Novelty is simply an incremental change to an existing product designed to help marketers differentiate their products from the competition. It's the "neat" factor. One of the best examples of novelty is toothpaste. Back in the 1970s, most toothpaste manufacturers had only one or two types of toothpaste. But as the competitive landscape grew more crowded, manufacturers struggled to stand out. As a result, toothpaste companies introduced new features into their products to increase consumer perceived value. Fluoride. Tarter Control. Whitening. Stripes. The list goes on and on.
Each time a new product was released, there would be an improvement in sales. But that improvement was temporary and only lasted until the next great product hit the shelves. The result? Today, the average toothpaste manufacturer sells more than 30 variations of their products and comparable versions between companies all offer around the same quality at around the same price. But for all this "innovation," there is no information that suggests people brush their teeth more today than they did 40 years ago. These companies didn't create a shift in consumer behavior or shake the foundations of the dental health industry. They simply commoditized their products – they confused novelty for innovation.
True innovation changes the way industries operate. It forces companies to redefine their business models and conform to new standards. When Apple introduced the iPhone, it supplanted all other cellular phone options on the market and set a new standard for consumer expectations. As far as features and benefits go, it was as "neat" as you could get. It was the first to have a touchscreen and only one button. But those things are not what makes Apple innovative. In a rather short period of time, Apple completely disrupted not one but two well established industries. Before the iPhone, the iPod and the introduction of iTunes fundamentally changed the way the music industry operated by changing consumer behavior. Before iTunes, music was primarily distributed on albums and sold in stores. Today, consumers purchase music by the song, digitally.
Before the iPhone, cellular service providers would dictate what features phones could have. But Apple decided to design a great product and tell the service providers what features it would have. Only one agreed to Apple's terms, and AT&T signed an exclusive distribution contract in which, for the first time in history, the cellular phone manufacturer and not the service provider dictated most of the terms. Apple makes great products, but the way they are brought to market and their impact on related industries is what makes them innovative.
During drupa 2016, Apex International is featuring a number of products, including the award-winning GTT anilox technology, that are best-in-class from a features and benefits prospective. But these products are not what makes Apex International innovative. The innovation comes from the applications and how they will change the way the printing industry operates. For example, GTT's contributions to optimized fixed palette, in combination with equally powerful offerings from companies like Esko and DuPont, are on the cusp of redefining flexographic printing and will serve as the industry's response to digital. This idea captures the essence of the Innovator's Choice and defines who we are, what we do and why we do it.
Doug Jones is Vice President Global Marketing at Apex Global Group of Companies.