Throughout my career, I’ve developed many products and services that were good, sometimes even great. But more times than I would like to admit, they never got noticed. Never got talked about. Never achieved the desired results. Why? Because they were really just another offering in a sea of offerings.

Imagine you compete in the market for rock bands. If you want to get noticed (without spending a ton on sales or marketing), you might add more cowbell. Like the classic Will Ferrell SNL skit, you can’t help but notice a passionate cowbell. People talk about it. Its very nature causes it to market itself.

Seth Godin calls this putting a free prize inside your product or service. Examples include:

  • A small online car parts store that includes a lifetime warranty on all parts—even motor oil. (It’s now one of the fastest growing companies in the auto parts industry.)

  • Amazon’s free shipping (Sales increased by 37 percent and they now command 40 percent of online purchases.)

  • 3M’s drywall patch spackling whose container has a spatula on one end and sand paper on the other (and charges 30 percent more for 60 percent less product than DAP).

We often think that innovation involves things like inserting nanotechnology into our products. But soft innovations, the kind I am talking about here, can be more effective, easier to implement and far less risky.

You don’t need a R&D budget to create more cowbell.  You just need to better understand the progress your customer is trying to make and innovatively help them make that progress better than anyone else.

Stop Competing on Price

Looking to become more innovative? Or are you creating a new product or service offering? Or are you simply looking for a way to carve out better margins on your current service offerings?

Knowing your customer segments—and why those customers buy from you—is crucial to your success. After all, your customers are buying a way to solve a problem. Attend the upcoming Value Proposition Workshop to craft a compelling and truly unique value proposition for new or existing products.