Innovation Management: Sustaining Innovation (Part Two)

April 1, 2022

Nicholas Lee
Senior Creative Designer

In this Monthly Dose of Design, we continue to learn about innovation management and dig deeper into one of the four types of innovation introduced last month: sustaining innovation. Why do market researchers need to know about sustaining innovation and how to apply it?

Last month we embarked upon a new 12-part series of Monthly Dose of Design, Innovation Management. We introduced the four main types of innovation which are breakthrough innovation, sustaining innovation, basic research, and disruptive innovation, and shared why innovation is relevant to market research.

This month we are diving deeper into sustaining innovation by discussing why market researchers need to know about it and how they can do it.

What is sustaining innovation?

When we think of innovation, we tend to think of being radical and doing something ground-breaking that no one has done before. However, improving existing products, brands, and services in increments is another form of innovation known as sustaining innovation.

Sustaining innovation is the most common form of innovation in the innovation matrix. This is because the problem is already known, and the knowledge or technology needed to solve it already exists.

four types of innovation chart

GREG SATELL, HBR.ORG

Related
Innovation Management (Part One)

Examples of sustaining innovation

Smartphones are a great example of sustaining innovation. This is because each year, companies release new phones which have incremental improvements, often incorporating new technologies.

In 2019, Apple released its iPhone 11 with three rear cameras. Then in 2020, Apple released the iPhones 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max with a lidar scanner. Lidar scanners provide these iPhone models with a new type of depth-sensing that aids with augmented reality. By adding the additional cameras and lidar scanner, Apple is setting the scene for some powerful applications of augmented reality.

Why market researchers need to know about sustaining innovation

Read on below to learn about the key reasons market researchers should be familiar with sustaining innovation.

Market research itself represents a need for innovation

To generate ideas for sustaining innovation, companies need to listen to and learn from their customers, which is what market researchers are great at. By turning customer feedback and communication into insights, market researchers have a thorough understanding of how businesses can continually improve their products, brand, or services and therefore provide greater value to their customers.

By understanding the different types of innovation, market researchers can adapt how they work internally, and externally transform their value to clients.

Market researchers can provide better value to their clients

Market researchers can use this understanding of the types of innovation to provide further value to their clients by developing new products or services which can help meet their client’s needs vs. what each specific type of innovation requires.

Market researchers can innovate and improve within their own organisations

Market research as an industry shouldn’t stay stationary. By understanding these types of innovation, market researchers can see where they sit in the innovation process and can innovate by developing new tools for themselves to improve their own work.

Advantages of sustaining innovation

  1. Companies remain competitive
    By continuously improving their products or services, companies remain relevant in the market and can survive against their competitors because they are prolonging their product’s lifespan, whilst also driving brand loyalty and maintaining customer retention.
  2. Companies can reduce risk and uncertainty
    Companies are able to spend less money by incrementally improving existing products or services, as they are building upon the previous version instead of creating a brand new one. This is cheaper than creating a brand-new product which comes with potential risks, such as uncertainty over how the product will fare in the market. However, by improving a product or service that you already know has been well received, you can be more certain that it’ll succeed.

Disadvantages of sustaining innovation

  1. No protection from disruptive innovation
    Sustaining innovation takes existing products or services and makes them better. However, this leaves the market open to new players coming in with radical new ideas which could potentially disrupt the entire landscape. This means years of incremental improvements on a product or service could end up redundant.
  2. No new radical products
    Sustaining innovation doesn’t give you a completely new product to reposition yourself in the market, since you are building upon previous versions of your product. Therefore, it does not create new markets.

Next month…

Next month we will dive deeper into breakthrough innovation.

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