October 10, 2019
The way these articles typically go: Innovation is accelerating at an unprecedented rate. Industries change overnight. Competitors come from anywhere. Surprise, surprise, they use new technologies to disrupt legacy players. Companies that aren’t disrupting themselves become dinosaurs. Cue sleek ad for company and roll credits.
The way this piece will go: Chemical and materials companies have three simple tasks that, if done well, can ensure great business results decades to come. They must launch novel products faster than competitors, have those products adopted rapidly in the market, and maintain customer loyalty to those products over time to offset the sunk cost of creating and servicing them. ¹
Sounds easy enough, right? If only it were as simple as the wave a magic wand...
Chemicals and materials industry leaders are facing a challenge unknown to previous generations (and no, it isn’t digitalization...well, not directly at least). So, if not digitalization, the de facto nightmare / panacea for the industry, what, then, could this issue be? Alien invasion? Return of the dinosaurs? While not quite as exhilarating as either of those options, the answer, while more boring, is potentially just as impactful: customer demand is shifting faster than ever before. In today’s always-on world, brands are one sensational YouTube ad served on their smartphones away from ditching your goods and moving to the competitor.
This ever-shifting landscape of consumer demand has serious, often irreversible impacts on the materials world. While the average consumer may not have the slightest clue about the impact their preference for an extra strong iPhone screen, electrically powered Tesla and mineral infused Smart Water have on the materials value chain, chemical and materials company executives lose sleep pondering ways to keep pace with - or dare I say OUTPACE! - these seismic shifts in buying preference.
A concrete example of a material science company that missed exactly this sort of generational shift not long ago is Kodak. They refused to pivot from film to digital. Despite having invented the world’s first digital camera, their success coupled with the growing capital burden of investing in digital caused them to miss the rising, all consumptive wave of the then nascent technology. ²
On the other hand, the story of Corning Gorilla Glass and Apple’s legendary partnership in creating consumer demand with the iPhone reminds us that the upsides to this innovation game are potentially astronomical. ³
A picture is worth a thousand words.
Based on the very simple illustration above - one that likely isn’t new to many of our readers, we see again the simple premise shared earlier: launch fast, accelerate adoption, and sustain success over time. The good news is that today there are tools available, from upfront innovation strategy to post-launch customer success, which enhance access to data, facilitate cross-departmental collaboration, and ensure visibility from innovation roadmapping and initial R&D to post-sales adoption monitoring and proactive product enhancement. With each of these elements being weighted and cared for appropriately, organizations are in a proactive place of strength (rather than a reactive place of weakness) to pull the appropriate levers of their innovation strategy, making it simultaneously more effective and more efficient.
A few of the key impact areas that can be addressed with better tools in the idea collection, product development and post-sales environments for chemical and materials companies: