The direct, early engagement with key thought leaders delivers dividends throughout the commercialization process and brings unforeseen opportunities rapidly. However, it is not for the faint of heart. Your innovation is your baby and thought leaders will inevitably tell you that your baby is ugly. But this is the moment of truth: can you defend your innovations’ value proposition? Can you demonstrate that the innovation can stand up to simpler substitution products or services? And can you easily and succinctly articulate the vision you have for changing markets? You can choose to listen and internalize the information or reject it as irrelevant to your quest. Do the latter at your peril. Here are some things to help guide you and reinforce your strength against the onslaught of challenge:
- First map the key thought leaders in your market and strategize on how you will engage each one. Some are open to conversation. Some require only a response to their on-line presence. Some you only have to challenge at a conference. There are lots of ways to get your innovation in the discussion other than a simple email. Get into the community and become a voice.
- Prep your “diffusion” strategy with a solid messaging plan. Have your elevator pitch down pat. Build several versions to match the interests and concerns of the thought leader. Know what words are impactful and which ones cause confusion. Often success is found in a single word. Most importantly, change the words if they don’t work! We see too many people staying with messages that don’t resonate, only to repeat and expect a different outcome.
- Go quick and go hard. Gain early review of innovation value proposition no matter what it takes. Get it out there in the open. We see so many early innovation diffusion efforts tip toe around their innovations’ value in the hopes that confusion will ward off negative feedback. Charge in directly. Here is where many engineers use techno-babble to project a larger picture than is warranted. Don’t let this happen. The more complicated your technology explanation the more confusion you create and the longer it takes to get to the real value of what you are trying to do.
- Always follow-up on suggestions, objections or new ideas learned from your engagement with a thought leader. The gold is in the adaptation of your innovations’ value to the perceptions of the thought leaders. Adapt and be agile in how you work with these people. It takes effort to place your innovation within context of the existing market noise and it takes time to internalize any new information.
- Work with thought leaders to expand on boundary information; this is the information that influences perceptions but may not directly relate to your innovation. Keep your radar aperture wide open to take in this influencing information. Often this is where the value reinforcement messaging is found. Keep your discussions open to tangents that relate to your innovation.
- Know the downstream impact of your thought leader association. Create a stakeholder relationship map. Who will the thought leader influence? Who will listen to their opinions that you can then go to later and investigate the propagation of your messaging?
One final note: Seek thought leaders from a diverse set of industry, public policy, academia and social media. This diversity will ensure a comprehensive picture of the changes and challenges your innovation will produce.