The Sweet Spot Of Innovation – An Argument For Launching Complementary Rather Than Substitute Products


In the dynamic world of business, innovation serves as the lifeblood of growth and competitiveness. Companies continuously seek to disrupt the market, captivate consumers, and secure their position at the forefront of industry evolution. Yet, the age-old question persists: should organizations focus on introducing substitute products that directly rival existing offerings, or is there a more effective path to success? In this article, Oghenerukevwe Toka, shares his thoughts on this.

Peter Drucker one of the most widely known and influential thinkers on management, whose work continues to be used by managers worldwide articulated the idea that the primary goal of any business is to attract and retain customers. His famous quote “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation” posited that a business enterprise essentially revolves around two fundamental functions which are marketing and innovation.

Marketing has undergone significant transformations, paralleled by advancements in the field of innovation. While various forms of innovation are present in the current landscape, this discussion centers on adjacent product innovation within established organizations, often occupying prominent positions as market leaders in their respective domains. Among the major challenges in innovation confronting these companies is the looming menace of external disruptors, whose innovative endeavours possess the potential to marginalize incumbents and their relevance in the market.

In contemplating how large corporations can effectively utilize product innovation to preserve their market leadership, and how they can harness the influence and reputation of their well-established brands and products for consistent dominance while safeguarding against agile external disruptors, the proposition of launching complementary products emerges as a viable solution. In this context, I posit that the emphasis on complementary product innovation presents numerous benefits for companies. Below are some key rationales that support the adoption of a strategy involving the introduction of complementary products:

Expanded Market Reach: By launching complementary products, companies can target different customer segments and expand their market reach. Complementary products cater to the diverse needs and preferences of customers, allowing companies to tap into new markets and attract a wider range of consumers. This broader customer base can lead to increased sales, revenue, and brand exposure.

Enhanced Customer Experience: Complementary products are designed to work together seamlessly, providing a cohesive and enhanced customer experience. When customers can integrate multiple products from the same brand, it simplifies their usage, improves compatibility, and creates a more cohesive ecosystem. This integrated experience fosters customer loyalty and satisfaction, as customers see the value in having a comprehensive solution that meets their needs across different areas.

Cross-Selling and Up-Selling Opportunities: Launching complementary products creates opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling. When customers purchase one product, they may be more inclined to consider and invest in related complementary products. This strategy can lead to increased average transaction value and higher customer lifetime value. For example, a customer who purchases a smartphone may also be interested in accessories, such as cases, chargers, or wireless earbuds.

Competitive Advantage: Offering a range of complementary products can provide a competitive edge in the market. Instead of competing solely on price or a single product, companies differentiate themselves by providing a comprehensive ecosystem of products that work together harmoniously. This ecosystem approach strengthens the brand’s value proposition and makes it more difficult for competitors to replicate or substitute the entire offering.

Innovation and R&D Synergies: Developing complementary products often involves leveraging existing technologies, expertise, and R&D investments. By launching complementary products, companies can maximize the return on their research and development efforts. Innovations made in one product can be adapted, refined, and applied to other related products, driving efficiency and synergy within the organization.

Brand Loyalty and Repeat Purchases: Complementary products encourage brand loyalty and repeat purchases. When customers have a positive experience with one product and find it to be complementary to their needs, they are more likely to continue purchasing from the same brand. This loyalty not only leads to repeat purchases of existing products but also creates opportunities for cross-selling new products or upgrading to higher-tier offerings.

Long-Term Customer Relationships: By providing a range of complementary products, companies can establish deeper and longer-lasting relationships with customers. When customers integrate multiple products into their lives, they become more invested in the brand’s ecosystem. This can lead to higher customer retention rates, increased customer advocacy, and a higher likelihood of future purchases and product recommendations.

In conclusion, launching complementary products offers several advantages, including expanded market reach, enhanced customer experience, cross-selling opportunities, competitive advantage, innovation synergies, brand loyalty, and long-term customer relationships. By focusing on complementary rather than substitute products, companies can create a comprehensive and integrated ecosystem that meets the diverse needs of their customers, driving growth and success in the market.

Oghenerukevwe Toka has for the last 10 years been working across Technology, Consumer Goods, Telecommunications, and Media industries in roles of increasing responsibility, where he garnered several notable achievements while managing some of the world’s most iconic brand portfolios including The HEINEKEN Company, Unilever, The Coca-Cola Company and more recently at Nestle’s Central & West Africa region where he is leading strategy, profitable revenue growth & expansion of the MAGGI brand.

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