One big sea of boring products

Christmas times are the yearly times when we shop, visit stores and look for gifts. Whether we like it or not, we do shop. We go walking on pavements, red carpets and admiring window-displays. Or, we slide and click and wipe between online boutiques, phone-sized stores and digital malls.

Have you ever walked your shopping-mall or your main street and wondered what is there actually that is new? What is new, exciting, desirable, and what is there to be found that I did not know I wanted? What captures me, what can really seduce me?

Maybe we should ask ourselves “What is different?”. It seems to me we are engulfed by a sea of look-alike, more of the same, copy-paste. A new variant, new form or merely a new packaging.

In an ever-extending display of product and brand-extensions, name and line-extensions which are not that addressing our needs and wants, our wanting to feel special and unique. It feels that we are instead turned into a cocoon of sameness.

What does not surprise me is the number of stores and points of sales where not only the products, such as “special coffee”, come in many varieties and are presented in weird size names. Not even the fact that even the mediocre or blatantly bad customer-service is copied comes to me as a surprise. I got used to it. I am not impressed, yet I avoid these places at all price. Ask me to go to a Starbucks and my eyebrows already make unpleasant moves as a starter indication to the more vocal form of refusal. I might stay polite and diplomatic and try to find a way out of the invitation.

Forgive me for a moment, that I am a fully grown-boy who still likes cars. But my liking may explain you what I feel. What does surprise me is that the Alfa Romeo brand is used as a pawn in the game to position a whole car-empire. That a brand like Maserati is the same, merely a way to capture the lost American market as a badge on a common platform of vehicles for the middle class.

What does surprise me that in the quest for efficiency and effectiveness of major corporate policies, written in documents full of big words and large numbers, all these experts forgot to look at the basics of marketing.

The basics of good marketing are surprisingly simple. It is about filling in the needs and wants of the customer and potential customer, with nice and kept promises, delivering the right products and services to satisfy these needs. If you are lucky and smart, you can overgrow this and surprise me with excellence and turn me into a loyal foodie or car-boy or some other fan that looks forward to your newest offer. Alas, very few firms have understood this. They fight for short-term ideals such as scorecards on the stock exchange. They offer a brand concept that developed over decades for a new shocking public relations moment.

An Alfa Romeo was a car of dreams for many young men. Now it is your dumb commuter full of buttons like any other car. It lost its soul completely. It is like any Fiat now.

A Maserati was a racing beast that provided breathtaking and brutal acceleration before Turbos were invented. It always had a unique style and an identity, that instantly grouped schoolboys when one car appeared suddenly. Looking in awe, making them dream, hope, than one day …. It is like any Chrysler now (again).

When will you make me dream again?

If you don’t, I will take soon your job away!
Philip Houtekier

In the picture: Children admiring a sports car in Pasila in the 1950s
Photo by Eino Heinonen

The 10 Principles of Good Design

Dieter Rams has published Ten Principles of “Good Design”. He is a German industrial designer closely associated with the consumer products company Braun and the Functionalist school of industrial design. His unobtrusive approach and belief in “less but better” design generated a timeless quality in his products and have influenced the design of many products, which also secured Rams worldwide recognition and appreciation.

You can check easily how well your products are designed by considering them in the light of these principles.

1 Good Design is Innovative: The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.

2 Good Design Makes a Product Useful: A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

3 Good Design is Aesthetic: The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

4 Good Design Makes A Product Understandable: It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.

5 Good Design is Unobtrusive: Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.

6 Good Design is Honest: It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept

7 Good Design is Long-lasting: It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.

8 Good Design is Thorough Down to the Last Detail: Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.

9 Good Design is Environmentally Friendly: Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.

10 Good Design is as Little Design as Possible: Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Good luck!

Why you should do business with the EU


We have 500 million consumers looking for quality goods
We are the world’s largest single market with transparent rules and regulations
We have a secure legal investment framework that is amongst the most open in the world
We are the most open market to developing countries in the world

The EU is in prime position when it comes to global trade. The openness of our trade regime has meant that the EU is the biggest player on the global trading scene and remains a good region to do business with.

The EU has achieved a strong position by acting together with one voice on the global stage, rather than with 28 separate trade strategies.

Europe has become deeply integrated into global markets. Thanks to the ease of modern transport and communications, it is now easier to produce, buy and sell goods around the world which gives European companies of every size the potential to trade outside Europe.

Workers often deliver their services across different countries within a multinational or by specific service contracts.

As investors thrive in a stable, sound and predictable environment, they are looking for investment barriers to be dismantled and investments to be protected. Every day, Europe exports hundred of millions of euros worth of goods and imports hundreds of millions more. Europe is the world’s largest exporter of manufactured goods and services, and is itself the biggest export market for around 80 countries. Together, the European Union’s 28 members account for 16% of world imports and exports.

Why does it matter?
The development of trade, if properly managed, is an opportunity for economic growth. So EU trade policy seeks to create growth and jobs by increasing the opportunities for trade and investment with the rest of the world. By working together, Europe has the weight to shape an open global trading system based on fair rules – and to ensure that those rules are respected. The EU’s success is inextricably bound up with the success of our trading partners, both in the developed and developing world. For this reason, sustainable development is central to trade policy.

Facts and figures on the EU’s position in global markets
The EU is the largest economy in the world. Although growth is projected to be slow, the EU remains the largest economy in the world with a GDP per head of €25 000 for its 500 million consumers. The EU is the world’s largest trading block. The EU is the world’s largest trader of manufactured goods and services. The EU ranks first in both inbound and outbound international investments. The EU is the top trading partner for 80 countries. By comparison the US is the top trading partner for a little over 20 countries. The EU is the most open to developing countries. Fuels excluded, the EU imports more from developing countries than the USA, Canada, Japan and China put together.

The EU benefits from being one of the most open economies in the world and remains committed to free trade. The average applied tariff for goods imported into the EU is very low. More than 70% of imports enter the EU at zero or reduced tariffs. The EU’s services markets are highly open and we have arguably the most open investment regime in the world. The EU has not reacted to the crisis by closing markets. However some the EU’s trading partners have not been so restrained as the EU has highlighted in the Trade and Investment Barriers Report and the report on protectionism. In fact the EU has retained its capacity to conclude and implement trade agreements. The recent Free Trade Agreements with South Korea and with Singapore are examples of this and the EU has an ambitious agenda of trade agreements in the pipeline.

The European Union is still the biggest market in the world
Europe is the world’s largest importer of both manufactured goods and services. It has the largest stocks of foreign direct investment abroad and is the world’s largest host of foreign direct investment. Even in context of the crisis our imports continue to rise: the EU imported €740 billion in manufactured goods in the first six months of 2012, up 4.5% on the same period last year. The EU is the top trading partner for 80 countries. By comparison, the US is the top trading partner for a little over 20 countries. 60% of EU imports come from developing countries and Europe is the largest importer of goods from least developed countries, at 36% of their total exports. Europe’s is also a highly diverse market, offering opportunities to producers at all stages of the value chain. The EU imports primary products, like agricultural goods, raw materials and energy, alongside capital equipment, chemicals and a vast range of consumer goods. The European market is highly competitive and requires companies to meet exacting consumer expectations. As a result, deeper trade and investment links with Europe mean companies learn to become more internationally competitive, helping them both in other markets around the world and at home. What is more, European companies are world technological leaders in the infrastructure that many emerging countries need to take them to the next stage of development, whether in transport, sanitation, environmental services, logistics, telecoms or oil and gas exploration. Importing those products from Europe is a short-cut to a more advanced economy.

Sustaining versus disruptive innovations

Professor Clayton Christensen has written extensively on the subject and shown that an important dilemma faces the firms when confronted with disruptive innovation.
Sustaining technologies foster improved technological performance. They can be discontinuous, radical or incremental in character. They all improve the performance of established products along the dimensions of performance that mainstream customers in major markets have historically valued. 
Most technological advances in a given industry are sustaining in character. Rarely the most radically difficult sustaining technologies precipitated the failure of leading firms.
Disruptive technologies are innovations that result in worse product performance, in the near-term. They bring to market a very different value proposition than previously was available. They generally under-perform established products in mainstream markets. But they have other features that a few fringe and generally new customers value. Products based on disruptive technology are typically cheaper, simpler, smaller and frequently more convenient to use.

The dilemma
The innovator’s dilemma lies in the fact that the logical, competent decisions of management that are critical to the success of their companies are also the reasons why these companies lose their positions of leadership.
How can we resolve this dilemma? How can executives simultaneously do what is right for the near-term health of their established businesses, while focusing adequately resources on he disruptive technologies that ultimately could lead to their own downfall.

Dilemma solution
The dilemma posed to innovators by the conflicting demands of sustaining and disruptive technologies can be resolved. Managers must first understand what these intrinsic conflicts are. They then need to create a context in which each organisation’s market position, economic structure, development capabilities and values are sufficiently aligned with the power of their customers that they assist, rather than impede, the very different work of sustaining and disruptive innovators.

The organisational environment
The reasons why innovation often seems to be so difficult for established firms is that they employ highly capable people, and then set them to work within processes and values that weren’t designed to facilitate success with the task at hand. Ensuring that capable people are ensconced in capable organizations is a major management responsibility in an age such as ours, when the ability to cope with accelerating change has become so critical.

Moving on
“Have a bold vision. The best leaders aren’t afraid to be bold. You must make big bets and when appropriate take big risks, or you will only succeed incrementally. It’s important to surround yourself with a team that allows you to make your bold vision a reality, even when there isn’t a blueprint for success. You won’t always spot transitions correctly and there will be some misses along the road. But when you have the courage to make the right move and move as one team, the payoff is unlike any other. At Cisco, our vision is to change the way the world works, lives, plays and learns, and we have a team that is committed to making this bold vision a reality. ” John Chambers, Chairman and CEO, Cisco

What can we do for you?
We help you to consider your innovation within a commercial market environment. We set up for you a Tiger Team that will be be handling the various aspects of the innovation in a wider context so that your innovation can grow within the right environment, and create for you the insights of its full potential. We help you to consider various business models for your innovation. This will allow you to be prepared to make the right choices at the time your innovation will be commercialised. It will benefit you from the past experiences and help you avoid to face the dilemma unprepared.