Heritage products and the link to innovation

Heritage products are everywhere and we can’t live without them. We become even more dependent when our taste buds or emotions are influenced. Take products for example chocolates, beer, soft drinks, deodorants, toothpaste, etc all have an element of stickiness and brand loyalty that span across generations. The challenge of launching a new product with a different taste is quite a risky affair, let alone messing with its branding.

In contrast look at electronic products. There is some degree of loyalty, but most people will defect if another great design comes along that is more feature rich or cool. Does this mean that there is no heritage component? I visited a number of interesting companies in the last two weeks (part of my project portfolio) all with different products, services, and all operating from different geographies. Well, I’m writing this from a train traveling from Zurich to Baar in Switzerland – arrived from London a few hours ago where I visited some clients.

Spending time with a global software company based in Durban, South Africa opened my eyes once again as to the level of expertise available in the region. Innovation is driven architecturally and strategically in cycles that need to coincide with trends and shifts in the ways your product will be used. Software businesses that execute their products on the Internet actually don’t sell products. They provide access to participants in the platforms they produce. Software businesses often see “heritage and legacy” in a negative light; or see it as a constrain in moving into a next era.

When you operate in a mature industry, innovation takes on a different shape than the fast paced digital, telecommunications, media, etc industries. Are there different models of innovation for fast paced versus slow paced industries (making the assumption you can use as one of the definitions of “pace” as rate of product introduction). What is relationship between heritage product and the maturity of the industry? Are the lessons learnt in high tech industries applicable to more traditional industries? Look at Jack Daniels for example, the entire company and product positioning story is about heritage. You buy the product because it has not changed in the last 100 years – would you accept this from Microsoft or Apple?.

The specificity of the implementation of the “model of innovation” is always under debate. Which generic models can be transported between industries? Look at the “innovation funnel concept”, a model that has been used since the 80’s. I would reason that service industries have very different needs when ideas need to be ranked and rated. The concept of the funnel needs to change quite considerably seeing that ideas develop differently when the dependency of heritage is strong?

“Keeping the ground solid while continuing to grow” is used by Toyota to show the ability in keeping heritage and traditional product brands alive (Corolla) while experimentation with new technologies and brands (Scion) push the company ahead. By using an innovation portfolio concept you can allocate project/initiative priorities based on the current context. This can be done in contrast to what needs to be done in the future to keep the business growing.

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