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3 Innovation Trends We See in 2021 and Beyond | By Paul Miklautsch

The ongoing pandemic that began last year has shaken up almost every industry. Companies in industries like healthcare and manufacturing have certainly felt the impact–some in more ways than others. No one knows which of these shifts will be temporary and which will be permanent, but one thing is certain: market disruption impacts the way we think about innovation. 

The big takeaway? Every shift can be an opportunity for product innovation. Here are three scenarios that illustrate the impact of Covid-19 and the types of industry trends we believe will result as companies turn big change into market opportunities that drive their innovation ideas.

 

Scenario 2: A Pandemic-Related Sales Decline
Trend: Re-thinking Product Offerings 

While some businesses have seen sales skyrocket, other companies have been on the more unfortunate end of market shifts. Take restaurant dishwashers for example. In a time where takeout is not only preferred, but even required in many places, equipment such as this has seen much less demand.

In these cases, the companies who flex and adapt will ask themselves: what is the opportunity for innovation here? Some manufacturers have re-tooled temporarily for PPE production. But for companies who can’t make such an abrupt shift in its product mix, what can change? One consideration is a more bare-bones iteration of a best selling product. A lower priced, light version may be more accessible to industries suffering greatly right now–and possibly for years to come.  

Another idea is to consider restructuring pricing models. Products that you’ve always sold outright may now be paid for in installments or even leased. Similarly, can business models be re-imagined? Bundle offerings may help customers stay loyal to your portfolio in these more shaky times. 

It may be time to look at your product mix altogether. Perhaps it’s time to kill the product that you’ve been needing to, or consider a heavily altered iteration. Know of a competitor’s product that’s outperforming yours? Consider integrating similar features into your own product to make a competitive play. 

 

Scenario 1: A Surge in Sales 
Innovation Trend: Research to Drive Customer-Centric Innovation

The pandemic has pushed for many products to be used in great supply or differently from their original use. For example, laboratory testing equipment has spiked, as have swimming pool installations. Telehealth services have become a common practice where they used to be a special circumstance. 

High demand is great! But how do you keep numbers up when the pandemic slows? Whether you have seen an increase in repeat customers, acquired new customers or both, it is crucial to understand their needs so you can continue your momentum well beyond the pandemic. 

One approach is to dive deeper into your understanding of the user of your product. This will help you analyze shifts in customer behaviors driven not just by the pandemic, but other factors that change over time. Market research, from ethnographic research to unmet needs to user testing, can help you understand your customers’ needs more deeply and perhaps meet needs with an existing product or service that you haven’t met in the past. This may mean marketing your product mix differently or creating a new, optimized iteration.  

Your market research may just uncover insights that lead to concept designs for brand new products and services altogether. Product line extensions, complementary offerings or even accessories that you never realized your customer would really appreciate. Research can feed insights for really effective strategic planning sessions and innovation workshops. Now is the time to explore the possibilities and invest in the knowledge and efforts that will lead you to future gains.

 

Scenario 3: A Need to Go Contactless 
Trend: Digital Innovation is More Essential than Ever

2021 will be the ultimate year for digital transformation. Even companies that weren’t digitally inclined before have had to find a way. Where in 2020 we saw a flustered flurry of attempts to switch things online, from doctors visits to online menu ordering, 2021 will see an evolved, more strategic approach to digital innovation. 

Companies have come to realize that the need for contactless and digital solutions is here to stay and so are planning for it accordingly. Consumers expect a smooth and seamless digital interaction and companies will employing the user testing, UX and digital integration tactics it will take to make it happen.  

Our own company is doing more remote ethnographic research, for example. While we still value the benefits of in-person research, we realize that an option for video is essential during the pandemic and can be helpful long after in a variety of situations, such as saving travel costs for clients whose subjects operate all across the world.

Now is the time to check in on your digital transformation strategy. Have needs changed from nice-to-have to necessary in your industry? Is moving to an app-based system possible? Can some services be accomplished remotely with digital technology? Can some operations be shifted to an electronic interface instead of human? 

What industry trends have you seen that inspire your own ideas? Now is the time to experiment with digital product and service design.

 

Your Innovation Story 

How do these trends apply to you–this year and beyond? Let’s explore the opportunities together. Start a conversation or learn more about the Innovation Funnel, our approach to innovation

By Paul Miklautsch - March 23, 2021

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