Not all innovation is good. Let me illustrate with a few examples of how poor innovation can harm a company. Bad innovation can quickly cut down a brand that took years to build.
Generally speaking, innovation is good. Without innovation, we would still be driving a Model T and getting blocks of ice delivered to keep our refrigerator cool while sitting in our uncooled home listening to our radio.
Without innovation, we wouldn’t have wireless access to the Web. In fact, we wouldn’t even be using a wireless phone to make voice calls. We’d still be stuck to the phone on our kitchen wall.
Good innovation can be great. It’s what drives us forward. It builds a company’s brand and strengthens the customer relationship.
Not All Change Is Good
However, innovation is not always done well — and bad innovation can harm a company’s brand and customer relationships. That kind of innovation should never happen. There are plenty of examples. Things would have been much better if the companies just left things alone until they had a real improvement to roll out.
Many of the problems with bad innovation are caused by investors’ expectations for constant growth. Private companies don’t have the same investor pressure to continue to innovate and grow that public companies do.
Private companies take innovation in the proper perspective. They make changes only if they are in the customers’ best interests and only if they truly advance their brand. They simply don’t innovate until they get it right.
When companies are always trying to innovate to keep investors happy, quarter after quarter, they can cause serious damage to their brand and customer relationships.
So, focusing on innovation simply because of investor pressure is not a good idea. The focus should be on innovation to benefit the customers.
Alternatively, focus on the workers, suggested Herb Kelleher, past CEO of Southwest Airlines, who had a good handle on this. Then they will focus on the customers. Then success will please the investors. This philosophy grew Southwest Airlines into a powerful force in the airline industry.
This is something every CEO should embrace. However, time after time, I am amazed at how poorly many companies innovate.
Last week, I faced yet another example of something that should not be happening. I’ll illustrate by telling you two different stories about similar clothing companies, Lands’ End and L.L. Bean.
Lands’ End’s Innovation Problem
Lands’ End is a great clothing company. It makes high-quality products that always fit well, work well and last well. However, things may be changing. Every year, I order a few fresh, new belts for the summer. I used to love Lands’ End belts because they were colorful, elastic, and fit well with my shorts and summer pants.
I recently received an order I placed for this summer and tried on four new belts. Today, I sadly returned all of them. Why? Because they were not the same as the belts I previously purchased and loved.
The new belts didn’t work well. They were thinner and stretched too much. That means they don’t hold up your pants — a real problem, if I do say so myself.
Last year’s Lands’ End belts are still in my closet, and they still work great. So I know it’s not me. The only conclusion I can reach is that Lands’ End changed its winning recipe. That was a mistake. When a company screws around with the special sauce, something always goes wrong.
Remember the New Coke story from 1985? That was a disaster. At least Coca Cola admitted its mistake, said it was sorry, and won back the hearts of its customers.
I emailed Lands’ End a customer feedback letter. Let’s see if the company makes any changes. I like Lands’ End and want it to continue to succeed, but it must get back on track. There are too many competitors to choose from.
Lands’ End vs. L.L.Bean
L.L.Bean is another clothing company that has built a strong brand relationship with its customers over the decades. It remains steady and keeps hitting the ball out of the park.
I regularly purchase from it, and I’ve never had a problem. Its clothes are always stylish, great quality and last forever.
Both Lands’ End and L.L.Bean are great companies with strong customer care policies. I want both to continue to succeed. However, these days my brand involvement is stronger with L.L.Bean than Lands’ End. Is that what Lands’ End really wants?
No Innovation Is Better than Bad Innovation
Private companies don’t have investor pressure, so they don’t innovate just to keep investors happy. They only innovate to keep customers happy.
Companies that innovate poorly, depriving customers of last year’s better model, are on the wrong track. It happens at more companies than you can imagine. It can be damaging to their growth going forward, unless they get back on track.
Plenty of companies have screwed up — for example, Microsoft, with its Windows operating systems. Every other version is a hit, while every other version is a failure in the market’s opinion. Yet Microsoft continues, because it faces no real competition.
Let’s hope Lands’ End gets the message, corrects the problem, and continues to grow and build its brand and customer relationships.
Lesson for Every CEO
This is an important lesson that every company should pay attention to, whether public or private. Every CEO should focus on quality and customer satisfaction — not just on innovation to innovate.
Moral to this story: If you can’t make things better for the customer, then you are better off doing nothing.