Strategy Three: Planning the Corporate Approach to Product Development

To go a step futher and provide vision and direction for not only the product but also the company, Close used a Powers of 10 analysis on the company itself and its approach to develop its product. Every com­pany should perform this self-assessment to better understand how its products relate to its corporate mission and brand. So many industrial companies lack any brand statement. Creating a brand statement can be a difficult task for an established company accustomed to a project – based philosophy. But the company’s brand statement is critical to its conversion to a process of organic growth. The company’s brand can lead the brand directions for the products themselves.

The macro-level analysis of the corporate strategy sets the tone for the culture of the product team, the corporate requirements for a product, the interaction between the company and society at large, and the corporate values and brand attributes. The corporate strate­gy determines resources for any product and, at a high level, how those resources can be distributed. It sets the direction for partners with other companies in developing and delivering a product or ser­vice. The corporate strategy determines the relationship between the company and the local community and the global infrastructure. The corporate strategy must recognize who competitors are and what threats they present, or how the threat of a new technology from the corporation may trigger responses from the competition. Most important is that all of these aspects have a direct impact on the direction and quality of any product developed.

For RedZone, a key component of the corporate strategy is con­tinual innovation. To achieve that goal, it implemented a state-of-the – art product development process to provide a continuing stream of innovations. RedZone began with the innovation process discussed in this book with aspects detailed in Creating Breakthrough Products. It then developed a tracking mechanism that followed user research into customer requirements through to engineering specifications. Close believed this to be a necessary step to turn a tech-focused com­pany into a complete-product company.

Another key component of the corporate strategy is to build a corporate identity, a brand. In a business-to-business context, the product is the primary communicant of brand, so product identity and corporate identity are strongly linked. Discussion of color, form language, and logo early in the process connected the product iden­tity to that of RedZone as a company. A mantra of “innovation, not invention” required the company to maintain its expertise in robotics but focus on delivering technology to meet market needs rather than developing the next cutting-edge technical capability only because it could. The product, then, needed to communicate innovation, tech­nical expertise, and the importance of the user, because these were core to the company’s identity.

Why would the company care about a color scheme for a robot that will sit inside a sewer? Because the robot spends a good amount of its time outside the pipes, where people see and interact with it. At industry trade shows the robot will stand out against the competition to clearly communicate that “there is something different here.”

The realization of the need to communicate corporate identity via the product as well as product identity, and the realization that how people interact with the product will make or break the intended par­adigm shift, led Close to hire an industrial designer as one of the first employees of his newly invigorated company. Close charged him to develop a color scheme for the product, an ergonomic interface, and the communication and visualization of all the ongoing stakeholder research that the team participates in. Because this product would establish the company’s brand, it was critical to adopt a look and color scheme that would protect the product from competitive reaction. The market was worldwide, and existing U. S. companies tended to make their products look like Star Wars spacecrafts, a look that Europeans did not appreciate. so the product was given a clean, simple geometric look that appealed to both U. S. and European buyers, a decision to help both product sales and the company’s image.