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Innovations in Analytics: new value from new and old data

Point: Develop new products and services by applying innovative analytics to unused data.

Story: Three companies presenting at Techstars Demo Day last week illustrate a category of innovation that is based on new uses of data. First, Retel Technologies is a_igp3809retel1 new company that helps retailers understand patterns of behavior at store locations. Many retailers have security cameras on site, but they rarely look at the data generated by those cameras because of the sheer volume of data. The raw data is typically viewed only in the event of a robbery. Retel, however, developed a cost-effective human-aided video data analysis service that extracts workplace performance analytics from all that unused video footage. For example, the system can help spot problems such as dirty tables at fast-food locations, employee theft, and capacity bottlenecks (such as a shortage of  cashiers during certain hours). Retel provides its clients monthly reports to help managers see trends, behaviors, and time-of-day patterns that can help them better manage their stores.

Second, a new company named Next Big Sound uses the realtime flow of events in _igp3850nextbigsoundsocial media to help band managers. The music industry is undergoing big changes, but sales of concert tickets are the highest they’ve been in ten years, and people are buying more music than ever. Giving band managers data can help them make better decisions. For example, real-time data from Twitter can be captured and analyzed to show who’s talking about which band and where they are — data that can provide great insight into a band’s fan base. Next Big Sound collects a host of both social media and web data to provide real-time marketing analytics that bands can use in variety of ways. For example, band managers can use the data to pinpoint the demographics of fans, scout new concert locations, and improve online ad placement. They can even suggest that a band mention people or events in the local area or give a shout-out to high-profile fans at a concert.

Third, Mailana is a company that uses communications analytics to help people leverage their social connections. These days, people are inundated by connections to other people. It’s not hard to have hundreds or thousands of connections in the form of entries in e-mail address books, friends on Facebook, colleagues on LinkedIn, and followers on Twitter. But who among the hoard of connections are the true trusted friends that one can really count on Mailana uses data on frequency and patterns of communication to automatically identify a person’s inner circle of most-trusted friends. Furthermore, Mailana helps people merge inner circles — a good trusted friend or a good trusted friend is far more valuable than a casual forgotten connection to another causal forgotten connection. Mailana helps people build and use the high-value core of their social graph.

In each of the three companies, innovative use of data provides new value.

Action:

  • Inventory the data sources around you, your company, and industry
  • Consider the potential analytic value of the data — what you might learn from that data? (or what might you learn more quickly?)
  • Leverage low-cost computing and workflow technologies to extract new and actionable knowledge

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No Comments »Case study, Entrepreneurs, Innovation, New Product Development, Opportunity, Strategy

Job-Focused Innovation

Point: When innovating, look at the “job” the customer hires a product to do
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Story: At the World Innovation Forum, Clayton Christensen cautioned companies against focusing only on customers when they create incremental innovations. Instead, he recommended understanding the job that the product is hired to do by those customers.

To illustrate the “product’s job” concept, Christensen described a fast food chain’s milkshake sales. At the demographic level, many milkshake buyers are working-age people. But the demographic similarity is not what drives people to buy milkshakes. (When the company researched demographically similar people, the results did not improve sales.) In fact, a focus on age and gender missed the job that milkshakes perform — why do people “hire” (buy) the milkshake? What job do they want the milkshake to perform?

Through further research, the fast food chain found that about half of milkshake sales occurred in the morning. These buyers came into the restaurant by themselves, bought a milkshake and nothing else, and drove away with the milkshake rather than consuming it at the restaurant. Looking deeper, researchers learned that the buyers were commuters, and the job of the milkshake was to provide distraction on a long commute and to tide them over until lunch. For this job, the milkshake competed with bananas, donuts, breakfast bars, and coffee. Commuters hired milkshakes over the competition because milkshakes take a long time to eat, don’t slosh or leave crumbs, and can be held in one hand or be put into a cupholder during the drive.

A very different group of milkshake buyers came in the afternoon and evening. These buyers were predominately dads with little kids. The dads were buying milkshakes for an entirely different job: that of assuaging guilt over not having enough time with their kids. Kids liked the milkshakes, and the dads could finally say “yes” to something and feel good about themselves.

Understanding the jobs people hire milkshakes to do is important when it comes to incremental product improvements. The two jobs for milkshakes call for diametrically different innovations. Thicker milkshakes would delight the bored commuter, but they would frustrate time-pressed dads because kids take too long to finish thicker shakes.

Simply put, innovations that would boost sales in one group would displease the other group. Commuters might want improvements like increased thickness, small added fruit chunks, and a grab-and-go purchase system that lets customers buy a milkshake without standing in the regular food line. In contrast, dads might want a smaller, thinner milkshake that provides fun but quick treat for the kids. The strategy for innovation in this case may be to have two different shake formulations: one for the morning and one for the afternoon/evening.

The point is to understand WHY someone buys the product, not WHO buys the product. The demographics of milkshake buyers are less important than the fact that one segment buys the product as a distraction and protracted meal while the other buys it as a sweet attraction and quick desert.

Action

  • Delve into the job(s) of the product, not the consumer(s) of the product.
  • Segment by purpose, not person.
  • Identify and innovate around job performance dimensions rather than product performance dimensions

1 Comment »Entrepreneurs, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, Opportunity, Strategy

Innovating in Emerging Markets: Tata & Unilever

Point: How you get a product to market may be as important as what you get to market.

Story: The previous post looked at product systems innovation to build a new car. Going a step further: some companies expand the systems thinking to include distribution and service. Consider Tata Motors, which created the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano. To reach a retail price of $2,000, Tata focused on the costs of every system of car, including the system for distributing and selling the car. To keep costs low, Tata created a modular design and an innovative distribution model. Tata will manufacture modules centrally and, in some cases, ship the cars as kits to local entrepreneurs who will assemble & sell them. Tata designed to the modules to be glued together rather than welded because gluing is less expensive and doesn’t require costly welding equipment. Tata will also train the entrepreneurs to do servicing.

Similarly, Hindustan Unilever pioneered a distribution model in 2001 to get its personal care products into the hands of rural villagers. A significant fraction of rural villages lack paved roads, making traditional truck-based distribution very difficult. The company developed a network of 14,000 women and women-owned co-ops to serve 50,000 villages. The women handle the logistics and door-to-door retailing of a range of personal care products. To address the needs of the market and the novel distribution system, Hindustan Unilever changed product packaging. By using this approach, Hindustan Unilever does not have to deal with the problem of moving product in rural India. The women or their employees come to the company’s urban distribution centers to get the product.

Action:
* When designing new products or services, consider how those products will be distributed.
* Think about the role that local entrepreneurs or business partners can serve
* Design the product to support the distribution channel (e.g., modularity, ease of assembly, packaging, etc.)

For more information: Vijay Govindarajan discussed Tata Motors’ strategy at the HSM webinar on March 18 and will be speaking at the World Innovation Forum being held May 5-6, 2009 in New York City

Hindustan Unilever’s distribution model: Discussed at MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics Roundtable on Supply Chain Strategies in Emerging Markets led by Dr. Edgar Blanco.

4 Comments »Case study, Entrepreneurs, Growth, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, Opportunity, Strategy

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