#Outovating: Innovating From The Outside In

Our blog mixes inspirational tales with posts on the business/tech side of travel.  Titles are usually a dead giveaway, but subjects may vary.  You’ll see both sides – that’s a good thing.

Where does innovation come from?  According to one popular theme – reinforced by TV shows like HBO’s Silicon Valley – new technologies and products come from a group of hoodie and jeans clad wunderkind techies cranking out code in a dark, dank garage.

They work tirelessly towards launch, arguing over coffee and microbrews about how to make their product hella awesome. At launch the product meets reality. Often it fails because it was developed in an internal bubble, with little regard for how it will be received by customers.

outovating IMAGE - chris-barbalis-98731-unsplash

Innovation can only thrive outside the constraints of internal structures and biases.  (Milan vertical forest image by Chris Barbalis)

The history of new product launches is littered with the rejected carcasses of seemingly brilliant yet ill-conceived ideas (RIP Pets.com spokes-puppet).  Old skool marketers will also recall one of the greatest blunders of all time, New Coke.  Wha?  Yes, back in 1985 Coca-Cola executives thought they’d mess with the formula that made their soft drink a global phenomenon.  It was one of the worst marketing blunders of all time – largely because they completely underestimated how their customers would react.

ALEXA, WHERE WERE YOU BORN?

Contrast that with Amazon, where new product ideas are vetted by how attractive they will be to consumers.  Each idea basically starts with a one-page press release.  This forces the erstwhile inventor to answer the very difficult question: why should consumers give a damn?  It’s a great place to start and one I suggest every product manager or inventor puts to use.

That’s easy to do for a small startup team, but what about the VP of Marketing or Product in a large organization?  Internal biases can be hard to avert. There’s also pressure from in-house technology departments. Filled with experts in their space, they understandably want to be seen as innovators in creating whatever their internal customers need.  But they may be limited by existing infrastructure or processes. Market or investor pressure to show returns on existing products is also a factor at startups or large organizations.

Take Facebook, for example.  The core consumer value proposition of being the easiest way to connect and stay in touch with “friends” has rightfully earned it over 2 billion monthly active users.  Their ad-driven business model has proved highly profitable.  But in its quest to continually develop more precise user targeting, it opened users up to exploitation as in the Cambridge Analytica debacle (the New York Times breaks it down well here).  Often the relentless drive to monetize a core technology and user base dilutes the original concept.  The end user pays the price.

SOMETIMES KPIs ARE TBD

Key Performance Indicator (KPI) metrics are often identified to determine whether or not a new project is deemed a success.  Usually it’s a single metric, based on careful consideration of how it supports a strategy like attracting travelers in the dreaming phase, before they’ve selected a destination (shameless plug: this is what TripTuner is designed to do).  That’s good, because there are an overwhelming number and types of metrics that may be reported upon these days. Not all of them may be relevant or worth tracking. However, when testing a new innovation user feedback and behavior may reveal benefits beyond what was originally intended.  

When we launched TripTuner, users told us that it served up solid personalized options (“It’s like it knows me!” tweeted one) and that it was sticky, if not addicting (“so freaking obsessed” tweeted another).  That led us to believe engagement metrics like visit duration — which were often several times more than an average website – were most important. But if we hadn’t paid attention to some other benefits like booking search clicks, we would’ve missed out on one of our most important value propositions: the ability to take travelers from inspiration to booking in a personalized, low-pressure way.

PHASED AND CONFUSED

With the evolution of A.I. powered multivariate testing, multiple A/B tests on new features may be done simultaneously.  That’s great when making a tweak to existing functionality. But when evaluating the benefit of a new feature it’s important not only to view a wide ranges of metrics (to uncover unexpected user behavior patterns), but to also ensure we’re comparing similar phases of the purchase process.  

We found out that a client of ours was comparing product clicks generated on TripTuner (upper funnel) with clicks on a specific discounted product (lower funnel).  It wasn’t apples to apples, but it did highlight the fact that our user-centric approach was generating purchasing demand – a functionality that didn’t exist before.

#OUTOVATING: ARE YOU IN?

Breakthrough innovations require that we get out of our internal bubbles and view things from a fresh perspective – the consumer or end user’s view.  As we develop and deploy new technologies like machine learning and other artificial intelligence techniques, we need to be aware of how our own personal biases influence the product and ultimately the consumer.  

We have to design — to innovate — from the outside in.  We’ll call it “outovating.”  Not sure it’ll catch on but I’m going with it.  Looks like it was used five years ago but today only produces 3 results in a Google search.  When’s the last time you’ve seen THAT?

Stay tuned.

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