The word ‘Innovation’ comes from the Latin root word innovare, which means ‘to renew or change’ and not, as is commonly assumed, the introduction of something new.
My innovation story is about buying a new car. I traded mine in during the summer because the price for my second hand car was phenomenal, largely caused by a lack of super conductor chips that were all destroyed in a factory fire in Germany. All the top brands were affected; BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar and Landover and it created a waiting list of around half a year for a new car
Buying an electric car
As any good accountant will tell you – now is the time to buy an electric car, so my wife and I wanted to look at a Polestar, which is a Swedish electric car manufacturer. The sales of electric and hybrid cars have never been greater, but have you ever seen a Polestar dealership? No, because they don’t have them. These guys have come from nowhere, engineered a car from scratch and as well as the innovative technology they use under the bonnet, the way they sell those cars is also completely different.
We arranged to see a vehicle at our local ‘centre’ – not a dealership, more like an art gallery- we booked in and were given a car and a route to follow via GPS and off we went, just the two of us. They made us aware that we wouldn’t be able to buy the car on the day, because they don’t employ sales people at the ‘centre’.
During your tour and test drive Polestar don’t talk price and they don’t talk finance deals; you can ask as many question as you want but there is no haggling. The next day you get a text which basically says if you are interested press 1, and if not thanks all the same.
The cars are a very impressive in their own right, but my point is they’ve innovated the whole sales process; my wife who does not like car dealerships, because she doesn’t like being sold to, could spend the whole morning touching all the fabric, getting in and out of the cars, all with no pressure, it’s a completely different way and that was the perfect buying experience from us.
I think there is a scale that innovation can be measured on from incremental right up to disruptive where a process – or in my example a customer journey has been turned on its head.
They are also innovative in their approach to the competition – I did a blog about Competing v Completing earlier in the year and as far as Polestar are concerned as long as the consumer chooses an electric car versus a petrol and diesel one, whether it is theirs or a Tesla or another brand, they don’t care. They want to grow the electric brand as a whole, they’re conscious that they’re innovating alongside Tesla or more traditional car manufacturers but as long as you’re in one of their ecosystems, long-term, that’s still a result for their business.
Top 10 most innovative companies in the UK
To help my discussion with , I Googled the top 10 most innovative companies in the UK. Some of the results might surprise you.
- Dyson – no great surprise with an investment of around $2m a week in R&D activities
- Shazam –an app that can identify music, movies, ads and TV shows, based on a short sample heard by your smart device
- Mind Candy-created an online game for children called Moshi Monster which is like a virtual Tamagotchi for the digital age. Your kids will be all over it.
- Arm Holdings, – who create semiconductors and chips, for smartphones and devices
- Spotify- the world’s largest music streaming service provider
- Burberry- the retail giant founded in the mid-19th Century has taken onmichannel retail to a new level. In their flagship Regent St store you can have a coat tailored to your fit and in real time see what it would look like if you took the hem up three inches or shortened the sleeves. They have brought the buying experience into the modern age.
- Heatherwick studio. Is a collection of designers and architects who in their own words are ‘dedicated to making the physical world around us better for everyone’.
- Raspberry PI has created a credit card-sized computer which you buy and then they challenge you to turn it into something else. I have one that is emulating an old Nintendo gaming system. You can turn them into security cameras, servers, phones, whatever. It’s an amazing bit of kit but in addition for every one bought they give one to the schools for kids to learn to code and build computers.
- Berg, were a creative design consultancy that wrapped up a few years ago.
- Marks and Spencer – who make the list because of their drive to make their stores greener. They’ve reduced CO2 by 23% in the last 15 years; they now operate at zero waste and have embraced eComm which has resulted in web and mobile sales going up 17% on.
Some of the businesses on this list are very new, some like Burberry and Marks and Spencer’s are very old, which proves that innovation is not just a young businesses game. But for me, while market disruption can come from start-ups and new businesses, for an entire industry to shift to something new, it needs one of the big players, the established brands to pivot to show the world what’s possible.
We have seen the way that streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have come along and stolen market share from traditional TV services and cinema to some extent, but now Disney – probably one of the oldest media companies in the world has launched Disney+ into the mix, now everyone is jumping on this streaming bandwagon. HBO are now doing it, Sky has a streaming service too.
If Mark’s and Spencer’s get their e-commerce site absolutely nailed and working, there’s no excuse for the other established high street retailers not to be able to move along with those times. Like Polestar, M&S has re-engineered the customer experience.
The remarkable tablet
I wanted to finish this blog talking about one of the best named products on the market. It has no internet, doesn’t send or receive text messages; it is basically a tool to write notes on. For me it’s replaced a thousand Xero branded notebooks and has reinvented writing on paper- which, incidentally is one of their core marketing messages. It allows me to complete a simple process of writing notes and then, once I have finished, by pushing a button it turns my notes into text and emails them to our systems so that everyone in the team has got a record of my notes.
It means that whenever I meet a client or pick up the phone to someone, I push a button and I’ve got their notes in front of me; I don’t have to go hunting through the last book to find the last time I spoke to them and that is a complete game changer in my world.
By the time I’d had it six months –despite feeling it was a finished product- it had moved on three or four times. Now whatever you write can appear on a second unit in real time, which is mind-boggling. The point is though, they could have waited to release it when it was perfect, which might have delayed its launch but instead they put it out there and continued to innovate.