The Irrelevance of Being Innovative

If my headline grabbed your attention, it accomplished its purpose. Yes, of course innovation is critically important for any company. What amazes me, though, is how many companies make the point that they’re innovative in their marketing efforts. In my view, this reflects a fundamental disconnect in understanding between what customers actually want and what companies think their customers want. It also reflects a more subtle disconnect between innovative companies and innovative products.

When was the last time you thought to yourself, “I’d prefer to buy a product from an innovative company?” I’m guessing never. It’s just not important. Whether their internal product development processes are innovative or not is irrelevant to you as a buyer.

Google is an innovative company. Do you use Google products because Google is an innovative company, or because their products provide value to you? If Google weren’t innovative at all but still somehow offered the products they currently do, would you still use them?

The obsession with claiming to be innovative isn’t limited to the tech sector. A few years ago, I recall Ford boasting in a TV ad for their F-150 pickup truck that they were innovative. They backed this up with an example of one of their innovative products: an engine with three valves per cylinder instead of two. Ironically, this wasn’t innovative at all. By the time this ad ran, most cars and trucks used four-valve designs, which were superior to a three-valve design. And Ford itself had used a three valve design a decade earlier on its Ford Probe GT. Moreover, multi-valve engine designs date back decades—and Ford didn’t invent them. But even if the F-150 did have an innovative product component (a “feature” in the tech world), that still doesn’t mean Ford is an innovative company across the board, which is what the ad specifically claimed. (In fact, I think very few people would describe Ford as particularly innovative.) And again, does it matter? Do people evaluate which truck to buy based on whether it has innovative features or that it’s made by an innovative company?

All I’m saying is, you might want to buy an innovative product—but not because it’s innovative, and not because the company that makes it is good at innovation. Companies need to stop beating their chests about how innovative they are because, even if it’s true, customers don’t care.

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