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Little by little. A good growth strategy?

Innovation type 2: Incremental

When thinking about innovation and their product strategy, how many businesses try to get away with as little cost as possible but plan for exceptional returns?

The old saying 'you get out what you put in' remains true for the investment approach in innovation. Despite all of the evidence showing that continued investment during downturns helps brands win longer term, in times of financial stress marketing budgets get squeezed, R&D is chopped back without really reducing the number of launches each year, and the resulting payback is often disappointing.

But a strong Product Strategy requires newness and innovation that is ideally based on the brand’s own positioning and expertise, and this can come in many forms, be that product, claims, format, or packaging. New products of course are an important way to attract consumer attention and give a boost to sales (hopefully!). However, the world is full of ‘stuff’ and certainly not all new products are 'innovative'.

In my experience the approach to planning of an annual NPD calendar can be sales- rather than consumer-driven, focused more on seasonal commercial opportunities and having something new to push, such as a new lipstick shade, rather than delivering against an unmet, performance based consumer need or desire. The 'NPD Churn' and annualisation of activity is familiar to most of you I'm sure, and despite oft-stated wishes to get off the treadmill, nothing changes.

But real innovation doesn’t have to be overly complicated to have a place in your plans.

Incremental innovation is defined as something that is focused on making an existing product a bit better, through performance improvement, user experience, packaging material, or durability.

It is the fastest and lowest cost innovation but with low barriers to entry for your competitors too, there is a strong chance that you’ll be quickly overtaken and replaced by the next new idea, so it also often lasts the shortest time.

Incremental innovation certainly will have a place in your Product Strategy, but it’s important not to become over-reliant on it. Having multiple launches that only deliver small returns over the longer term is a very expensive way of building your business, and Conscious Consumerism might further reduce the appeal of new products that don't really make a difference to the consumer's experience or outcomes.

On a positive note however, Incremental innovation can provide opportunities to develop a more Sustainable product portfolio, taking advantage of new packaging solutions that reduce your brand footprint, whilst having something that is announceable to your customers and arguably more relevant than a new flavour or fragrance. With the growth in interest in environmental concerns during the last 2 years I am expecting to see a lot more Incremental innovation over the next year as brands scramble to get their launch plans revived post COVID-19.

You’ll find some examples of Incremental innovation in the Stories section of my website, one of which allowed a brand to regain a market leading position by simply listening to their customers' unique needs.

You might want to think about other types of innovation – for example Disruptive innovation - to focus your future activity and investment, and balance your risk.

If you aren't sure about which type of innovation would suit your business, why not have a go with my interactive Innovation quiz ( to see if you could also be thinking about planning launches that are more ambitious with better payback.

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