"Marketing and innovation are essential for earning new customers," said Bill Haines, v.p., product innovation, Dairy Management Inc., at Dairy Innovation Forum 2004 in February. Keynote speaker Doug Hall, an innovation guru and author of Jump Start Your Business Brain, expanded on this by saying "Innovation does not come from customers. We have to lead customers, not the other way around."

Hall explained that businesses become successful innovators by relentlessly focusing on delivering "overt benefits" to customers and making sure that those benefits provide a "meaningful difference." Hall says that many times the key overt benefit for your company or product is the reason you got into the business in the first place.

In his book, Hall provides the following exercise to help identify overt benefits. (These questions have been modified slightly in order to apply to the context of this article.) Write down the first answer that comes to mind when you read each question. Then after thinking about it for a day, rewrite the answer, pushing deeper with fresh eyes.

  1. Why did you develop this product in the first place?
  2. What injustice, problem or pet peeve did you set out to address with this product?
  3. What are you most proud of regarding this product?
  4. What would your most loyal customers boast most about regarding this product?
  5. Complete this statement: This product is the best/first/only . . . Explaining to customers your product's overt benefits may require talking about a product in a new way. The dairy industry often gets so concerned with standards of identity, stating product grade and other ingredients that it forgets to mention the overt benefits it has over other foods. One of the most overlooked benefits is inherent high-quality protein content.
Tell customers what they need to know about your product. If you are formulating a "low-carb" dairy drink, tell them how you did it. Play up the protein content. Mention that you've added extra dairy ingredients to replace some of the removed carbohydrates. Tell them why using dairy ingredients in a dairy drink makes perfect sense, giving them even more of dairy's goodness. Make sure they know how your product complements their low-carb lifestyle.