The Innovation Engine

Five Insights into Innovating via Mobile Devices


Hey, you rock star, you. You know all about innovating through mobility, right? You do the text messaging and the digital coupons. You're even developing the app your boss wants. You're mirroring what you have on your website. All in all, you have it under control. Yep, you can check another item off your to-do list.

And six months from now, you can start explaining why the competition is outperforming you when it comes to retaining customers, winning new business, and communicating with existing customers and potential ones through their cell phones, PDAs, smartphones, and such other mobile devices as the iPad (AAPL) and HP (HPQ) Slate.

Here's the problem. While absolutely nothing is wrong with being tactical—and that is probably what you have been doing up until now if you think of communicating with your customers' cell phone as "mobile marketing"—you need to do more. You must start thinking about where mobility fits into your overall business strategy. And if you are like most marketers and innovators, you haven't done that yet. Let's talk about what you have to do and how you can do it.

To understand where mobility fits in, you first need to know it's the fastest-growing communication platform in history. What accounts for the rapid growth? We've identified five behavioral (not technical) reasons, factors that explain why people just adore their cell phones and why you should make mobility part of your innovation strategy.

1) The world loves instant gratification. Thanks to mobile phones, we can make connections and decisions at any time or place.

2) We like filling time vs. killing time. We create mobile experiences in four- to 10-minute increments. That could mean anything from using imdb.com to look up who played Hector in Troy to checking out bls.gov for the latest unemployment stats for your region. We'll find things to do. And when we do, we want progress, info, answers, and closure.

3) We crave superhero powers. Our mobile phones allow us to interact in multiple places at the same time. We can be on a conference call with Singapore while e-mailing friends in San Francisco as we use GPS to help us navigate the back roads of Cape Cod. On our walk on the Cape we can call out the constellations in the night sky even though we have never taken an astronomy course. We draw on all the powers of the universe.

4) We modify, adapt, hack, and generally MacGyver everything we get our hands on. Give people a tool, especially a technology or digital tool or channel, and they use it to achieve their goals in ways you never imagined. We call it "hackdapting." Want proof? There are now more than 200,000 apps for the iPhone.

5) We think of our mobile device as our "No. 1 recovery tool," and we never leave home without it. Why? It is a lifeline. Our cell phones are the first thing we reach for when we're away from home or the office and a problem comes up.

You can draw inspiration from any one or all of the preceding behaviors. But we think the most promising way is to start in the safety-recovery mode discussed in Point No. 5. That could very well mean innovating by changing your business model by aligning your brand position with the safety, recovery, and problem-solving arena. It is the best way to generate maximum additional revenue and unprecedented customer loyalty. People are willing to trade money for (saving) time, and if you solve major problems for them during moments of crisis or help them avoid crises altogether, they will be customers for life.

Anticipatory Roles

How do you position yourself in safety recovery, i.e., peace of mind, reassurance, freedom from "what ifs?" Well, it's easy for specific industries. Take something as traditionally mundane and low-tech as insurance, which just about everyone considers a necessary evil and at the same time a commodity. Sure, you can set the bar really low and e-mail or text customers when their insurance comes up for renewal, or you can offer some kind of discount if they buy two or more policies, such as home and auto. But wouldn't it benefit you to make their lives truly better by playing a more meaningful, anticipatory, and interactive role?

Long before the iPhone came along, we predicted that this was where the category was headed. So it didn't come as a surprise when insurance companies such as State Farm, Geico, and Nationwide came out with accident apps that walk you through right then and there what you have to do if you are involved in a crash: "Take a picture of the damage and the other person's license and insurance card and upload everything to your agent," the app will instruct you. Once your insurance company receives the info, it might even notify the nearest authorized repair shop and have a tow truck to you within 30 minutes. Once your car is in the shop, you might get to watch the repair in real time via webcam.

If the insurance companies were thinking bigger, they'd have already fully integrated those mobile apps with the back end of the claims process, the front end of the sales process, and up and down your value chain to be completely seamless, paperless, and totally centered around the needs of the customer (and around the agent in some cases), not around the product.

When thinking about how to use mobility to leverage your business model to capture new opportunities, revenue, and connections with consumers, repeat after us: "I will not limit myself to mobile marketing. I will think behavior, not technology. I will master the five mega reasons people love their mobile phones so much, and I will capitalize on them—before my competition does."

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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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