Visible vs. Invisible Innovation

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Visible vs. Invisible InnovationWhat keeps organizational growth evergreen in today’s constantly changing digital marketplace? Innovation, of course—the ability for businesses not only to stay ahead of customer facing trends, but to innovate in ways that manifest themselves less obviously, too, through processes and experiences. So, when we talk about innovation today in the enterprise, there are really two avenues to explore: Visible innovation and Invisible innovation. Which one yields more results? Let’s break down the differences between the two and examine what each means for your business.

What’s in a Name?

You’ve probably heard of visible and invisible innovation before, but odds are they’ve been referenced differently. Call it product versus process innovation or traditional versus experience innovation—whatever you call it, it’s important to know the distinction. In short, visible innovation involves obvious product or solution-driven changes. For example, if you introduce a new form factor, showcase a new functionality, you’ve made a visible innovation These innovations are easy for consumers to see. Conversely, invisible innovation involves process simplification or increased automation and is usually based back-of-house, ultimately aimed at saving steps and bettering the brand experience.

To see visible and invisible innovation further juxtapositioned, take a look at Figure 1 below, produced by the team at MIT:


Figure 1. Source:

Visible Innovation: What You Need to Know

Driven by category managers and product managers who gather insight from user reviews and focus reviews, visible innovation might as well be called the feature-driven race for a competitive advantage. That’s really true regardless of industry. Does that automobile use less fuel? Does gadget A have a longer battery life than gadgets B and C? Does this 3D printer have features and benefits that far outweigh a competitor product?

The desire to get an edge is a universal language in business today, and many companies—especially those in growing markets—turn to visible innovation to get there. But why? Marketing a product or solution innovation is straightforward and, put simply, exciting. Who doesn’t want to learn about the latest and greatest development that can benefit them as a consumer?

Invisible Innovation: What You Need to Know

Invisible innovation works best in consolidated markets where the race for competitive advantage I mentioned earlier still exists but is experience-driven. Take, for example, HP’s self-healing SureStart technology that helps businesses protect their BIOS firmware against malicious attacks. This invisible innovation simplified a process by increasing automation, all the while performing a service built around the consumer’s experience-based need.

Invisible innovation does have its downside when it comes to marketability, though. By definition, consumers can’t really see the benefit outright—or, at least they haven’t yet been taught how. Taking that even further, perhaps they’ve just come to expect process innovation and fail to recognize the benefit it adds to their experience. Consider, for example, shorter wait times delivered by process simplification or more personalized brand experiences stemming from automation—they’re harder to highlight, somewhat under-represented, and often taken for granted.

So, where do we go from here?

What’s Next?

Today, businesses seem to be placing substantial emphasis on visible innovation, and it’s easy to understand why. After all, adding new, easy-to-visualize features to products can help keep brands top of mind—a real feat in this digital marketplace trademarked by short attention spans. Because these types of product innovations are so digestible, marketers and the press eat them up—but are they overrepresented? I say yes.

I fear that all that product innovation is beginning to overshadow the importance of process innovation. Remember, process innovation encompasses all those behind the scenes automation and process simplification initiatives that utilize technology to streamline operations, ultimately trickling benefits into every consumer touch point. THOSE types of activities might not be easily described on marketing collateral, but they’re actually becoming more important than designing slimmer devices or faster processor speeds. As you can see from Figure 2 below, product innovation is only at the top of the curve for a short while, and we need to remember that as we move forward.


Figure 2. Source:

The important point here is that what you do in the back of the house, from a process innovation standpoint, can impact everything about your relationship with your customers. Your brand is only as good as how you make customers feel about you, and the emotional connection you’re able to develop with them. An ongoing commitment to process innovation, that “invisible” thing, is how you can make that happen.

The companies that will succeed will be those that find a better balance between visible and invisible innovation—perhaps, even, putting more emphasis on experience innovation in the long term.

How does your business approach product versus process innovation? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

ICYMI, here are some other posts that might be of interest: 

Want to be a Star Marketer? Get Into Operations
Smarketing: Sales and Marketing Meets the Business of Growing Business

This post was first published on LinkedIn.

Photo Credit: dcjanodesigndcjanodesign via Compfight cc

Vincent BrissotVincent Brissot is the Head of Channel Marketing & Operations at HP. With some 14 years of experience in channel enablement, business development, and marketing, he has a comprehensive understanding of and expertise in the IT industry related to hardware, services, and software. Vincent has worked in multiple countries, in regional and worldwide roles across Enterprise and SMB market segments. You can follow Vincent on Twitter @VincentBrissot and also find him on LinkedIn.


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