Introducing a new product or category? Consider this…

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For the innovation-driven company, introducing a new product or category should be a very exciting time. But doing so also comes with two challenges: educating potential investors on what exactly the new product or service is, and defining the new product in a way that can be easily understood by consumers. If a company misses the mark in either of these areas, the chances of the product’s success will be grim.

Consumers attempt to understand new products and services by fitting them into familiar categories that are easily understood. When smartphones were just entering the market, the association was an easy one to make – all of them were still fundamentally phones, but they also offered users many additional features. However, when the iPad debuted in 2010, it wasn’t quite as simple. It wasn’t quite a laptop, and it appeared to be a gigantic iPhone. It couldn’t make calls, and it wasn’t powerful enough to replace a laptop. Apple had created the tablet category, and if they failed to define its relevant value and purpose in ways that were easy to understand, the iPad would have flopped. Today, with the popularity of the cloud and an infinite amount of available apps, tablets are smoking laptops in both sales and use.

New products and categories also risk failure when introduced ahead of their time. If smartphones and laptops didn’t exist prior to 2010, the iPad would have been much too foreign and confusing to comprehend. It is both dangerous and risky to skip over next logical generation innovations with the hopes of changing how games in an industry are played. It’s the reason that part of the winning strategy with innovation is introducing products that “make sense” while at the same time ones that will sweep consumers off their feet. This strategy also makes it easier for investors to understand and trust claims of uniqueness and distinction.

Additionally, if a new innovation needs to be explained feature by feature, the company will likely confuse people even more and lose their attention. Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, (thank you, technology) and if the new innovation seems too complex, most will retreat back to which is most familiar, which is also perceived as much less risky.

The other part of the winning strategy of innovation is establishing credibility. This is a vital step for the startup company that has little or no brand awareness. People have a hard enough time trusting companies that open their doors selling familiar, or even commoditized products and services similar to competitors’. For example, if a new manufacturer of dehumidification systems entered the indoor waterpark market, they could differentiate their brand through efficiency, cost of ownership, build quality, price, service, and a variety of other variables. However, if that brand new manufacturer introduced a non-traditional, revolutionary way of extracting humidity from the air and chose to differentiate itself by NOT defining its products as dehumidifiers, they would likely have a steeper hill to climb to build trust, establish credibility and win business. For the company blessed with a reputable brand, selling a new concept to investors and product to buyers will go much smoother as trust already exists.

As companies strive to differentiate their brands from the competition to win new business and grow, they should be cautious to not venture too far off the beaten path of recognition and familiarity. Consumers may be intrigued to explore, but once they start to feel a little lost, most will trace their steps back to safety, and on their way back, they may dismiss the new innovation altogether.