Does the tech industry have an innovation problem?

As Mark Twain famously once said, “there is no such thing as a new idea.” And this opinion was repeatedly cited during the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. When CES first launched 48 years ago it did a tremendous job at wowing people with the latest weird and wonderful tech gadgets. Now, the general view is that you rarely see entirely new things at CES.

Today, the vast majority of new business ideas, products and solutions are simply a clever innovation on an already existing concept. After all, Google wasn’t the first search engine and Facebook certainly wasn’t the first social media platform. They built on, and improved, what had gone before.

But yet, as an industry, we are obsessed with the idea of innovation. It is used regularly - in news announcements, on websites, in keynote presentations, in internal missives - when tech companies want to highlight a product’s originality and advanced capabilities. This seems fair enough. After all, which business wouldn’t want to be associated with those characteristics?

However, might we as an industry be relying too heavily on innovation as a means to define our brands?

Research conducted by FleishmanHillard and LePere Analytics, called the Authenticity Gap, looks at five different technology categories, from wearable tech to Internet security software, and examines what those businesses say about themselves. We then compare this to customers’ expectations and their own experiences of that company or brand. Nine drivers that shape someone’s perception of a company are explored including employee care and community impact; management behaviours such as consistent performance and credible communications and lastly customer benefits such as innovation, customer care and better value.

One finding stands out in particular: every single technology company is failing to meet customer expectations for innovation. This is particular concerning when you consider that customers consistently cite innovation as one of the most important factors during their purchasing decision.

So if innovation is that important to both brands and customers, then why is there such a huge disconnect between reality and expectation?

Mind the innovation gap

One potential explanation is that tech companies may have simply raised customer expectations too high when it comes to delivering ‘innovation’. It’s clear from reviewing the news at CES that brands have become accustomed to claiming that every new product and software update is innovative, when in fact it may be a gradual improvement on an older model. Yes an important, beneficial improvement, but not necessarily a completely new innovation.

Consequently, when a company truly does deliver something genuinely innovative we, as consumers, are now so sceptical about the true originality and creativity behind these new products or solutions that the innovation message might simply be getting lost in the noise. Could it be that the message no longer resonates?

So how can both large, established tech brands and buzzy new start-ups avoid the innovation ‘Authenticity Gap’ in the future?

Strategic communication

I’m not advocating leaving innovation behind. Rather, focusing too much on the ‘innovative’ nature of your product or service portfolio without talking about any other benefits they deliver risks fuelling the gap between expectations and experiences. Tech businesses may need to talk about themselves in a different way and articulate the company offering as a whole. Be differentiated in your communication and really drill down into exactly what makes your company unique. Next, turn these points into engaging stories and create compelling content to bring these benefits to life. This will help you to engage with your target audience on their level and tangibly explain why they need your company’s product or service in their life.

Recognise your advocates

Our study also highlighted some interesting findings about where the purchasers of technology get their information from.

For B2B purchases, such as enterprise services, customers are more likely to listen to vendor messaging when making decisions about which solution to buy, followed by analysts and customers. The same was true of security software.

However, for consumer devices, Internet services or wearable technology – people are more likely to rely upon recommendations from personal contacts, rather than celebrity endorsements, before committing to a purchase.

So think about who you’re targeting too, and what messages they might want and need to see and hear.

Tap into your USPs

Despite what some people may have said about CES – in my opinion there has never been a more exciting time to work in the tech industry. Who would have thought that driverless cars, drones and artificial intelligence would ever be a reality? However, all tech companies need to carefully consider how they communicate their story to both new and existing customers.

In order to cut through, it is critical to think carefully about the value your business brings and try to articulate that in a way that helps you stand out. Conduct a thorough (and honest) Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis to help pinpoint your unique selling propositions.

A strong CSR programme, for example, can help influence the perception a customer has about your brand. In fact, the results from our study reveal that consumers value those businesses that “do good” within their local communities above other companies.

Ultimately, innovation is only one factor in the purchasing decision. It’s an important one, yes, but not the only one. Both a B2B and B2C customer will consider a wide array of details before they commit to making a purchase, so make sure your communications and brand strategy reflects all of your strengths.

Sophie Scott, Managing Director Technology and Strategy, FleishmanHillard Fishburn

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Chones