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David Bohan: Innovation will attract the customers you need

October 26, 2012

nnovation is the lifeblood of a growing business.

Seeking new ways to attract and retain customers should be an essential part of your business plan, and while some innovations are only small improvements, you need some game-changing ideas in the pipeline.

As a marketer, you can be an innovator -- or at least a cheerleader for innovation.

Here's a collection of innovative products and services profiled by trendwatching.com, an organization that scans the world for consumer insights. They may spark some new thinking for your business.

Creating new features for existing products is one innovation standard.

Consider the Winter Wake-Up smartphone app, an alarm that monitors the weather online. If severe weather will affect your commute, you will automatically get an earlier wake-up alarm.

Red Tomato Pizza introduced a VIP refrigerator magnet. With the touch of a button, your favorite pizza is automatically ordered.

Fueled by the fear of losing smartphone battery power, fashion designer Richard Nicoll worked with British telecommunications company Vodafone to introduce a handbag that provides up to two days of extra battery life for your mobile device.

Three innovations stand out for combining technology with the desire for feedback about performance:

• Tennis racket manufacturer Babolat allows players to record real-time information with its Play & Connect system. The goal is to review performance data online, leading to improved technique.

• Users of GymPact commit to an exercise program -- and then are rewarded or fined for keeping or shirking on that commitment.

• Turning to financial fitness, South African firm 22seven offers an online system to show consumers how and where they spend money and then uses that information and psychology to teach them how to manage their budgets.

After Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Sony developed a wind-up mechanical USB charger. Three minutes of winding generates power for one minute of talk time. Also, Softbank introduced a smartphone with a Geiger counter feature.

Responding to the need for environmentally sensitive building materials, Alcoa introduced a product that actually eliminates smog. The building material cleans itself and the air around it.

For those of us who cannot keep our Facebook friends informed, theme parks in Belgium and Australia provide radio frequency identification (RFID) bracelets to visitors. Swiping your bracelet at a sensor lets you automatically "like" specific park features, notify friends what you're doing and tag pictures on Facebook.

Two examples of innovation based on creating an artificial shortage stood out. A Chicago bakery, the Doughnut Vault, closes its doors when it sells out. Not surprisingly, customers are lined up every morning.

And in a new twist to get fans to request radio airplay, the Belgian band Absynthe Minded released its latest music video on a dedicated website. The video is available for viewing only when the song is being broadcast on radio.

Innovation in response to human wants and needs, real or imagined, will yield rewards.

I encourage you to assess how your company can identify unfulfilled customer desires and build a culture that fosters innovation to meet them.

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