Could your innovation turn non-consumers into clients?

Sometimes, market researches can be misleading. Your clients do not seem interested in your disruptive innovation. Actually, this disruptive innovation could interest non-consumers whom you did not identify yet. Philippe Silberzahn explains how a disruptive innovation can turn a non-consumer into a consumer in his book A Manager’s Guide to Disruptive Innovation. Non-consumers are not clients yet, but they are ready to adopt a disruptive innovation because their needs are not currently addressed. He explains it with the example of internet telephony in the late 1990s:

« On the one hand, the users of the existing offer, the classic landline telephony, would have a tendency to reject the disruptive offer because they value the criterion of the dominant performance, the quality of the calls, over the emerging criterion, a lower price. Indeed, a business client – the most profitable customer for a telecom operator – would be less sensitive to the price factor than a private individual, because he could not risk calling his business correspondents with a bad quality connection.

On the other hand, the disruptive offer attracts a new category of users, those that could not purchase the existing offer. We call these persons the “non-consumers” and in our example, these represent persons who would not call, for instance, to foreign countries because it is much too expensive. These non-consumers end up adopting the emerging offer in spite of its poor performance on the dominant criterion, quality, because for them the choice is simple: it’s a poor quality call or nothing. For example, international students, who before the disruptive offer could not call their families, could henceforth, even with a poor quality call, catch up on news from their families. What is important here is that the disruptive offer allows a segment, up until then not able to be users, to become users. Disruptive innovation unblocked their access to the consumption of telephone services, broadly redefined. From non-consumers, they become consumers. That is why they accept poor connection quality, that which a client of the existing offer would refuse.

It is important not to confuse a non-consumer with a non-client. A non-client is one who does not buy your products. Perhaps he or she buys the products of your competitor, or perhaps he or she has not yet chosen between your product and your competitors’. A non-consumer, in contrast, does not buy anywhere: not from you and not from any of your competitorsA non-consumer finds a means to resolve his problem (or to do what he needs to do) through another means or with substitutes. For example, before the arrival of low-cost airlines, students travelled by bus or train. If the distance was too long, they refrained from travelling. This point is important because it could very well be that the non-consumers are satisfied with the way in which they resolve their problem.”

 Maybe the first feedbacks you get from market researches are not very encouraging, your actual clients do not seem to be highly interested in this disruptive service or product you would like to launch. Before giving up, did you think if there could be any non-consumers, unidentified at this stage by your market research, whom you could turn into consumers, even if your innovation is still in a Beta phase? If your innovation is really disruptive, it could probably reach new market segments, don’t give up!

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