Archive for May, 2009

GlaxoSmithKline’s Innovation: An Emotional Talisman

Point: Products that perform a rational purpose can fail if they don’t address emotional needs

Story: At the World Innovation Forum, Donna Sturgess, Global Head of Innovation at GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, described some of the innovations behind Alli, an over-the-counter weight-loss drug which can help people lose 50% more weight. As I see it, the heart of the innovation lies beyond the physical chemistry of the medication (which blocks the absorption of fat) because the medication does no good if it’s not taken at mealtime. Instead, the real innovation is in the emotional chemistry of the small blue pill carrier called the Shuttle, which encourages the person to stay on their diet.

Alli faces two significant challenges. First, the pharmaceutical performance of a medication means nothing if patients don’t take the drug. Compliance could be a issue with Alli because it needs to be taken with meals, including meals eaten outside the home. That means people need to carry their pills with them.

Second, dieting comes with strong emotional issues. Dieters run a gauntlet of body self-image issues, willpower, fear of failure, and cravings as they attempt to achieve their goals. Sturgess cited data that emotional issues affect 85% of all decisions. Products that perform a rational purpose can fail if they don’t address emotional needs and wants.

To provide emotional support, GlaxoSmithKline designed the Shuttle to be both discrete and distinctive. The calming blue pill carrier looks like a contact lens case. The linear-arrangement of three smooth lobes fits comfortably in the hand. GlaxoSmithKline gave the Shuttle a smooth texture, like a worry-stone. The company intentionally left off any brand markings or names to avoid customer embarrassment — only fellow Alli users know what the little blue case means. The point is that the Shuttle is more than just a functional accessory: it’s a emotional talisman to support dieting.


  • Consider the emotional experiences, contexts, and meaning of the product and the product’s use.
  • Create product artifacts or accessories that support those emotional experiences.
  • Use non-functional product attributes (e.g., color, shape, and surface texture) to convey emotion.

Photo courtesy of Dov Friedmann –

1 Comment »Case study, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, Strategy

The Innovator’s Emerging Market Opportunity

Point: Current non-consumers (rather than current customers) may represent the best opportunity for an innovationclaytonchristensenwif1

Story: The future of solar power may be in the markets of Mongolia rather than in the high-tech companies of Western countries, said Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen at the World Innovation Forum.

Christensen’s recent visit to Mongolia led him to this view. In Mongolia’s capital, Ulan Bator, Christensen saw a very popular product in local markets: cheap solar panels attached to small portable TVs. Rural herders were buying these solar-powered products, and they were buying the products without needing government inducements to do so.

In the West, solar power competes with established power grids. As a result, solar has been seven years away from cost-competitive performance for 35 years. Solar still costs too much and needs government support (grants, subsidies or tax breaks) to create even the current low levels of adoption.

Adoption of solar power is low in the West because solar power competes with anytime/everytime electricity from 24-hour power plants and ubiquitous power grids. Sunlight, in contrast, is sporadic.

For Mongolians, the imperfections of solar aren’t a problem because the alternative is either no electricity at all or expensive disposable batteries. Almost one-third (32%) of Mongolians still live an off-grid, semi-nomadic life style. They move their collapsible, felt-lined homes to follow their flocks of goats, sheep, yaks, horses, and camels across the high plateau of Asia. Mongolians don’t expect flip-of-the-switch power for air-conditioners, hair dryers, or halogen mood lighting. Untold hundreds of millions live without power in Asia and Africa.

Christensen’s evidence suggests that solar power has the greatest opportunity to shine where it faces no preexisting electrical infrastructure. The rise of solar power may come from expanding the total base of electricity users, not from replacing one highly-optimized incumbent electrical system with another emerging innovation. For emerging technologies, emerging markets can be a key because they represent large populations of non-consumers for which the new idea needs to out-compete nothing.

The larger point is that Mongolia symbolizes a larger market of non-consumers with different needs and different requirements. Sometimes, an innovative product that can’t compete head-to-head with incumbent may nonetheless be vastly superior to the alternative of “nothing” in the population of consumers. Many companies have used this strategy to good effect.

For example, Southwest Airlines considered the car and bus — not other full-service airlines — as its primary competition. Intuit’s competitor for TurboTax software was the pencil, not other tax software packages. Tata’s Nano low-cost car competes with 2-wheelers in India. Non-consumers of air travel, tax software, and cars, respectively, were the targets for these new products, and non-consumers were a much larger markets than existing customers.


  • To find new markets, study non-consumers, not current customers
  • Find markets in which a new innovation is better than nothing, despite the innovation’s imperfections
  • Avoid head-to-head competition with a well-optimized incumbent.

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World Innovation Forum T5 case study: Mixed-Use is Effective Use

Point: Merging functionality can create innovations in efficiency and convenience
Story: As someone who spends more than my fair share of time in airports, I’ve wondered if passengers don’t deserve frequent flier miles for distances walked all over the terminal buildings. The food court is one place, the gate is in another, and finding a power outlet to recharge the laptop for the long flight home is always a challenge. In most airports, no single location suffices for all these purposes. When sitting at the gate, one doesn’t know if one has time to go grab a bite to eat. And when sitting at the restaurant, one doesn’t know if one’s flight is about to board.

OTG tackled this problem when they designed the airport experience for JetBLue’s new T5 terminal at JFK airport. OTG created a new mixed-use approach for some of the gate space. About half the 26 gates have special 16-seat clusters called “re:vive” that lets passengers eat, recharge, and keep an eye on their flight. Touchscreen monitors and credit card readers let passengers order, pay for, and have food delivered right to the gate. The ordering process even provides a delivery time estimate before a passenger gives the final “OK” for the order.

“Re:vive” is more than just a passenger convenience. It also boosts revenues for food concessionaires by reaching the underserved market of so-called “gate huggers” — passengers who don’t want to leave the gate area.

The “re:vive” concept is not unlike the notion of mixed-use building developments for cities, which create buildings with retail on the first floor, offices on the second and residential condos or lofts on the top floors. Mixed-use reduces urban sprawl and urban commuting times in the same way that re:vive reduces airport terminal sprawl and the burden of dragging luggage to and fro. Co-locating the functions that people need provides convenience.


  • Look for the customer activities that are currently separate but that could be concurrent or co-located
  • Merge functionality to reduce time, opportunity costs, and logistical overhead
  • Grow markets by serving those that don’t or won’t move from activity to activity

Source: World Innovation Forum presentation May 6, 2009

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