Innovator: Make Your Technology Human!

By Shlomo Maital     


   The 2012 annual Interbrand report on most valuable brand rankings is out.  There are some big surprises, and some major lessons. (Global NYT, Oct. 3, p. 19).  Coca Cola is first, for the 13th straight year. No-one manages a brand like Coke.

   The big winners are Apple, which rose to 2nd from 8th last year, and Apple’s rival, Samsung, which rose from 19th in 2010, 17th in 2011…to 9th in 2012, the biggest single-year gain of the top 20 brands.

   When I teach innovation to R&D engineers, I focus a lot on emotional and affective aspects of products.  Often, IT engineers ask me whether all this is relevant for technology-intensive products, like networking hardware.  I always reply that in the end, any product is sold to a human being, and human beings have feelings and make decisions based on them.  IBM built a major global business selling high-tech technology, with the slogan:  No-one ever lost their job buying IBM.  The point?  IBM’s stuff may be less advanced than more innovative firms, but it works, and we sell you peace of mind and security.  I often ask salespersons, who are also engineers, whether the emotional aspect of their products counts, and they always stress that it does. 

    Apple is not #2 because it sells features or technology. It is there because it sells ‘cool’.  Samsung is #9, not because of its Galaxy’s features, but because it is beautiful and easy to use.  Amazon made #20, from #26 last year, and #36 in 2010, because its Kindle is simple and user-friendly.  Disney dropped to #13, from #9, because it has totally lost the Disney brand – wholesome family stuff kids love.  HP dropped from #10 to #15 because nobody understands any more what HP stands for or what it is trying to sell.

   So – innovator!  Remember —  in the end, you never sell technology, even if your product is highly technology intensive.  In my book Innovation Management, 2nd edition, I have two tables asking innovators to identify, a) what precise need their product meets, in one word, and b) when that need is met, what precise feeling or emotion is generated?   This is a very hard exercise, especially because I force students to choose a single need and a single emotion. But this encourages focus and clear brand definition.  If you don’t know what feeling you’re trying to create, you haven’t yet fully understood your innovation.

       By the way the top 20 brands, in order, are:  Coke, Apple, IBM, Google, Microsoft, GE, McDonald’s, Intel, Samsung, Toyota, Mercedes, BMW, Disney, Cisco, HP, Gilette, Louis Vuitton, Oracle, Nokia, Amazon.