Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said that innovation separates leaders from followers. Serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis says, “You have to have a big vision and take very small steps to get there.”
The pace is in dispute, but the need for brands to advance technologies and find new ways to engage with the near always-on wireless user is universal.
But how? And what shape does that take?
“If you have a real specific need for doing it and you think it's going to solve a problem, being an early adopter (of technology) is great,” former JetBlue mobile lead Jonathan Stephen told me in an interview for my new book, “The Art of Mobile Persuasion”. http://artofmobilepersuasion.com
“You are quick to fail and quick to being successful. There are others out there who think this can be an enhancement to an experience and maybe those are the ones who don't necessarily jump on the early bandwagon but they continue to see as the technology improves itself, that they will adapt over time and a lot of the kinks will have been worked out. Best practice would have been created and they would have followed those guidelines.
“It really depends on the position that you're in. If you've got the capital to do that kind of investment, by all means I always think that being an early adopter is fantastic but you have to be prepared to fail. You're not going to get it right the first time (all the time). No one ever has.”
Sometimes being second, third or later has its advantages.
WhatsApp, built by former Yahoo employees as a text-messaging alternative, is a cross-platform mobile messaging app that allows users to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. In 2014, Facebook purchased the company and access to more than 600 million active users for $19 billion.
“I always use the phrase, ‘I may not be early to the party but I always like to make an entrance,’” Stephen said. “Sometimes there are technologies out there and I wasn't the first to get to it but I definitely want to make sure that I get noticed when I launched that technology. It takes a lot of thought. It takes a lot of strategy in terms of what is behind it. It takes a lot of humility to take a step back and realize where you will be successful and where you want there to go.
“There will be a lot of successes and a lot of failures. You learn that over time. But more than anything it goes all the way back to that business strategy.”
Credibility is more important than that new widget, something that Stephen thinks about each time that he walks into senior management with a plan and asks for resources.
“False promises is what creates contention within the executive level,” he said. “You don't want to change the way your business has been running. If your business hasn't been innovative in the past, if the goal is to take your business out of the 1950s and get it into the future where you become this early adopter - it takes an organizational change to do that. You can't force technology upon an organization.”
Curtis Kopf, who recently left Alaska Airlines to drive change at Premera Blue Cross has, has seen – and been part of innovation – in large enterprises including Microsoft and Amazon.
At Amazon, he was part of a hand-picked 14-person team in the U.S., Europe and Asia that scaled and extended “Search Inside the Book,” a discovery tool that searches and displays the full contents of hundreds of thousands of books from domestic and international publishers.
“Every company wrestles with this,” Kopf said of innovation. “We all come from different places whether you are an airline, a bank, or Amazon.com. I've experienced the spectrum of companies based on their business model and who they are have different comfort levels and appetites.
“Amazon.com is going to be a company that makes really big bets -- things that may not materialize for five years or seven years, even ten years. Other companies won't view the world that way.”
Everyone, Kopf said, has a place.
“There's definitely a continuum of innovation and then there are obviously companies out there that are category creators,” he said. “Clearly a lot of the companies that we think of innovators weren't first. Obviously Google wasn't the first search engine (in fact, 20 were launched earlier, according to Wikipedia). They just did it in the new and better way. Apple definitely wasn't the first to do a smartphone. They just did it in a new and better way.
“Innovation is talked about so much that it is almost become meaningless. Every company on the planet says that they are innovative. It's part of their mission statement. Obviously as consumers we all interact with these brands and the truth is that they are not all innovative.”
While he was leading change at Alaska Airlines, Kopf and his team had a broad definition of innovation.
“Being an airline we want to make sure since we have 13,000 employees, many of whom are not technologists, that people are clear that innovation is not just about technology,” Kopf said. “We define innovation as solving problems in new ways. Just keep it as simple as that. And then there is a range of innovation from incremental to disruptive.
“Being first is great. There are times that being first could be really important. If you can get it an advantage that you can sustain, there's some buzz and credit that you get from customers by introducing something first. But I don't think innovation in and of itself means being first. It could be taking something that someone else started and doing it in a new way.”
The paths are diverse, but the end goal for brands remains the same – mobile persuasion that drives sales, engagement, and loyalty.
(article first appeared at http://blogs.imediaconnection.com/blog/2015/07/29/persuading-mobile-users-through-innovation/)