the novelty formula
let's talk about real differentiation
Innovation, disruption, revolution: all words bandied about too often in the pursuit of creating novelty. Every single week, we’re bombarded by press releases, decks, and briefs that all try to chase after this one goal: doing something different.
Some, of course, do it better than others (lol, remember Juicero?). And others justify their businesses usually through some remix of the following statement:
This business is the [insert more successful business here] of [this category]. i.e. “We’re the Uber of the retail category.”
A challenge I commonly pose to the above is: if you have to justify your business or speak to its place in the world by using another, more successful business as an analogue…you need to hone in much, much closer on your why. After all — is creating more stuff really making our lives better?
Or, is it simply making life more complicated and contributing to a culture of overconsumption and production?
The below framework is one that I used often to hone in on whether a project/brand will be successful, and if our brand strategy feels ownable. I find that a truly novel idea is found in the intersection of one or many of the following four values:
A true opportunity to create novelty comes through the process by which a product is made itself. By centering ownable processes and technologies at the core of a brand, rather than reverse-engineering innovation, a brand can create a true point of difference.
Are you developing a new, more efficient way of doing something we’ve always done?
Are you inventing an entirely new process to get from A to Z, and can the technology be used as a cornerstone of differentiation?
Have you developed a way to make something previously wasteful and harmful for the environment friendlier?
Perhaps the most obvious here, but are you contributing to a glut of brands doing the same thing? If a product is borne only out of a desire to chase a trend, a brand won’t have an enduring life.
Is this product preventing waste - i.e. a reusable version of something that is single-use?
Is this product making something faster or easier?
Is this product a response to a real need or lack in my life, or someone I know’s life, and would it make my/their lives easier if it existed?
Aligned closely with product is the concept of having a novel proposition. Generally, a novel proposition can be a result of one of a few things:
Making something more accessible to a wider range of people
Delivering a feeling or creating a ritual around something
How do you create value for people by existing, or are you just another thing for them to buy?
Finally, people — or audience.
One of the most powerful ways to do something new is to think about an audience that has traditionally been overlooked – and create from a place of need for them. This does not mean capitalizing on a market from a pure opportunist point of view - it means work with empathy and with a desire to make people’s lives better, easier, to make people feel heard.
If I create this product, will it enable change or spur others to do better, thereby creating change at scale?
If I create this product, will I serve an audience no one has served, that has been traditionally ignored or underrepresented?
If I create this, will the next generation of people feel more empowered and seen? How will I make sure that I do not exploit this audience, and give back to them in a considered way?
By no means is this list of questions comprehensive. But, they should provide plenty of inspiration and a proper toolkit to challenge, pressure test, and actually build something new.
P.S. We’re kind of trying to build a lot of new things. Join us: workwithblank.com/join