Companies dream of creating game-changing innovations in their spaces. By definition, a game-changing innovation transforms customer behavior, competition and market outcomes in its industry. It dramatically alters the game by delivering substantially superior customer value, replacing existing alternatives. Such superior value can be generated by multifold increase in benefits or a drastic reduction in costs or both. Often such value can only be created through technological breakthroughs or ecosystem advances or both, which are hard to come by. Therefore, game-changing innovations rare.
In the paint industry, Sherwin-Williams (SW) may have created a game changing innovation. Calling it ‘Paint Shield,’ SW claims that the new paint kills bacteria on surfaces after about two hours of application and that this safeguard may last up to four years. If this is well accepted by the market, it add tremendous value to health care institutions, hotels, schools, cruise ships, day care centers, and homes. In particular, for the U.S. hospitals, it can potentially help save several lives lost to accidental bacterial infections and cut $30 billion in annual costs. This potential impact is only in theory.
In practice, however, Paint Shield’s success would depend on how effective it holds up against its own claims, how well it is marketed and serviced, and how easily it is embraced in the ecosystem. First, SW has to demonstrate its effectiveness in use by selling, tracking, and documenting its success in big hospitals before moving to market it to all its target audience. SW should also learn from these lead users and adapt its offering. This process can be slow initially but could be extremely rewarding later. The success of Salesforce.com is a classic case of battling against the existing ecosystem to succeed with a disruptive innovation. Second, since not every customer is ready to repaint its doors, walls, and ceilings at any given time, SW has to target those with immediate needs and make compelling initial offers to those prospects to induce them to repaint earlier than needed. Third, it should be prepared to cannibalize its own existing profitable offerings. Unwillingness or slowness to cannibalize has resulted in the downfall of many a heavyweight company. The likes of Xerox, Kodak, Nokia and Blackberry come to mind.
It is too early predict whether Paint Shield will be a game changer, but it is an exciting development among the humdrum of incremental innovations. Its success will depend on SW’s marketing strategies and actions.