The 30 Things Customers Really Value

Executive teams often struggle to land innovations that will significantly grow the business. A chronic problem is their emphasis on searching for breakthrough innovation — the creation of a truly new, highly valued product or service that could redefine their industry and lead to unprecedented revenue growth. “Where’s our iPhone?” they wonder.

Almost by definition, breakthroughs are rare. When they do occur, they usually come from insurgent entrepreneurs who founded companies such as Nest or Netflix (today), or Eastman Kodak or Ford Motor (over a century ago). Rarer still are breakthrough innovations from established enterprises, Apple’s iPhone being an obvious exception. Breakthroughs may be worth pursuing, but most companies benefit more from incremental innovation efforts that add new forms of consumer value to their present products and services. The trick is to determine what elements to add in order to boost the perceived value of your offering. You don’t want to expend resources adding features that consumers don’t care about.

While what constitutes “value” can be nuanced and vary from person to person, my colleagues and I have identified 30 universal building blocks of value that meet fundamental human needs. These are basic attributes of a product or service that address four kinds of needs: function, emotion, life changes, and social impact. Functional elements, for example, include saving time, reducing risk, and organizing. This latter element is central to brands like The Container Store and to Intuit’s TurboTax, because both help consumers deal with complexities in their world. The pyramid below shows how value elements fit into the four categories.

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