Recently, I got an invitation to a friend’s wedding and on the envelope was a stamp with a photo of the lovely couple. Time was when you had to be famous and dead for ten years before you made it onto a stamp, but now thanks to Stamps.com a service of the US Postal Service, you can customize your postage and put your own photo on a stamp. For an agency that is facing deep financial problems, this is a dynamite innovation.

Let’s take a look at innovation from a pragmatic perspective and examine how small adjustments in your products an marketing—like the USPS letting you put your photo on a stamp—can help differentiate yourself from your competitors and springboard your profits.

Michelle Greenwald, CEO of Marketing Visualized, explained in a recent meeting of the NJ chapter of MENG (Marketing Executives Networking Group) that most innovations fit into one of four categories: color, size, shape, and analogies.

Color. Color makes the ordinary special. Take Swingline, the stapler manufacturer forever immortalized in the film “Office Space.” They took two of the most mundane office products: staplers and staples, and added some pizzazz in the form of color. Now, you can use your red stapler and bright red staples to attach the cover page to your TPS reports.

Size. Changing the size of your product can open up new and different channels of distribution. Ziploc is a great example of size innovation: we all know and love their sandwich and freezer bags, but wouldn’t it be great if you could get jumbo Ziploc bags to use for non-food storage? Wish granted: Ziploc now offers oversize bags for all your storage needs.

Want another example of size innovation? Let’s look at that Nutella, that creamy and delicious chocolate hazelnut spread. It’s typically sold in the grocery store in a 13 oz. size, but it does come in other sizes, like the 5 lb. (yes, FIVE POUNDS!) bucket and the single serving packet. (Now, some of you may be thinking that having both of those sizes is redundant since the 5 lb. package is a single serving packet, but I digress). Having these two extra sizes allows Nutella to appeal to more customers—the 5 lb. bottle is great for restaurants and the Costco crowd that buys in bulk, while the individual packets are great for hotels to use in a continental breakfast spread.

With both Ziploc and Nutella, it’s still the same product, but with the different sizes, they can reach even more customers!

Shape. Changing the shape of your product can draw attention to it. Kleenex introduced triangular boxes to complement their standard rectangular ones. Would you buy a watermelon slice tissue box during the summer? How about one of these Christmas/winter-themed boxes?

On a bigger scale, there’s the Scion xB? This boxy car was made as a protest of the “jellybeanification” of modern cars and the design proved so successful, that now Nissan and Kia are copying it. (You know you’re doing something right when your competitors start copying you!)

Analogies. Ladies, do you use Bumble and Bumble products in your hair? If so, then you may have already seen their hair tie ball, a brilliant analogy of something we’ve all seen around the office, the humble rubber band ball.

Think about your products and marketing. Is there a way you could implement some innovation in one of these categories?

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