Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Truth About Consumers' Role in Innovation

Innovation is a buzzword that never dies. Every company, no matter how risk-averse, fearing that control of their brand has been ceded to their consumers, flogs employees and consumers alike with their innovative-ness, if not with actual innovation.

In the entertainment sector, innovators have quite literally cut out all the layers between themselves and getting the material almost immediately - for free. Creators are disfranchised from their own work and distribution companies have been marginalized, forced to run after new technology like a dogcatcher chasing an errant mutt. The only people who gain from this are the innovators...but this is not sustainable. This kind of innovation is choking the industries it feeds upon.

In thinking about how this innovation has not only not helped, but has negatively impacted some industries, it dawned on me that the idea of innovation by consumers is backwards. Innovators are rarely consumers. They drive consumption by their innovation, but they are rarely buying the products themselves. Why? Because they can do it better - that is what drives them.

A strong company breaks its own toys and rebuilds them differently. If you're waiting to see what your consumers come up with, you've already fallen behind the curve...and while you're playing catch up, the innovators have moved on to break the toy 6 different ways, run rings around your security/DRM/ and have provided people 3 different ways to use your product for free.

I've never really understood Apple's closed community before, but my own explanation makes it make sense to me now - they break their own toys.

If you're letting consumers drive your brand innovation by breaking your toys, you've already lost the market.
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