We all have childhood memories of begging our parents to buy that particular brand of cereal simply to get the ‘free prize’ inside. While most elders thought it was a cheap gimmick adding to the junk in the house, for the children, it was nothing short of finding a treasure!
While this marketing strategy had its ethical concerns of advertising to children, it still was a brilliant strategy that boosted sales without companies needing to change their core product, boost their advertising campaigns, and barely cost anything to boot. Such a ‘free prize’ idea could skyrocket sales and make a brand, product, or service irresistible to customers, without today’s high expenses of marketing and advertising, minimum resources and risk are invaluable.
Seth Godin’s Free Prize Inside (2004) delves into the power of small-scale innovations that can help marketers break through the white noise of advertising and make their products truly stand out.
Big Innovations And Expensive Advertising Is Redundant
Any product, service, or company that is at the brink of stagnancy resorts to the one thing that has earlier proved its mettle time and again – launching a major ad campaign.
However, today, traditional advertising has lost its mojo. The reason is simple – too many adverts and alternative forms of media available as platforms for these ads are bombarding the consumer every second. It is thus natural that consumers simply tune out.
Secondly, any company that wished to revamp its image and re-win customers would traditionally resort to a ‘big-innovation idea’. Such innovations would make the company or product a ‘one-of-a-kind’ in the market and rake in the customers and the moolah – at least until the competition would be able to catch up. The thought process here relies on the fact that the bigger the innovation, the bigger is the potential payoff. However, big innovations need big investments, and it is always a gamble considering the probability of the success of the innovation.
Essentially, not every product becomes the iPod of its category. The higher the expenditure on the big innovation, the higher one raises the threshold for success, and in turn, the higher are the risks of failure.
Small-scale Innovations Are More Suited For Today Economy
Innovation is still the key to success. However, it is also believed that innovation needs a ‘big idea’. No one really gets excited with a small innovative change like a slightly better processing speed in a computer. However, does one need a revolutionary innovation to really grab the attention of customers?
The answer to the question depends on how ‘revolutionary’ is defined. For example, Edison’s bulb was a revolutionary innovation of the time. However, since then, technology has advanced at a turbo speed, and thus an equivalent of Edison’s innovation today, would be a big-innovation idea, that would then increase the expense and thus success threshold and the risk of failure.
However, thankfully, looking for small-scale innovations within one’s industry or product line are effective methods. For example, smarter smartphone pricing can go a long way in an already saturated market, or purple ketchup could do the trick! Such small-scale innovations are not only easy on the budget but also have higher achievement feasibility.
Small-scale innovations, also known as soft innovations, are clever ideas that done need gigantic budgets or R&D. any organization can implement these with the right know-how. However, soft innovations can vary in innovativeness, and thus most of them aren’t very successful.
Making The Soft-Innovation Succeed
Considering most soft-innovations are a flash-in-the-pan, how does one ensure that the innovative idea has credibility for success?
We have already seen that mainstream advertising today, doesn’t have the credibility it once did. Today, word-of-mouth is a more powerful medium. However, the challenge lies in getting customers to spread the word. And for that, one needs to have a remarkable and desirable product or service that people can’t resist talking about.
For example, a ski resort that houses a great Mexican restaurant will piggyback on the word-of-mouth success of the restaurant. Ideally, the ski resort’s primary function – that is to provide visitors with a skiing experience – will function irrespective of the restaurant. Just like the toy in the cereal box, it is the great experience at the restaurant that will make the ski resort and the experience of the stay remarkable.
The ‘added remarkability’ of the extras – like the toy in the cereal or the restaurant at the ski resort – gives people an experience. Customers crave an added valued experience more than simply a product or a service. Hence, the ‘free prize’, or the added experience of the extras often influence consumers’ buying decision.
Therefore, marketers have to look for soft innovations that make a major difference to the actual product by adding remarkability. While these soft innovations become a ‘side benefit’ for customers, for the company, it is a boost in sales.
Finding that perfect soft innovation that will boost sales and help the product stand out, all at a cheaper cost feels easier said than done. However, it is actually a simple strategy called edge craft, or simply put, the art of giving a product or services an edge.
How does one give a product or a service an edge? Let’s consider a security services company. It could be challenging to make the service edgy. Now imagine if the guards of the security company dress up in trench coats and shades like the characters of the movie The Matrix, as opposed to regular guards uniforms. All of a sudden you find that interests are piqued.
Making a product or a service edgy requires taking aspects of the product or services as far as one can go in a new direction– or stretching it to the edges. Now anyone product could have many aspects and many edges defined. The marketer has to be able to identify these, select one of the aspects, and stake a position on it.
If we consider a restaurant as a product and customer dining experience the aim, we can find innumerable aspects that can be changed and redefined, such as, the location, the menu, the décor, etc. let’s say, for example, the restaurant owner chooses to make the wait staff aspect edgy. He could choose to have all the staff dress up in cosplay, maybe hire only exceptionally good-looking staff, or hire only twins.
The idea is to be as edgy and steer away from safe. Safe equals boring equals ‘doesn’t sell’!
Thinking Outside the Box And Even Industry For That Edge
Pursuing the concept of edge craft doesn’t need a lightbulb moment or a complicated brainstorming session. Edgecraft involves a simple process that gives marketers that push to finding the right edge to pursue.
To start, pick any service, product, or business from any other industry from the one your product is from. From that sector or industry, pick a product/service that is achieving remarkable success due to an added edge.
Let’s take an example of a hardware store that needs to find its edge. A few shops ahead of the store is a restaurant that has suddenly shot to fame due to its new weekly all-you-can-eat pepper chili night. What makes the restaurant popular all of sudden? The chili pepper night is the obvious answer. However, if we look beyond the surface, we find that it the ‘excessiveness’, or the ‘all-you-can-eat’ offer that occurs only once a week that helps give the restaurant its edge.
Now if the hardware store was to use the principle of excessiveness and apply it to their store, they could perhaps have an all-you-can-carry brick event for a reasonable cost of, probably, $9.
Thus, using the context of a successful company/product/service from a completely different industry to apply to one’s product helps in giving it an edge.
Imagination Is The Only Limit
Technically, the numbers of edges one can apply to their product are infinite. One can take any adjective from a dictionary and use it to find an edge. While it isn’t possible to explore all of these edges, let us look at some that can put the process of ‘edgecraft’ into perspective.
One edge for a marketer to start with is visibility that is, taking an invisible product or service and working on its visibility to customers. For example, a massage parlor can make their services (that are mostly invisible and happen inside personal rooms) visible, by putting chairs out and letting others see their customers relax while getting a head massage.
This is a very literal example of visibility. Visibility can also be figurative and have a broader meaning. For example, trying to amp up the looks of an otherwise inconspicuous line of cars at a dealership to make them more visible to customers.
Conversely, one can use invisibility to make an otherwise visible product invisible – literally and figuratively. For example, the metal braces that were common in the yesteryears have given way to innovations that have made braces literally invisible by changing the material used.
The contrasts between visibility and invisibility show that in edgecraft, it is possible to start with one edge, move on to a contradicting edge and finish at another different edge altogether.
For example, a shoe store wanting to work on the edge of exclusivity can stretch from selling only a particular type of shoes, or better yet, have stores open for only two days a week. Such an edge can make the store seem intriguing to customers.
The Main Obstacle
Coming up with edgecraft is simple enough and one can come up with many ideas, especially for soft innovation. However many face the challenge of converting those ideas into reality, as the other members of the organization are going to have to adapt and absorb the new edges to the product too!
While the idea seems veritable to a few, to some others it could be downright dumb and they could end up being skeptical, hesitant, or even absolutely hostile about it. While most of the pushback will be polite, it will still prove to be discouraging.
However, it is best to remember, that others’ opposition to any novel idea is a reaction of their own fears towards change, rather than a personal attack on the idea itself. Hence, one should not back down, be disheartened, or discouraged.
Additionally, it does well to remember that along with irrational fears that people will have towards the idea; there will be some reasonable doubts as well. And there is always a way of dispelling these doubts.
The Art Of Convincing: Is It Feasible?
Every new idea will have its fair share of ‘yays’ and ‘nays’. However, whatever form resistance ones ideas face, convincing is key.
Now to break through any resistance faced, one has to be able to gain leverage from the organization by developing a fulcrum to the resistance. Essentially one should position the idea by finding the pressure point that will help in levering the organization in favor.
To this, one has to be well prepared with answers to any kind of questions that could be asked.
To begin with simplest and the most important questions that is always the first is ‘Will it work?’
As someone who is pitching a new edgy idea to the company, it is a no-brainer that the person will be ready with a slick, polished, tight and persuasive presentation that shows arguments in favor of the idea.
However, it is not as simple either. And that is because the underlying question, of whether the idea will work cannot be answered without proving that the idea works – a prospect that impossible since it includes venturing into unknown territory.
That said, one could get others to believe that the idea could work. And for that, one has to appeal to the emotional rather than the intellectual minds of others. In order to appeal to the emotional side, one has to be able to anchor the belief in others by showing them another time-tested example, along with the innovativeness of merging the two.
For example, Toyota took a revolutionary, hybrid-electric engine, put in a sedan, and turned a boring old car into the Prius!
Another way of convincing others in the organization is to incorporate the organization’s way of doing things with the idea. For example, if the organization has a process of conducting focus groups to verify the probable success of a product, one could conduct a focus group to test out the idea, using the belief of others in the organizational process to convince them.
The Art Of Convincing: Is It Worth Pursuing?
Once others are convinced of the feasibility of the innovation, the next question that is bound to arise is, ‘Even if this is possible, will it be worth it after all?’
In any organization, while the base goal is the same and people work towards it, everyone has their own goals. It is essential that while trying to pursue everyone associated with the decision of moving ahead with the soft innovation, one keep in mind these differences.
Therefore, the convincing pitch has to be different for each, and it has to be aligned with what each of these members values. However, the biggest obstacle at this stage is to get these colleagues to steer away from their fear of the unknown. Essentially, they should be willing, if not comfortable, with getting out of their comfort zones. The feeling that ‘we’re not trailblazing, but we’re not in a bad place either needs to tackle.
What one needs to realize, is that the ‘we’re ok for now’ status quo itself threatens the future of any company. Staying in the comfort zone, the unwillingness to take on challenges, and the fear of change are weaknesses that eventually erode a company’s chances of success.
It is this conundrum that one has to put forth and convince the others about. One has to make the other see that this is a way to strengthen the weaknesses that can bring the company down.
The Art Of Convincing: The Final Push
There is only one final bit of convincing left. Convincing them of the right leadership. Without convincing the others that you are worthy of leading the project, the project will only remain an idea.
Proving oneself worthy of leadership, is ideally easier if one has a track record of leading and bringing projects to fruition. However, if this project is a first, then it is essential to push hard and work harder to convince people. After all, it’s easier for a Steven Spielberg to sell an idea to a production house than a first-time filmmaker!
In order to convince, one has to start small. One can volunteer to take on small leadership roles for smaller tasks. From there on, one has to take on bigger projects that will show a wider range of leadership skills. The idea is to build a formidable reputation of leadership, a great asset when the day of the final presentation arrives.
The final ingredient to add to convincing is to have oodles of confidence. In order to champion one’s idea, one has to sound, look and be a champion.
Small-scale soft innovations are the buzz in a time when big advertising and R&D budgets are out of reach. A soft innovation gives any product or service that extra edge and works like a charm – just like the ‘free prize’ inside a cereal box used to work.
To give a product or service that extra edge, one should apply the principles of edgecraft that will surely give a boost to any product, to the sales, and eventually the business.