we will) your customer's needs and then delivering on those needs passionately and creatively. She made the point that just doing what was expected and what everyone else was doing added up to a recipe for relationship disaster.

We think Dr. Ruth would make a great chief innovation officer.

Maddock_viton_new
Maddock is chief executive, and Vitón is president, of Maddock Douglas, an innovation consultancy that specializes in inventing and launching new products, services, and businesses. Maddock and Viton are the authors of Free the Idea Monkey (ISB Publishing, 2012), and Maddock is the author of Brand New: Solving the Innovation Paradox—How Great Brands Invent and Launch New Products, Services, and Business Models (Wiley, 2011).

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