What makes a product a breakthrough innovation? First, a breakthrough product is typically a commercial success. But plenty of products are commercially successful; a breakthrough is much more than that. A true breakthrough changes the market landscape in some significant way. Breakthrough products disrupt markets and business models and change the way people live. They change behaviors and lifestyles. In fact, they often change the world as we know it. Think iPhone, iPad, YouTube, 3D printers, Facebook, etc.
But how do you develop a breakthrough product? There are countless products released every day, and a minuscule percentage of them will ever be considered breakthroughs. True breakthroughs typically take advantage of key gaps in the market, or “product opportunity gaps.” These product opportunity gaps are created by an interaction between various social, economic and technological trends. Examples of social trends include the increase of women in the workforce, population growth, changes in where people spend their time, and any other sociological factors. Examples of economic trends include recessions, financial booms, and any other factors that impact the way people spend their money. Examples of technological trends include the increasing prevalence of mobile phones, the inception of GPS and Bluetooth, or countless other technological factors that create new business opportunities.
Although the right intersection of social, economic and technological trends can create a fertile environment for a breakthrough innovation, other factors must come into play in order to catapult a product to breakthrough status. Specifically, the product needs to be the right fit for the opportunity gap. It must provide the features and functionality that consumers require while delivering the form factor and design that make it a desirable product. It must hit the sweet spot on this form vs. function continuum by delivering just the right combination of desirability and functionality.
Finally, once the sweet spot has been successfully identified, the product must be priced, positioned and marketed to effectively exploit the product opportunity gap. This is where effective marketing comes in. A product may be the perfect fit for a product opportunity gap, but if the target market doesn't know that the product exists, then it's never going to become a breakthrough. This is why it’s critical for companies to consider marketing as a central factor during their new product development process. Market research and effective marketing are just as important as traditional engineering R&D when it comes to creating a breakthrough product.