Innovation as seen by an Italian lover

I am happy to say that I saw Roberto Verganti at the Stichting Marketing Congress 2010. Roberto Verganti, the man who (according to tweets during his speech) deserves his own television series.
Roberto Verganti, the man who tells us in the first minutes of his speech that “to an Italian, the most relevant thing is love”, and goes on to say that the ultimate form of creating loyalty to your products, is creating products that people love. If you compete on love, you ask people to stay with you.
It is only after this passionate introduction, that the core subject of Verganti’s speech emerges: How should you innovate, so that you create products that people fall in love with? It’s not creativity (ideas are cheap in today’s internet age), and it’s not user-driven research either. Well, research is definitely important, but mainly for incremental innovation (improving existing products) or testing disruptive products once you designed them. And you need disruptive innovations to make people fall in love. So how do you go on about this? What is a disruptive innovation, and how do we find the inspiration to start them?
Disruptive innovations are innovations that change the meaning (the emotional, psychological, and sociocultural reasons for buying/using) of your product, instead of its performance. An intuitive example he gives is the difference between Sony Playstation (ps3 is more performant than ps2) and the Nintendo Wii (from people being immersed into a virtual world on a screen to bringing that world into the living room). Nintendo Wii clearly focused on changing meaning, not on making a better performing gaming console.
For Verganti, meaning is function of the context. A product or service has a meaning within a certain context (or more contexts) . Making an innovative product that fits within a context, needs understanding of the context to the full extent. A company should therefore use “translators”; other companies that are active in the same context, in order to become inspired by their customer insights. To me, that sounded very intuitive. I remember doing creative projects while studying Marketing, and how the most appealing ideas always came up somewhere out of school, especially when we went out observing the whole process from buying to use and disposal. Verganti illustrates this with an example of Barilla: if Barilla wants to innovate in the (great!) pasta they are making, they should go and talk to other companies that are active in the kitchen-context, or food-preparing-context. Whirlpool for instance.
The most innovative companies gain a competitive advantage by finding translators before others, and trying to secure them. What Verganti argues for is in essence straightforward:

  1. Understand the whole context in which you want to play a role with your product
  2. Focus on the difference in meaning you can make within that context
  3. Dare to draw your inspiration from relevant translators that play within the same context, but that are not your immediate competitors.

An inspiring trail of thought, which made me think of relevant translators in the context of Marketing and Market Research… I’ve got some ideas already, and you?
Comments/suggestions? Don’t hesitate to find me on twitter: @eliasveris

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