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Digital Product Invention Vs. Innovation: Why The Difference Matters (and Doesn’t)

Digital Product Invention vs. Innovation: Why the Difference Matters (and Doesn’t)

“It’s OK—we’ll be fine,” Jim Balsillies, former Co-CEO of BlackBerry.

These words were famously spoken as the Co-CEO’s of BlackBerry watched the public announcement of the first version of the iPhone. In the following years, BlackBerry would staunchly resist adopting touchscreens and the new way consumers use smartphones to focus on enterprise and government clients.

The result was BlackBerry losing its dominant market share and dropping to a dismal less than 1% of the smartphone market. Keeping pace with the competition could have curbed this decline, while inventing new products or innovating on existing products could have helped BlackBerry maintain its lead.

Is BlackBerry just the victim of once in a millennia bad luck that’s never to be seen again? Definitely not. In 2015, an Accenture survey found that 72% of business leaders admit to missing crucial growth opportunities. What’s the right path for capturing these opportunities? Is it invention or innovation?

Why creating and improving customer experience matters

What your customers need and how they choose to engage with companies is constantly changing because the market and your customers are changing. Apple recognized this early, perhaps always, which led them to invent a completely new product —  the iPhone. This is an example of a physical product that was first invented and then, debatably, innovated over the years.

In the case of digital products, the same thing happens, but much more quickly than Apple can force a couple hundred million people to say dongle. High-performing brands regularly push customer-driven updates to their digital products. This level of quality and innovation sets the bar by which all other digital products are judged.

This means that any brand, large or small, needs to keep pace with the market and find better ways to meet customer needs.

PwC’s Innovation Benchmark found that being an innovation leader coincides with being a growth leader.

Your company needs to innovate. But, it’s important to understand what innovating actually means, and how it differs from inventing.

Digital product invention vs. innovation

What is digital product invention?

Creating a new digital experience or touchpoint with a consumer to help them engage with a brand or a service in a new and meaningful way.

For example, GoKart Labs invented a digital product when it created The Big Know. This company and its service were designed to meet a consumer need: to gain easy access to top-tier brand-led education online.

To fill this need we combined two trends: massively open online courses and content marketing. The result was a new digital product that’s used by Fortune 500 companies and has raised $3 million in funding.

In some cases, a brand will purchase an off-the-shelf solution instead of inventing their own digital product. This might be a good solution for a small chain of coffee shops that need a rewards app, but it won’t work as well for a national chain like Starbucks. When should you start to consider inventing your own digital product? Here are a few things that might motivate you to take the plunge.

  • Control: Inventing your own digital product gives you the greatest degree of control and allows you to decide which features you’ll give users and which you’ll exclude. It also lets you keep the entire experience on-brand. These are things that are impossible or very difficult to do when using an off-the-shelf product.
  • Budget: If your brand has a large budget and an appetite for investment, then digital product invention can be a more appealing option. Invention allows you to build from scratch, which will help you focus the entire experience on the user need. Once the digital product is launched it will also add value to your brand since it’s a new piece of intellectual property.
  • No other option: In some cases, there won’t be an off-the-shelf solution that can take the place of a custom built digital product. If the solution you’re looking for doesn’t exist, then your only option is to invent it.

What is digital product innovation?

Enhancing or extending an existing digital experience or finding a way to bring it to a new market.

Higher education regularly innovates its digital products without really inventing anything new. This started with higher education institutions building online course offerings for long-distance or non-traditional students. Because they weren’t always in a position to build a custom experience for their students, they often compromised by using an existing product that wasn’t ideal. That has ceased to be a viable option, as student expectations have changed.

Over the years, these institutions have been forced to innovate. Students have their expectations set by large technology companies, like Facebook, that continually innovate and improve their digital experiences. Higher education has had to continue innovating on its digital products to meet these expectations and keep up with the leaders in digital experiences.

When is this type of innovation necessary? It’s when you have an existing product or platform that needs to be improved because it’s not meeting user needs anymore, but you can’t just start from scratch. If you have a digital experience, then innovating on it is always necessary. It’s a permanent process, like maintaining your home.

The difference between the terms invention and innovation is important to understand. They’re two completely different processes and each serves its own purpose.

But, they go hand in hand. If you decide to bring a digital experience into your business model, then you will need to invent it or find an off-the-shelf solution. Once in place, that experience should never become static. It must continually be innovated.

Want to learn more?

Learn how GoKart Labs weaves innovation into our digital product development process. Enter your email below to learn how to connect your digital product strategy with business outcomes in our free guide on Digital Strategy That Drives Growth.


This Post Has One Comment
  1. Your definition of ‘digital product invention’ resonates strongly with our recent experiments in quick-turn digital asset production. In many ways digital visual assets are a mature-ish part of marketing, and yet their form/function continues to evolve in ways that can feel significantly divergent.

    I’ve been wondering what thresholds for our quick-turn production & distribution processes will establish them as a categorically different digital product…

    Kind of verbally processing this right now, feel free to ping me on TW @blueravendigital with any thoughts, and thanks for putting this together! The GKL and TBK network continues to grow 🙌

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