Necessity Is the Mother of Invention
The only way to promote a bad or boring product is to lie. Over the decades, marketers have tried it — some still do. But we’ve gotta ask, “How’s that working for you?”
In an ever-changing, ever-quickening, increasingly competitive world, mastering product innovation is more important than ever for companies, according to Sridhar Balasubramanian, professor of marketing at UNC Kenan-Flagler.
The only way to sell snake oil in 2015 is to make snake oil that actually works.
“Customer expectations are … sky-high,” he said in an interview on the UNC Kenan-Flagler business-school website. “Customers today have very little patience with products that are old. If you think about baby boomers, they often think about a product as being around for, say, 30 years as tried and tested. Whereas a Generation Y member thinks of such a product as simply being tired.”
“Innovation cycles are becoming rapidly shorter,” he added, “which means that companies have to be constantly on their toes, turning out new products, new services, and often-new solutions because customers today don’t just want a product or a service. They want companies that solve their problems.”
In short, a successful new product is one that solves a problem.
Balasubramanian said fostering innovation at a company comes down to three things: employees must feel motivated to innovate; employees must be given opportunities to be innovative; and employees and managers must know how to be innovative — they must know what it means to be innovative in their fields and in their workplaces.
Here are five examples of moments in history when product innovation changed the way we live.
Product Innovation: Architectural Paints and Coatings — the Paint Can
The biggest product innovation in the history of interior and exterior paint had nothing to do with the paint itself. It had to do with the paint can. The year was 1877 and the innovator was Sherwin-Williams.
In Colonial times, according to the Old Fashioned Milk Paint Co., Inc.website, itinerant house painters wandered the countryside carrying pigment that they mixed with a homeowner’s milk and lime to create what was known then and is still known as milk paint.
A successful new product is one that solves a problem.
Before the invention of the paint can and the ready-mixed paint that went into it, paint was always mixed fresh, Leslie Poster wrote for the website of the National Museum of American History. “Not only was the mixing process akin to a chemistry experiment, but paint also had to be used immediately since there was no good way to store it without it becoming unusable.”
Sherwin-Williams’ tin can, with its tight lid, meant that paint could be shipped and stored, with no loss in quality. It essentially birthed the commercial architectural paints-and-coatings industry.
In 1879, Poster wrote, Sherwin-Williams founder Henry Sherwin “introduced a way to grind pigment so finely that it could be suspended within the paint’s components for a long amount of time instead of quickly separating out, thus making ready-mixed paint a reality.”
Poster’s story describes a 400-mile journey to see one of Sherwin-Williams’ original paint cans, which is on display at the Sherwin-Williams Center of Excellence in Cleveland. It is well worth a read.
More than 130 years later, Dutch Boy — in an “open-innovation partnership” with Sherwin-Williams — developed the Twist & Pour paint container.