Innovation can be the slightest tweak

Innovation.  Everyone talks about it.  But very few can define it, let alone do it.  I think sometimes we make concepts like innovation much "bigger" than they need to be.

Somehow all the discussion, articles written and trainings offered make the concept seem nearly impossible to achieve.  It suggests that it has to be remarkable and industry changing to truly be innovative.

But a simple tweak or fresh perspective can sometimes create all the innovation that's needed.  Let me show you an example.

Over 50 million people eat fast food every day in the United States.  A vast majority of those eat their fast food meal in their car.  And I dare say, a good percentage of those eating in the car — end up dripping ketchup or burger juice or something onto their shirt.  (First two stats are legit, third one is my supposition).

So that's a lot of stained shirts and irritated customers. 

Panera1 Panera solved this problem  with a dash of glue.

Most fast food establishments either wrap their food in a flat piece of paper or box it in a cardboard box.  Either way, there's nothing about the packaging to help with the shirt drips.

Panera took their flat piece of paper and folded it, gluing it along two sides.  Making it, in essence — a pocket that holds their breakfast sandwiches.

That's it….a fold and dollop of glue.

But, as you can see — if you wanted to eat a juicy bone while you were driving, thanks to Panera's innovation, your shirt would be safe.Panerabone

So, why am I telling you all this and why does it matter to you? 

Because all the fast food restaurants knew that their customers ate on the run.  They knew that their packaging didn't protect their patrons from shirt stains.  But no one did anything about it.  It was just the downside of fast food dining. It was just accepted.

Not any more.  Panera has solved the problem with a simple observation.  And if it works like it often does — everyone else will now have to follow suit.

How about in your business?  Is there some aspect of it that frustrates or irritates your customers?  Are you just accepting it?  Is it possible that a small tweak (a fold and a dollop of glue) might erase that frustration?

What would it do for your brand and customer satisfaction if you were the one to find the tweak?

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10 comments on “Innovation can be the slightest tweak

  1. Excellent post.
    Company owners are usually the least likely ones to come up with such innovations. Therefore, it’s imperative for them to implement mechanisms to capture suggestions and feedback and analyze them in order to innovate successfully.
    Marketers can help, but it all starts with the realization by the business owner of the outstanding rewards that can come from innovative solutions.

    Daniel Faintuch

  2. Kathy Hrach says:

    So true. Often the smallest tweak makes the biggest difference in customer satisfaction. Not only do we need to watch & listen to our customers, but we also need to allow for time away from our “to-do” lists – time to allow for creative thinking. This is often where real innovation takes place.

    Kathy Hrach

    P.S. Great photos – they help tell the full story.

  3. And yet there’s more to innovation than just the innovative thought. The innovative idea is the outcome. The thing that is even more important is where the idea comes from; what drives it? Some times innovation just happens. However, knowing where it comes from can help us be even better at it that than just waiting for it happen. Which leads to what I think is a useful question: What drives innovation, where does it come from.
    While there are many ways to stimulate creative and innovative thinking; one of the most powerful drivers of innovation is a sincere interest in the well being of another Human Being. In this case caring about what it is like for the customer. Out of caring comes empathy. Out of empathy comes knowing more of what it is like for the customer. Out of knowing what it is like for the customer comes “The Big Idea” – innovation. Nothing will harness our intuition and creativity better than our passionate interest in another Human Being.
    Here again “Love is good business”. This time in the form of a sincere interest in the customer’s experience, empathy to stand in the customers shoes and then finally in the idea of a packet wrapper could make a difference in the customer’s Life, less juice on the their shirt.
    Just connecting the dots and thought I would share it with you all.

  4. Scott Davis says:

    It’s always nice when someone acknowledges the “little” details that go into making a product special. I head up the product and marketing innovation teams at Panera and can tell you that getting that bag right was a big issue for us in the development of the breakfast sandwich program.

    I’ve eaten more breakfast sandwiches in my car than I care to mention and know bad it is to drip food onto your food on your way to work…

    Getting close to the customer is always the path to real innovation. I think of it like cracking a safe. Until the last tumbler drops the door isn’t opening. Most folks tend to stop after they get the second number and don’t push further to fully unlock the power of their idea or product.

    Again thanks for the props. We appreciate it!!

    also have you seen the new fruit/yogurt parfait with the inner cup that keeps the granola dry until you mix it?

    good stuff

    Scott Davis
    SVP/Chief Concept Officer, Panera Bread

  5. Daniel,

    You make an excellent point. It’s the users who know what works and what doesn’t. Companies need to not only stay open to feedback — they need to ask for it. Repeatedly.


  6. Kathy,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Do you have any tips for how you step away from the day to day grind and give yourself some thinking time?


  7. Arlin,

    “Love is good business.” I can’t tell you how much I agree with that. When a business comes from a place of love…for clients, employees, vendors etc. — it starts an amazing cycle. Love is rewarded with love in return. No, not always….but usually.

    That’s not only good for business, it’s good for our souls.


  8. Scott,

    Thanks for stopping by. I’m curious — do you test/sample your options with focus groups or just do internal testing?

    How do you determine what will delight the customers?


  9. Scott Davis says:

    a bit of both. Typically we start with what gets us excited. We have to love a product first, and we know the expectations are high internally for what we develop. Once we have that figured out (figuring the combination that unlocks the secret) we test it out on customers, typically in our cafes.

    We sample, sample,sample and record their preferences along a 7 point scale, looking for the items that outperform on a top box level. we also record comments around what we could do better, potential price points, naming etc. We pay special attention to the comments as there are usually gems hidden in there around positioning and flavor issues that can help us adjust.

    There are times where we use focus groups but not typically around single products but more around conceptual ideas.

    some folks get very technical in their R&D research but with food it must come from a personal passion first.

  10. Scott,

    Thanks for your patience (I’ve been a traveling fool of late) and for sharing some of your R&D methods. It sounds like the time from idea to being listed on the menu is filled with trial and error.

    No wonder Panera products are so good! My daughter believes that your chocolate chip muffies are a food group unto themselves!


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